Song of Solomon Prime –

Almost four whole months into 2015 and I ve finally read my first four star book You can always trust Toni Morrison to deliver even when you think all hope is lost I think Song of Solomon is my favourite Morrison novel thus far This novel just flows with greatness I feel that I enjoyed this bookthan let s say, Beloved, because the time period in which this is set the 1930s through to the 60s is an era with which I m relatively familiar She references the murder of Emmett Till and the rise of Malcolm X for instance I feltof a connect because of the historical time setting In many ways I found that this novel almost mirrors the early chapters of The Autobiography of Malcolm X, I m not sure if this was intentional though I really found this novel to be unputdownable ,so than the other Morrison novels that I ve read If I were to choose a good starting place for Morrison virgins, I d choose Song of Solomon I really enjoyed this one. One of my absolute favorites, partly for the following You can t own a human being You can t lose what you don t own Suppose you did own him Could you really love somebody who was absolutely nobody without you You really want somebody like that Somebody who falls apart when you walk out the door You don t, do you And neither does he You re turning over your whole life to him Your whole life, girl And if it means so little to you that you can just give it away, hand it to him, then why should it mean anyto him he can t value youthan you value yourself. Have you ever considered the historical heritage and the intrinsic meaning of your name and surname What is a proper noun if not a word that carries concentrated quintessence to depict oneself Aren t people named after parents or grandparents paying homage to their own ancestry somehow There is something miraculous about the past that the future lacks All nations, maybe even the whole mankind, have managed to transform thousands and millions of particular fictions created by individual beings into a unique and collective memory, into a shared history, into a coherent past Contrarily, the future can t be designed collectively Its individual fictions are elusive, unfinished, bled dry because like all visions of heaven and hell, they are ethereal Milkman believes people s names reflect their own yearnings, failures, wishes, weaknesses and even their worst fears Names bear witness, names are condensed DNA But what happens if one s name is the byproduct of mere randomness or the result of some humiliating mishap like a white drunkard mistyping what he hears Milkman s official name is Macom Dead Named after his father and grandfather, Macom the third knows he can t have a future because his surname is Dead His nickname Milkman mirrors disturbing connotations about his mother Ruth and the effects sustained sexual deprivation and marital abuse have on her waning psyche, perverting the significance of Macon s nickname and leaving the young man evenrestless about his true originsIt s a wonder anybody knows who anybody isA whole generation of people with empty names Empire States, Railroads Hospital, Guitar Bains, Macom Dead A dark joke played on a hapless community by a wounded past suppurating with centuries of slavery and steadfast barbarity where everybody is on a quest to give meaning to their hollow identities Some, like Milkman s father, the regal Macom Dead the second, think they can recover their robbed pride with riches and status Others, like Guitar Bains, Milkman s best friend, are moved by a bloodthirsty and insane vengeance to rebalance justice in a universe ruled with radical fanaticism They are all groping in the dark, lost in the thick mist of fear and shame, in a world where the living and the dead coexist in the mystical tradition of Afro American songs.Only those who are not afraid of ghosts, only those who intone healing melodies to suture the scarred past, only those who welcome anonymity with arms wide open possess the clairvoyance to reach beyond the mist and are blessed with the redeeming light of truth Pilate, Milkman s aunt and his father s sister, is a natural shaman who searches noEqually shunned yet respected by all, she accepts the encumbrance of existence and pays her respects to her ancestors in taking life as the precious treasure it is, forcing Milkman to ponder about his aimless one.Estranged from his own family and impelled by self pity, Milkman embarks on a journey to the past that leads him to Southern Virginia following the traces of his great grandfather Who is Solomon Why does Milkman have an urge to fly since he was a kid Why is he rooted in a past that prevents him from thinking of a future What is he really afraid of A chain of prodigious events involving supernatural experiences in a cave full of bones and gold, the communion of a man s lost soul with Mother Earth and disturbing dreams about disembodied female spirits points selfless love as the hidden path to Milkman s true identity With the menacing subplot of a declared racial war pulsating in her arrhythmic phrasing, Morrison creates a joined voice