Updated: Jan 30, 2020
AUTHOR: Toni Morrison
PUBLISHED DATE: November 1973
I sat down and read Sula back to back. It is that good, it is that complex, and it is that much worth it.
Sula encapsulates the duality of the black woman experience...conformity and unapologetic self reliance. This duality is detailed through the histories of two childhood friends, Nel and Sula. Nel comes from a respectable middle class family while Sula comes from black women who make their own rules and pay their own way and refuse to adhere to any of society's conventions.
Despite the differences of their backgrounds, the two girls become deep friends, their bond being the love they have for themselves and their desire to be themselves no matter what this world has planned for black girls and women. The accidental death of their friend, Chicken Little, causes the friendship between the girls to slowly subside, and as they emerge into adulthood they both fork off into different paths. Nel marries quickly and becomes a mother, Sula goes to college and blazes her trail doing what she wants, when she wants, and how she wants. Both of the girls are haunted by generations of history. But ultimately, it is the story of how their mothers shaped them and showed them how to show up in the world that truly gives this story its mastery and depth. Sula returns to the sleepy Ohio town of Medallion a very educated and cultured woman. She is well dressed, sexually liberated, a spirited conversationalist who sleeps with all the men of the town and then casts them out when she's done. Sula's dalliance with Nel's husband crosses Nel's line of friendship, but even in this betrayal, Morrison adds an intricacy that makes neither woman completely right or wrong. No one writes murderous traumatic mothers like Morrison, and in Sula, Morrison has created character studies I could analyze for years to come. Through generations of mothers Morrison shows the vastness of a mother's love that can give life with painstaking nurture and affection and out of that same love murder a child's spirit or physical body.
This book flips the themes of good and evil, love and hate, friendship and animosity, marriage and adultery, even top and bottom. Morrison shows that these subjects can be manipulated by the perception of the beholder. No matter how much the other themes blur, the one thing that remains permanently cruel and unequivocally evil is racism. Morrison writes it with great nuance and pain about how the lives of the black characters are humiliated and violently affected by racism and the segregation of the Jim Crow South.
All in all, this is a masterful story. I am happy to have read it for the Year of Toni Book Club. I have always wanted to read all of Toni's book, and am happy to not only read her books in order, but to have a group of enlightened women to share the brilliance of Toni with. Recently an article was written comparing Nicki Minaj to Sula. I'm still processing it, but it's worth a read.
Recommendation: Must Read
Audience: Millennials and Beyond