Tag Archives: toni morrison

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Title: The Bluest Eye
Author: Toni Morrison
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0307278449
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 206
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I read this book a long time ago. I think it was 2001. It has been nineteen years, and my love for this book only grows with passing time. The Bluest Eye is a book that needs to be read by everyone. It is a book that is most contested, and also banned in schools and colleges in the US of A. It is a book that didn’t shy away from saying what it had to, when it was first published in 1970, and even after 50 years, it says all that it has to and reaches more readers every single day.

The novel takes place in Lorain, Ohio and tells the story of a young African American girl Pecola, who grows up in the years following The Great Depression. She is deemed to be ugly by people around her. She believes it as well. All she wants the bluest of eyes (like the Shirley Temple Doll), which to her is the quality of a “white girl” – the kind of girl everyone loves and adores. And even then, though Pecola is at the heart of this novel, she is the soul of the novel so to say, we as readers will never hear her side of the story. Morrison doesn’t grant us that.

I cannot say anything new about this classic that hasn’t already been said before. It has all been said in 50 years, and more. All narratives have been explored. All angles have been analysed. What remains at the heart of it is a story told that is traumatic, holding a mirror to our society, and showing the dark recesses of human nature.

Toni Morrison never did flinch from telling things the way they were. Yes, The Bluest Eye might make some readers most uncomfortable. But that’s the intent. To feel that discomfort and understand and empathise and see the world differently. Yes, it is about Pecola and her abusive father and her mother who cannot do anything. But that’s the truth Ms. Morrison wanted to bring to fore which she did most candidly – making readers question about beauty, about fitting in, and all of this through an impoverished black girl who just wants to be accepted, and the only way she knows it can happen is by wishing for pretty blue eyes.

The Bluest Eye even when I reread it this month made me look and see at every step of the way – in and out of this book as well. Morrison had said that she wrote The Bluest Eye because she wanted to read it. She makes us aware of children and their lives, their truths and their questions through Pecola and the children who are narrating this story (or have they become adults?). Pecola cannot be shaken, cannot be broken, and as heartbreaking and horrible it is, the only love Pecola seems to have known has come from her abusive father Cholly.

The Bluest Eye makes us see truths that we shy away from. Of how it feels not to be a whole person. Of how it is to know that our cracked selves are just a manifestation of the society we live in. Of how desperately we want the world to look at us differently.

The Bluest Eye to me is about where you come from and where you hope to go. It is all about what you dream about, despite the circumstances, despite what surrounds you, and despite what you look like to the rest of the world (in this case Pecola to the rest of the town and neighbourhood). The Bluest Eye is and will always be a landmark read for me. I will visit it more often than not. Morrison’s debut should be read, and reread, and read some more.

The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations by Toni Morrison

The Source of Self-Regard Title: The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations
Author: Toni Morrison
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-0525521037
Genre: Literary Speeches, Anthologies
Pages: 386
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Toni Morrison’s collection of essays don’t follow a timeline, neither it is linear, nor it is set in an order to make it easy for the reader. At first glance, it might even seem just a random collection of essays, speeches and meditations put together, however, it isn’t that. The book, “The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations” is actually a book that speaks directly to the contemporary reader, and hence the order of essays. It goes headlong into speaking about issues at hand and whoelse better to address and them and show us the mirror than the queen herself, Ms. Morrison.

The book is divided into two parts, with an interlude. The first part is titled, “The Foreigner’s Home”, the second, “God’s Language” and in-between is the interlude aptly titled, “Black Matter(s)”. This is the structure of the book – it is Ms. Morrison’s essays, speeches, and meditations on living, race, gender, language, and the current role of politics in America and in effect its relation to the world. It is also about the duty of the press and media and what is the role of the artist in all of this. As a reader, please be prepared to face harsh realities, question the world around you and ponder over issues you never thought of earlier.