for the oppressed minorities of the Afro American community that sings with the inherent melody of myths and legends incrusted in their popular tradition Below Morrison s unmistakable sumptuous prose, vibrant imagery and the allegoric dimension of her magic realism there is a painful exploration of recurrent themes such as the weight of past, the burden of present and the shifting power between genders in the Southern America of the sixties.Sinking his fingers deep into the mossy soil, cradled by the roots of a Sweetgum Tree and inhaling the movement of the whispering leaves, Milkman listens to the soft tune of a faraway songSolomon done fly, Solomon done gone, Solomon cut across the sky, Solomon gone homeBlinded by the absence of fear and tired of dodging death, Milkman submits to the Song of Solomon and opens his wings to soar the skies with a lightness of being and a confident heart beating with faith for a bright future that will redeem a silenced past. Song of Solomon begins and ends with a leap, a man hurling himself into the air, an act of surrender Book ended between these attempted acts of flight, a rich and beautiful work of literature slowly, gradually, takes wing.This is the fifth Toni Morrison book I ve read after Beloved, The Bluest Eye, Home and Sula , and I think of these five, Song of Solomon is the one that asks the most of its reader It s not a book that enchants immediately The characters at least in the beginning are all awful or at least infuriating, and it s difficult to know who to get behind But as the story unfolds, the complexity and humanity of the characters are revealed so that they begin to earn the reader s sympathy and affection By the end you realise that the psychology of each and every one of them makes perfect sense, that their personal experiences and generations of history have subtly shaped who they became, and that this tapestry of lives is telling a much bigger story Even the characters names Milkman, Corinthians, Guitar, Pilate seemingly so whimsical, are emblematic of profoundly important truths.For the first half, I was unsure really what the thrust of the novel even was If you had asked me what it s about, the best I could have managed is the story of a well off, urban black family in 20th century America It meanders and ambles around, in ways that seem so unstructured as to be frustratingly messy and, beautifully written though it is, those early chapters lacked some sort of hook Gradually though, it emerges that the family s relative wealth has disconnected, alienated and trapped them that their upward mobility, especially for the women, has limits that each one of them is isolated and alone even while living all together under one roof.This unrest reaches a tipping point which sets Milkman off on an odyssey that forms Part II of the novel Ostensibly he is seeking material wealth, but what Milkman finds as he retraces the steps of his forebears is much richer andvaluable Morrison pulls it all together so gradually that when a pattern and a structure finally emerge it almost feels accidental But if you go back and re read the early chapters, you realise that the threads and pathways were there all along This is the kind of book that rewards patience, close reading, and I expect multiple re reads Powerful and immensely rewarding. xxxxx 4.5 5There s something to be said for stories Beyond all the talk of clich s, the bemoaning of stereotypes, the intricate and obsessive breakdown of the latest wave of hyped up mass media extravaganza that has managed to aggressively worm its way into the mob conscience Beyond the deep seated resignation at puzzle piece popularity.I don t have anything against the forthright advocates of analysis at all levels of fiction Far from it I simply believe that there is a time when one is able to put the microscope back in the drawer and the fine toothed comb on the top shelf, sit back, and say, Yes Here is a story.It is a story of oppression, of hatred, of justified rage and passionate fury fighting against discrimination both big and small, both intentional and otherwise If you come away from this review with one thing, know that large scale oppression, this horrible racism in the land of the free depicted in this book has existed, does exist, and will most certainly exist for a long, long while Slavery Martin Luther King, Jr Trayvon Martin Facts and faces that may be forgotten or even denied, but the ideology that connects them all will always be rooted out by the plain evidence of its existence Every character has some measure of this rage, and every character is given their say in some fashion, fashions that often clash and bite and break the others around them If the road to hell is paved with Good Intentions, the road to hell on earth is a yellow bricked road bounded on both sides by long sparkling walls of Indifference Indifference is neither black nor white, neither good nor evil, and each of the characters illustrate this innate resistance to quick and easy pigeon holing At first you will love them, or you will hate them, and then the tables will