Thursday 19 June 2014

Book Review: Toni Morrison - Home

My concentration is pretty shot at the moment, I keep getting books from the library, reading a few pages and then returning them without finishing them. Because of this Toni Morrison’s Home appealed to me for two reasons: it is a very slim book and I thought I should at least be able to manage that and I am a fan of Toni Morrison’s books, so I knew they should be able to hold my attention.

Home tells the story of a brother and sister, Frank and Cee, born into a rural Georgia town populated solely by black people and characterised by poverty and sadness. The book tells of their desperation to get away from a town too small for them, whether through service in the homes of the rich or through joining the army, and their subsequent return to the small town, drawn by the love between them.

The small town of Lotus is a place where the local black population have settled, many of them having been chased out of their previous homes at gunpoint. They make it their own with their own version of small town life: church-going ladies, quilt making, vegetable gardens and canning season.

Frank has returned from the army suffering from survivors guilt and what seems like post-traumatic stress and vows never to return to his home town, only to receive a letter asking him to hurry back urgently to help his sister. We join him on his journey witnessing along the way the effect war has had on him and the indignities he suffers despite his service for his country.

The book is frank in its portrayal of the brutality of war and the treatment of black soldiers following a conflict, racism and the way women are exploited. It turns a spotlight onto all of the main characters highlighting their weaknesses and vulnerabilities, so that few are left with our sympathy, although some still have out pity.

It is also an narrative on the concept of home, how a place can feel restrictive and too small for the young, but offer solace and a refuge from the wider world for those same people later in life. How the same people that seem staid or judgemental can appear strong and wise when the need arises.

Through the separate journeys of Frank and Cee we are also offered up alternative versions of home: the beautiful home full of plenty where Cee finds work but where dangers lurks, the home that Lily, Franks partner, yearns for, only to find money alone is not enough to buy it

Home is a short book, but certainly not an easy read. The language is blunt and direct and the experience of the characters painful. Not only are we not left with a neat happy ending, but we are left unable to fully sympathise with the main character as his experience of is finally laid bare. The book does stay with you after you have finished reading. It feels as if a dozen more stories could emerge from the layers beneath this story , there are so many events and experiences that are hinted at and alluded to that you end up with endless questions and half-stories in your mind that pique your curiosity and keep you thinking after you have set the book down.

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