Morrison doesn’t hesitate to speak her mind. The candour is not just for the sake of it. This collection is deeply personal as well. From why she became a writer (Faulkner and Women) to her thoughts on Beloved. At the same time, this collection as every reader will know is about race and what it means to be black in America, not only today but for decades and centuries and how have that played out for the black person.

Toni Morrison writes with such elegance and dignity that you get caught up in her words, and then focus on the ideas, going back to the power of her prose. The interlude piece on Martin Luther King Jr. is not only searching but also mirrors the contemporary times. In the essay, Voyagers to the West, she speaks of the Scottish pioneer William Dunbar, and how he managed to build a fortune trading slave, and how ironically his achievements are extoled till date. This is the kind of voice Morrison is all about – she knows exactly when to make the impact felt through her words and how deep.

Morrison also speaks of writers and how they impact the mindset of readers. She speaks of how jazz brought American blacks a different kind of legitimacy. She also talks about why American and English writers could not speak for people of colour, hence the onus was only on black writers to do that. Literature then took a different form altogether, and its voice wasn’t restricted in a way is what I could make out of it. In her most poignant tribute to James Baldwin, the eulogy she delivered at Baldwin’s funeral on December 8, 1987, she honours his literature, his voice, and how he used language so tenderly. Morrison’s heart is almost laid bare in this – this tribute of sorts to a dear friend. It is almost as if you start becoming her friend, piece by piece.

“Jimmy, there is too much to think about you, and much too much to feel,” she begins. “The difficulty is your life refuses summation—it always did—and invites contemplation instead. Like many of us left here, I thought I knew you. Now I discover that, in your company, it is myself I know. That is the astonishing gift of your art and your friendship: You gave us ourselves to think about, to cherish.”

Toni Morrison’s writing is not only simple, but elegant to the bone. It is as though you are speaking with a friend, an elder, a teacher of sorts who is telling you about life and its ways. Throughout the book, Morrison speaks of the personal and the political and how they are intertwined. The first section, The Foreigner’s Home deals not only with race, but also with the question: What is Home? Where do you find it? What does it mean? At the same time, the section has essays wide ranging from “Literature and Public Life” and also her Nobel lecture.

The third section of the book is my most favourite – the one where she speaks of language, authors, and the power of words. The essay on Beloved – how she came to write it and what it means to her, almost made me cry. Toni Morrison’s commentary on her own work – The Bluest Eye, Sula, Tar Baby, Jazz, Beloved, and Paradise are honest, and she understands the time and space she wrote them in and how they might be read differently today.

Morrison’s works – fiction and nonfiction are always relatable. One doesn’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but the heart of the matter is the writing – from conception of plot to the way her sentences are constructed, every step is well-thought of and crafted.

I am convinced that there is nothing Ms. Morrison cannot write about. It is almost as if she has to just enter the space and something extraordinary emerges out of her pen. Her voice we all know is unique and original, but that’s not what makes an impact. I think it is the emotional intensity attached to it that makes all the difference, every single time.

The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations as a collection of essays couldn’t have been compiled and published at a better time. We inhabit a world where people are extremely conflicted about issues of race, language, colour, and above all what entails to be human. I also would strongly recommend this book to every person who wants to understand home, race, the black person’s struggle, the place of literature in the world, and how it impacts us all. The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations is illuminating, thought-provoking, and above all every piece has just been written from the heart.

 

Interview with Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi

Last year I read a book called The Rabbit and the Squirrel by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi and was deeply touched and moved by it, as most readers who read it were. It is a short book about love, friendship, and loss, told with great brevity, given it is only about sixty pages long.  I wish it were longer. I wish we had more illustrations by Stina Wirsén, as the book moved along and became larger than what it is. But, I am glad it is out there in the world for all to read, love, and appreciate. Siddharth is a friend and I am only extremely happy to have this short interview published on my blog. I wish him more such books, for readers such as I. Thank you, Siddharth.

SDS

Why the long hiatus between The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay and The Rabbit and the Squirrel? 

