by Toni Morrison

Hardcover, 1997

Call number




Knopf (1997), Edition: 1st, 318 pages


Fiction. African American Fiction. Literature. Historical Fiction. HTML: In prose that soars with the rhythms, grandeur, and tragic arc of an epic poem, Toni Morrison challenges our most fiercely held beliefs as she weaves folklore and history, memory and myth into an unforgettable meditation on race, religion, gender, and a far-off past that is ever present.  �They shoot the white girl first. With the rest they can take their time.� So begins Toni Morrison�s Paradise, which opens with a horrifying scene of mass violence and chronicles its genesis in an all-black small town in rural Oklahoma. Founded by the descendants of freed slaves and survivors in exodus from a hostile world, the patriarchal community of Ruby is built on righteousness, rigidly enforced moral law, and fear. But seventeen miles away, another group of exiles has gathered in a promised land of their own. And it is upon these women in flight from death and despair that nine male citizens of Ruby will lay their pain, their terror, and their murderous rage. �A fascinating story, wonderfully detailed. . . . The town is the stage for a profound and provocative debate.� �Los Angeles Times.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member japaul22
[Paradise] by [[Toni Morrison]]

Toni Morrison's recent death prompted me to pick up this book, which had been lingering too long on my shelves. I'm a little (more than a little) in awe of Morrison's talent and this book was no exception.

Paradise revolves around a small town of Ruby, Oklahoma, that
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was founded by 15 black families fleeing from persecution and racism. These families were freed slaves who were successful during Reconstruction, achieving political roles and higher education, and then squashed back down when whites regained control. They were even discounted and run out of towns by fellow blacks for being "too black". So they take that as a matter of pride and found their town that they try to keep pure to the original families.

The conflict comes with an enormous home 17 miles outside of their town that used to be a Convent. The remaining Mother and her "daughter" Connie end up taking in several misfit women who all have had traumatic roads to finding them. The men of Ruby are tempted by these women and of course end up blaming them for their problems, including the most recent generation of Ruby not valuing the same insular society. When they start to lose control of their dearly held beliefs, the blame falls to the women at the Convent and tragedy happens.

There's so much more to this book that can't be described in a brief description. It's complex and beautiful writing but it also draws you in. I read it quickly and was completely wrapped up in it. I love that Morrison can write with such complexity but still in a way that is so readable. I would rank this novel right up with my other favorites, [Song of Solomon] and [Beloved].
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LibraryThing member plenilune
why i loved this book:
some of the most beautiful poetic language ever used in fiction, and always intrinsic to the development of the novel, particularly in the creation of atmosphere.
well-plotted out and interspersed with the legends and history of a people.
a wealth of genuine and varied
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characters, many of whom you grow to care about despite their flaws.
a lovely and perfectly rendered open ending.
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
The town of Ruby, Oklahoma was formed by some residents of Haven, a town founded by their ancestors, former slaves. Several miles away lies the Convent, a former school for native girls now inhabited only by the mother superior and her protégée, Connie. Toni Morrison uses these two settings to
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explore a set of issues more focused on gender than race. And, as with most of Morrison’s novels, things are much more complicated than they first appear.

The book opens with a group of men from Ruby staging a violent raid on the Convent. What would lead them to such an horrific act? Morrison takes her time shedding light on this question. Each chapter focuses on the life of a different woman, usually one who came to stay at the Convent. But the narrative also provides a history of Ruby and its people, albeit in a non-linear way. It can be difficult to keep track of all the characters and their relationships to one another. It’s not until the final chapters that the reader begins to understand why and how the raid happened. This later, more detailed description of the raid was gripping and tragic.

The raid is just one example of violence against women in this novel. All of the women who arrive at the Convent have experienced tragic circumstances, often at the hands of men. There’s a lot of imagery and symbolism, which I cannot claim to have fully unpacked. And I think there’s something supernatural going on as well, in ways reminiscent of Morrison’s Beloved. This was a challenging novel to read and understand, but rather than being confused or turned off by that, I loved it.
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LibraryThing member baswood
Paradise weaves a powerful mystery says the blurb on the inside front cover, but I found no mystery, just a muddle, that was alternatively heavy handed mumbo-jumbo and portentous parody. Published in 1998 this was Morrison’s first novel after receiving a noble prize for literature and so would
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have been an obvious choice for the book-of-the-Month main selection: perhaps someone should have read it first. It is unfortunate because the premise is an interesting one: the book focuses on one of the all black towns of Oklahoma that existed in the previous century and tells of the families that founded the town after suffering persecution from other towns.