switch, and you will be left with the unsatisfying satisfaction of reading about human beings Unsatisfied satisfaction Feeling that one is straddling two worlds due to the color of one s skin, when in reality just stuck in one really fucked up one that makes progress a constant battle Us versus them The only guarantee is that a single step out of line will explode into violence.What can you do with this What is a human being expected to do with this horrible paradox that is real life This story poses the question to a boy child who reaches and then passes the age of thirty in a safe, contained bubble, his head filled with safe, contained problems He has no awareness of the context of his life, the family that surrounds him, the history that follows him, the society that defines him He has long forgotten his dreams of flying.We ve all forgotten our dreams of flying, you say.Perhaps, I say Would you like to be reminded Milkman Dead Was Born Shortly After A Neighborhood Eccentric Hurled Himself Off A Rooftop In A Vain Attempt At Flight For The Rest Of His Life He, Too, Will Be Trying To Fly With This Brilliantly Imagined Novel, Toni Morrison Transfigures The Coming Of Age Story As Audaciously As Saul Bellow Or Gabriel Garc A M Rquez As She Follows Milkman From His Rustbelt City To The Place Of His Family S Origins, Morrison Introduces An Entire Cast Of Strivers And Seeresses, Liars And Assassins, The Inhabitants Of A Fully Realized Black World You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you downToni Morrison, Song of SolomonI liked all of it and loved much of it It is an amazing piece of literature with beautifully realized characters Originally, I felt this book was on par with The Bluest Eye, but still not as strong as Beloved I now think they are ALL great Morrison novels The further I get from this book, the bigger and the bolder the shadow it casts I love how Morrison writes and how she juggles big themes death, family, trauma, class, home, race, slavery and African American culture, etc Obviously, she belong in the canon of great black writers, great women writers, etc., but her words and novels transcend ALL of those shelves She is wrestling with global themes and ideas that transcend race, sex, culture, and time. 08 06 2019 Update Toni Morrison has died and while I engage in my usual requiem ritual of listening to Al Green s Take Me To The River, I immediately came back to my experience reading this book Though she s dead what s important is that we still have her books, her words, and the site of her memory I read this book back in 2015 and she immediately became an old friend Not one for modesty, her work is an authentic and commanding portrait of human life This book in particular was my world and my grandfather s world recreated on the page in a way that few if any writers I ve read has ever done Well on y va Original review Retrospective for a Flying Man My first reading of Toni Morrison was nothing short of amazing, this book does so much, so well, so easily We learn about three to four generations of one family and, in fact, one culture I won t be beating around the bush in this review Though Macon Milkman Dead III was the default protagonist, he was also my least favorite character The natural woman superwoman Pilate was my second favorite character because she knew how to navigate time and space in her own way The Dead family as a whole seems like an interesting archetype or counterpoint of The Sutpen family of Absalom, Absalom down to their sharing the same origins in Virginia which are also my maternal family origins This book shows a good example of Faulknerianism played straight and subverted in the hands of a Black writer To be short this is a great Black Southern Gothic novel.But that leads to talking about the greatest character of this novelits author Morrison took me places that I had not realized I needed to go Even my animosity to the main character did not hurt this book to me because it did everything so well The chapters divided the story so well, I can only think of The Brothers Karamazov doing it better The reason this book has struck me so well is how personal it is to African American experience This book alludes to White people and White supremacy, but you will be hard pressed to find a White person in it, much less with even a speaking line I think a white nurse from the beginning is all we are told in 377 pages This is the first book I have read in a long time written by Black hands only concerning Black people on their own terms this is not accidental and it is refreshing I can hear the true cadence of how my family talks to one another and the number of cultural references and inside jokes were amazing and I would be amazed if most non African Americans can pick it up This book was written to a specific audience much of the small things in it go unexplained and I was surprised to see it all there Thisthan anything will make me have to read Morrison again I believe the only other Black writer to come close isJames Baldwin in Go Tell It on the Mountain, but even he had to start explaining