I don’t think of myself as a professional writer. I make things – photographs, drawings, books. So I don’t measure a gap between books but try and look at what I had done with my time. Between the book, there were photographs, shows I curated, houses I designed – it was all a way of being. But I am also very interested by nonsense things, such as swimming at sea, and I can spend hours, even days looking at cat videos and drinking Goa’s Greater Than gin.

Rabbit

The theme of The Rabbit and the Squirrel to my mind is more than friendship. There are so many emotions that take over this small book, almost everything packed into one. What was the writing experience like? How was it collaborating with the illustrator, Stina?

You know, I have almost no recollection of writing this little fable. I’d made it for someone I cared for deeply; I see now that tenderness for my friend eclipses all recollection of the writing process. Perhaps the story had always been there, a memento of shared, private time. The process of bringing the fable to book form was urged on by my astonishing publisher, Hemali Sodhi; and it was edited with such grace by Niyati Dhuldhoya that it became something else – a rarer, leaner thing – under her attentions.

Stina, the book’s illustrator, is also its co-parent – her sublime, frisky, careful illustrations give this book soul and energy. She is a close personal friend, and instinctively suggested to me to publish this fable – the book exists not only because of her sterling drawings but quite simply because she had been the one to suggest that I publish it.

SDS - Image 1

How important is the writer’s role in the scheme of things today? When the world is literally falling to pieces, what part do writers play in providing some semblance of hope? I say this because The Rabbit and the Squirrel is full of hope, even though fleetingly. 

Writing, and language, holds steady all that is intangible in our lives. In the articulation of our existence – the articulation of prejudice or heartbreak, of dissent, of rage – we are also able to repair. Language is both a measure as well as the meaning of our time. The writer’s job is to hover a lamp over what is, with language, she must illuminate, show and reveal. Reading is a form of civilising the most private self. It is a way of recognising that a part of this world is falling apart – and then of marshalling language to undo this damage.

Do you ever think one can write without reading? 

No, firmly, absolutely no: you cannot write without reading widely, promiscuously. Your writing will only be as good as your reading.

Your favourite books?

Beloved – Toni Morrison.
Light Years – James Salter.
The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje

SDS - Image 2

Is there another book that we could look forward to? A novel, perhaps? 

I would be so lucky to serve another book. (And thank you for your support over the years, Vivek).

SDS 3

The Rabbit and the Squirrel moved me to tears. I know several people who have had the same emotions evoked while or after reading the book. What was your intent when you started writing this universal tale? 

I had no intention except to make a gift for a friend. That is what I think of it, still and always, a private little thing made for, and with, love. But yes, I know what you mean – other friends have said that, which has always reminded me that all of us going about our lives with so many broken pieces in our pockets. All of us are suffering. All of us are enduring.

You can buy the book here

Please do buy the book. Please do read it. Please weep and laugh as you read it. Please repeat the process all over again. Gift the books to loved ones. You will be gifting them joy.

Top 20 Favourite Books of Nadeem Aslam

I have loved and enjoyed reading Nadeem Aslam’s books. I have always been curious as to what authors read and what compels them to perhaps classify what they read as their favourite reads over time. With this, I start this series with Nadeem Aslam’s favourite 20 books published within his lifetime, each of which he has read at least twice.

The list is amazing and might I add extremely compelling. You would want to pick up each book and read it at least once. Here goes the list. From here on, every word and emotion is that of Nadeem Aslam’s. Thank you Nadeem for this list.

1982 – Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Chronicle of a Death Foretold

In just over 100 pages Marquez tells us everything about men, women, love, hatred, corruption and fate. It includes the great line: ‘Life resembles bad literature.’ After Jude the Obscure it is quite possibly the most despairing novel I know. And it is brilliant.

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1986 – An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro

An Artist of the Floating World

An old man looks back over his life – and Ishiguro builds up an indelible picture of his fears and anxieties through everyday conversations with his daughters, grandson, people in the neighbourhood. There is very little description and yet you imagine each scene vividly.

