Signed up the 25/04/2017
I read Sula at a very low point in my life. I didn’t realise how much I needed to reflect until I was incapacitated by the story and its characters whom I resonated so much with and was inspired by. It was like painfully and majestically being forced to look at yourself in the mirror. It had been a while since I had last come across anything like it.
Sula spans across many decades and is a book about friendship, community, conformity, morality, love, and loss. It begins in 1922, with 12-year-old Sula and Nel who begin a bond that transcends friendship, transcends sisterhood. Coming from different backgrounds but both raised by single mothers and absent fathers, their bond encourages freedom, honesty and genuine empathy. Fast forward to 1937, Nel is married with kids and Sula has just returned to their hometown of Medallion (in the uplands of Ohio) after having traveled the country – wandering, learning and confronting. And a different person from women in her hometown and especially different from her best friend.
Nel is depicted as a conformer and Sula, an outsider, but they are both captured with such authenticity and grace that you don’t judge either one for their decisions. However, as it’s pointed out in the end, there really isn’t much difference between the two women (despite their later ‘different’ paths). Apart from microscopically looking at the lives of Sula and Nel respectively, the book depicts the lives led by the different generations of (black) women in Medallion. The author shows us how black women survive and thrive against tradition on their journey to womanhood. We see this through both the girls’ mothers, as well as through Eva, Sula’s grandmother. The author shows us how hope is the only thing keeping them alive and how although their future is foreign, they still cling on to the belief that things will get better.
Sula is arguably the main protagonist in the book, although I didn’t understand why the book was named after her, as she is not introduced until the second part of the book. She, however, is important, because “like any artist without any art form she becomes dangerous.” Her return to Medallion is a threat to their conventional way of life, but subsequently, encourages the people to become better versions of themselves. Sula is important because of her indifference and the way she carries bluntness around her.
My favourite part in the book is her exchange with Nel in page 143:
Sula: “I sure did live in this world.”
Nel: “Really? What do you have to show for it?”
Sula: “Show? To who? Girl, I got my mind and what goes on in it. Which is to say I got me.”
Nel: “Lonely ain’t it?”
Sula: “Yes. But my lonely is mine. Now your lonely is somebody else’s, made by somebody else and handed to you. Now ain’t that something? A second-hand lonely.”
I think Toni Morrison is a very exceptional writer, one of my personal favourite, having fallen in love with her work back in 2014 with ‘The Bluest eye’. There is something very poetic and melodic about her work. Even when you don’t want to be inspired, her words are so magnetic, you feed into her art. I love her multi-disciplinary storytelling. She engages and reflects the culture, the pain, and the glory of black people so timelessly. You are not the same after reading Toni Morrison’s work. In Sula she writes, “she had gone on a real trip and now she was different,” and that’s exactly how you feel after reading this book.
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