things that he would not have to do for a strictly African American audience.Names play a pivotal role in this story Every significant character is given a symbolic name or nickname which is symbolic of how names play a role in African American life As is the truth in reality, if you are given a nickname it is rarely for a positive reason This is taken further in that even the real names in this book are acquired in very unusual or strange ways The one exception I see in this is the character Guitar, whose name is a misnomer from his infancy though I am increasingly thinking it is a stealth pun reference to a certain character from The Brothers Karamazov.The locations of this story, particularly in the second half of the novel, are also very special to me as it shows the history of Black people s journey in country Though the story s main setting is Michigan, Milkman s Roots journey leads him not simply through a different land the mid Atlantic and eventually the origin of African Americans Virginia , but literally in the magical realist sense back in time He goes back to his father and grandfather s time in Pennsylvania, butimportantly to me is that he went to central Virginia When he talks about his journey into Virginia it hits me personally because my mother s family is from this land I can see the landscape and almost the roads and shops of this area and I knew exactly what the climate was This was another crucial factor in my reading this book it is about the land of my ancestors as much as it is about the land of Milkman s ancestors.The Southern Gothic nature of the novel is also worth talking about Morrison is as much a fan of Faulkner as she is critic This book takes the haunted nature of gothic fiction and manages to put it in an urban, mid western environment The city of Mercy, Michigan is as much haunted by slavery and its legacy as Jefferson, Mississippi The difference is that the stakes are a lot higher and the falloutsevere for the Black inhabitants in Morrison s universe versus the White inhabitants of Faulkner s.To conclude, if you want to read a story about one man s search for his place in the world in the middle of the 20th century, this is your book.P.S MAGICAL REALISM Seems I would be fined if I did not mention that somewhere It was a very well used trope. Toni Morrison is perhaps the most important writer living today and Song of Solomon is perhaps the best novel of the last 50 years of American life Despite the high standing of both novel and author, there are many that chide both for delving too far into the world of African American mythology The book, according to a reviewer on this very website, bitterly states that Song of Solomon isfable than novel Attempting to paint the novel as fable undercuts its central mission to highlight the important role of mythology in linking African Americans to their past by creating narratives for those that were lost during slavery, Jim Crow, and black peril The novel is not fable, but the recreation and reconnection of Milkman, symbolic of his own community, reconnecting with a lost past The gaffe by the reviewers is understandable, however, as mythology has lost credibility due to the ferocious rise of science.Morrison, quite rightly, attempts to delve into mythology to try to answer pertient questions about Black history Much of the mythology in Song of Solomon revolves around flight For hundreds of years, there has been a belief among the Black community that people of color could fly that is was one their gifts While for residents of the scientific age people flying seems trite, for Morrison and other people of color the ability to fly seems only natural The difference in the thought processes is derived from educational differences European education has tended to focus on empirical science while African education has tended to focus on familial values and cultural learning African education seeks to reunite the learner with the etymology of self while European education seeks some broad sort of social literacy engulfed in intimately knowing other The language of Song of Solomon might not be accessible to all readers who fail to understand its broader context, which is perfectly understandable indeed, even Milkman, the story s protagonist, doesn t understand the language of his community for the first half of the book It is only when he begins to seek out, understand, and embrace the mythology of his race and the roots planted by previous generations that he is able to connect, for the first time, with his community and experience that sort of bond that mythology can bring This connection with the past and the necessity of finding one s own story is as important a theme as one could imagine, especially in an era where sameness, conformity, and the idea of the ethnic mutt have won some sort of cultural acceptance It is that theme one of a resurrected connection with the past that makes Morrison s novel of the utmost importance We must all connect back to our mythology and begin to understand the language of previous generations in order to benefit ourselves.