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1987 – The Enigma of Arrival by VS Naipaul

The Enigma of Arrival

A book full of long rich sentences that recall Proust, and anticipate Sebald. It made me look deeply at the English countryside I live in. I believe mercy is greater than justice; and so I do not agree with Naipaul’s political outlook, but having read everything he has ever published I think this is one of his enduring works.

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1987 – Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Love in the Time of Cholera

A story about love and other diseases of the flesh. A book full of nouns – river, parrot, ship, almonds… This is the master at the height of his powers, naming the world into being. Everything Marquez touches becomes magical: if he were to remove the frame from around a mirror, the mirror would most certainly flow down the wall like water.

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1987 – Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved

There are subjects on which the world maintains a silence closely resembling sin. Beloved speaks about one such sin. It is a terrifying book, and yet it makes rapturous eloquent use of the sky and land and tree and food and clothing. Beyond everything else it’s a book about how people talk: the dialogue is musical, elastic, by turns funny and serious. Dazzling.

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1988 – The Collected Poems of Czeslaw Milosz

The Collected Poems of Czeslaw Milosz

In any crisis I turn to Milosz. What to do when you have to accept a savage emotional wound? Where to find the courage to trust another human being after betrayal? When you want to know how you deserve such a fate? Milosz’s verses address something that remains mysteriously inconsolable within me.

Buy New and Collected Poems

1990 – Omeros by Derek Walcott

Omeros

Walcott – one of the greatest poets in the English language – relocates Homer to the Caribbean, because the past belongs not just to those who created it – it belongs to everyone, everywhere. So the Greek heroes become poor fishermen and Helen is a servant girl. It is profound, beautiful and endlessly inventive. It’ll even break your heart.

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1992 – The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

The English Patient

The first 120 pages of this book are the holiest pages I know – prose whose beauty eases the poverty of the world; startling images; and characters you care about like your family. The book speaks of love and lovelessness, about the acceptance of loss, and how compared with love almost everything in life is easy.

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1993 – All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
1994 – The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy

The Border Trilogy

Most people behave badly because they ask too little of themselves. In these books McCarthy – who is one of my great loves – writes about very young men hurled into unknown landscapes, a world frequently absent of radiance. They survive or they die – but they hold onto their integrity, because only the gentle are ever really strong. And McCarthy’s prose is the closest thing I know to an electric shock. It is energy made visible; what Saul Bellow called ‘life giving and death dealing sentences.’

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1995 – Sabbath’s Theatre by Philip Roth

Sabbath's Theater

From the first sentence on this is a funny, serious, and frightening book – the story of a man at the end of his tether. Dirty, ugly, fearing the loss of his sexual prowess, Sabbath wanders around New England and New York like Shakespeare ranting at street corners, screaming the song of the land.

1997 – American Pastoral by Philip Roth

American Pastoral

A book about a man whose daughter is a terrorist, and how he tries to hold onto the ideas of justice and dignity when the smell of blood is in the air and it’s the age of prominent madmen. I disagree strongly with the political stance of this book, but as a novel it contains some of the most intense dramatic scenes in recent years.

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1997 – Taoos Chaman ki Mynah by Naiyer Masud

Taoos Chaman Ki Myna

A novella from the Urdu master of Lukhnow. A man steals a bird from his employer’s menagerie for his little daughter. This is a hear-quickening tale. I don’t think I understand all of its mysteries but perhaps that is how it should be; if you see a statue of a veiled maiden, you mustn’t try to chisel off the veil in the hope of uncovering the face underneath.

1997 – The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

The God of Small Things

The key text about all of India’s yesterdays and todays. It is almost elemental. There are a 100,000 miles of blood vessels in a human body, and every drop of blood in mine is grateful to Arundhati Roy for having written this. By turns sorrowing and ecstatic, it possesses a touch that has a sting of starlight to it.

