Sula, Toni Morrison

SulaA farmer promises freedom and a piece of land referred to as Bottom, to his slave if he performs some difficult chores. The town of Medallion grows up around the farmland, looking down on the valley where the more fertile land and the white folks live.

The slave blinked and said he thought valley land was bottom land. The master said, ‘Oh no! See those hills? That’s bottom land, rich and fertile.

‘But it’s high up in the hills,’ said the slave.

‘High up from us,’ said the master, but when God looks down, it’s the bottom. That’s why we call it so. It’s the bottom of heaven, the best land there is.’

It’s the town where Sula and Nel grow up in the 1920’s. Both are only children, Nel raised in her mother’s quiet, orderly neat home that oppresses her and keeps her protected and Sula in the home of her infamous grandmother Eva Pearce, a woman who hasn’t come downstairs in years and may or may not have done despicable things before she became one-legged and runs a kind of boarding house for vagrants.

“a household of throbbing disorder constantly awry with thins, people, voices and the slamming of doors”

In childhood, the two girls differences are insignificant, they revel in each other’s company, they test the boundaries of their community and environment, they experience joy and witness horror. They bury the past until it returns to haunt them in adulthood, when they can no longer avoid who they were always destined to be, thanks to the judgments and perceptions of others and the behaviours of those who went before them. And themselves.

“Their evidence against Sula was contrived, but their conclusions about her were not. Sula was distinctly different. Eva’s arrogance and Hannah’s self-indulgence merged in her and, with a twist that was all her own imagination, she lived out her days exploring her own thoughts and emotions, giving them full reign, feeling no obligation to please anybody unless their pleasure pleased her.”

The book is separated into two parts, the early 1920’s during the girls childhood and the late 30’s, early 40’s when Sula returns and creates a disturbing ripple throughout the small community, no longer used to her carefree ways, having forgotten the inclinations of the female characters she was spawned from. She becomes estranged from them all. Except one.

It is about the innocence and bonds of childhood, secrets between friends, the inclination to follow the well-trodden path of those who have gone before, despite the desire for freedom and individuality and the reluctance of others to see them any differently.

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison

Her books are almost always the perfect size of a novella and every one of Toni Morrison’s stories I have read brings so much more than the sum of its pages to the reader in terms of things to consider, long after the last page is turned.

Her language is poetic, her characters resplendent with their flaws, they speak for the one and the many and show us ourselves, the parts we hide from view, that which is judged from outside and the inclination to judge without knowing.


22 thoughts on “Sula, Toni Morrison

  1. I love Toni Morrison’s writing but have not read this one. It’s now on my list. Thank you for your critique.


  2. I have been meaning to read Sula but have yet to lay my hands on a copy. After I read The bluest Eye (reviewed on my blog) I became hooked on Toni Morrison. I believe Sula would be equally as profound and shocking as The Bluest Eye.

    Lovely review, Claire.


  3. I have never read Toni Morrison. I was impressed while listening to her interview on BBC World a few months ago. With a Pulitzer prize, Nobel Prize and 23 other literary awards to her name….I should include one if her books on my classic list…..but which one?


  4. Great review. I really enjoy reading Morrison’s books, but I always have a hard time to put into words what makes her writing so moving and extraordinary to me.


    • I agree, it isn’t easy to describe what it is that makes her work so alive, it is so much more than the language used, I think for me it is the characters that are so memorable, so vivid and real. She communicates their essence with a few carefully chosen anecdotes and reactions and comparisons in a way that really resonates. Every page has sentences that read like mini stories.


  5. An evocative review as ever, Claire; I wish I could write like you!

    I think I listened to the same R4 interview as Nancy, and it gave me an insight into Toni Morrison’s work. Another writer I really ought to read one day, especially now I’ve seen your review…


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