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1997 – Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx

Brokeback Mountain

Not only a painful love story, but also a fierce attack on the economic disparities within the USA. From its astonishing and brilliant first paragraph onwards, Proulx tells us that the two lovers are foredoomed not solely because they are homosexual in an unforgiving landscape, but because that they are poor, men who cannot really afford luxuries like love. The need to make a living and support their families is also what keeps the two men from coming together.

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2001 – My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk

My Name is Red

The greatest book by the one of the very greatest novelists of our time. A murder mystery, a monograph on miniature painting, a love story, a rich and subversive inquiry into the past. Its heroine, Shekure, is one of the best portraits of a woman from the Islamic word that I know.

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2004 – Gilead by Marilynne Ronbinson

Gilead

The letter an old priest writes to his very young son, who will not read it until long after the priest is dead. Every single paragraph of this book is full of quiet wisdom – as though a form of music has been found to express silence.

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2004 – An End to Suffering by Pankaj Mishra

An End to Suffering

Pankaj Mishra’s writing is what I turn to first when I need to make sense of the world. And this book is one of the loveliest and most serious meditations on what Buddha brought into the world.

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2007 – The Collected Stories of Intizar Hussein

Exactly 50 years’ worth of stories from the Pakistani master. Read sequentially, these stories chart every single social, historical and cultural event Pakistan has been through in the last half century. Magnificent.

2008 – 2666 by Roberto Bolano

2666

The third world novel as it should be written today – post Naipaul, post Marquez. Part 4 of this book alone should ensure Bolano’s place among the immortals. Please read it.

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Book Review: Home by Toni Morrison

Title: Home
Author: Toni Morrison
Publisher: Chatto and Windus, Random House UK
ISBN: 978-0701186074
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 146
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Toni Morrison is one of my favourite writers. I have almost loved everything she has written. She is amongst the writers who knows her craft and does not shy from writing on themes that are real and varied and sometimes plain scary. From the first time since I started reading her, when Beloved was gifted to the time I have finished reading her recent book, “Home”, Toni Morrison has managed to make me feel like no other writer has.

“Home” by Toni Morrison is somewhere between a novella and a novel, amounting to 146 pages only and yet as a reader you are amazed at the variety of emotions and themes she touches upon in limited words and pages.

The premise of the novel is brilliant: Trauma suffered by men who have returned from war and that too in the 50’s, the Korean War that ended in 1953. The war was fought between the Republic of Korea (supported by the USA) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. America provided 88% of the 341,000 International Soldiers which aided South Korean Forces. One of the soldiers in this story happens to be Frank Money, who has returned from war, kept his life on hold and has to return home to his sister Cee, who is in trouble. The book is about his demons, his love left behind (not much is spoken of her, just a couple of pages) his journey back home and in-between chapters of his sister’s life back home.

There is a lot of displacement in the book – from families that move to the hurt and anger that seethes and is denied an outlet. Men have to be strong. Times are changing. The war-returned souls cannot express their feelings, or confess their brutal acts. Owing to this, the issue of racism is subtle in the book.

Toni Morrison always ensures that you feel for her characters – be it Pecola in “The Bluest Eye” or Sethe in “Beloved”, she ensures that you cry or that there is a lingering need to save them. I could not empathize for any of the characters in this book. I just could not.

There was may be a lot going on in the book for me to be able to relate to anyone – the War, the racism, the issue of loneliness, poverty, abortion, and ultimately healing. Having said that, the one part that stuck to me was that of Cee’s and how she heals towards the end. That is beautifully written and expressed and I loved that about the book.

Overall, I did not find this book as moving as her other books. Maybe because of the length and that it was trying to say a lot, but couldn’t. At the same time, no one can contest the writing. She is as breathtaking at her skill as ever. Darkness and loneliness are at the core of this book and one doesn’t have to go through war to understand both. I do hope there is more of “Home” in other installments or prequels or anything – but more, because I wasn’t satiated with this one. I need more of her writing.

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