The novel starts with a powerful opening sentence “they shoot the white girl first’ and goes downhill from there. A group of nine men from a nearby town have come out to a makeshift refuge for women armed to the teeth and intent on running them off the land or worse. They have come from the all black town of Ruby the title of the first chapter and Morrison fills in a little of the history of the town, while leaving the reader in suspense concerning the attack on the refuge. Subsequent chapters are titled from the names of the women who have lived in the refuge and their stories are told together with their connection to Ruby. The women’s stories are interlaced with the folklore of the town and their names are thinly disguised to keep the reader guessing as to who they are and where their story fits into the larger picture. The time shifts and fragmentary nature of some of the story telling makes it difficult to get a clear idea of events and this would have been interesting if the novel had not at the end of the day been so intent on ramming the themes of the book down the readers throat, backed up with some religious hokum and a desperate attempt to keep the mystery going after we learn of the events of the raid.

Pride, race, religion, misogyny and the dangers of a closed community are lumped in with mysticism, folklore and a revenge tale that struggles to make itself believable and ends up seemingly like some sort of parody. This reader felt little connection with the characters, so many of whom are little more than stock characters. Everything seems to be thrown into the mix and basically we have seen it all before and some fine passages of writing cannot save this unlikely fable. 2 stars.
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LibraryThing member Crowyhead
This is one of my favorite Toni Morrison novels. It's eerie, and at once both realistic and fabulous.
LibraryThing member mpaige
This story's setting is in the fictitious town of Ruby, Oklahoma, the only all-black town in the state. Nearby, four women have come together and live in the "convent" not far from town. When the town suffers internal strife, the people look for a cause, and come to the conclusion that it must be
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the four women in the convent that are the cause of the tumult.
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LibraryThing member karinehart
A stirring novel. One of America's best authors at the top of her game!
LibraryThing member KScott20
This was masterfully written! A true gem for anyone that enjoys depth in their plots! The characters come to life, they jump off the page. The entire story sucks you in and you feel as though you are struggling with these characters as they face the torments that haunt them in life, the
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gut-wrenching suffering will grip your soul, and leave you feeling thankful for everything that you have in your own life. It was a wonderful and thought-provoking read, written by an extraordinary author. This is what literature is supposed to be. This author bravely pioneers her own style, while at the same time maintaining all the necessary elements of a desirable book.
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LibraryThing member BrianDewey
Morrison, Toni. Paradise. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1997. I don't think this is her best work. But then again, I'm getting tired of "academic" literature. I think Morrison tried to hard to write a multileveled symbolic story and skimped on the characters. This novel didn't have the emotional power
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of Sula, Song of Solomon, or Beloved.
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LibraryThing member caymil
Although I found the premise of the story interesting, I found the writing of it boring and difficult to get into. I almost quit reading it numerous times, but then I would come to a part that held some interest and I would fool myself into thinking that this was where the story would live up to
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its potential and the book would get good. In the end I really couldn't say that I enjoyed the book at all, or that the effort of struggling through it was worth it. Obvously many other readers have enjoyed this book so maybe it just was not my advice would be that if you find that you are forcing yourself to read it, don't bother. Just put it down and get on to better things.
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LibraryThing member gsaadiq1
This was one of the most difficult novels I ever read. Plus, all the controversy that surrounded it when it was first published tainted my view. At times I wanted to give up on it, but as I got closer to the end it was much easier to follow and I ended up enjoying the book. I haven't read it since
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1998, now that its in my hand...
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LibraryThing member liehtzu
I love Morrison's prose; pure Americana, ironically. But as for her observations into African-American culture (with a cutting, sharp eye permitted only to an insider) she is unsurpassable!
LibraryThing member MarkKeeffe
I didn't like this book at all. I couldn't follow the storyline and couldn't follow what the sequence of events were. The story jumps around so much that I couldn't keep track of the relationships and connections between people and places and times. Perhaps if I had ever spent some time in America
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and the American culture I might have understood the attitudes and motivations of the characters. However I could see little or inadequate reason or motivation for the terrible crime around which the novel is based. Perhaps Toni Morrison's other books will explain her high prizes but this one I had to force myself to finish.
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LibraryThing member booklove2
I liked this very much. Possibly the Morrison book I liked best. There are probably a lot of biblical metaphors I'm still not getting, just like Toni Morrison's other books, but I think I could understand this book better. This is very good. Morrison won the Nobel Prize for a reason. This is the
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story of an ex-slave town that had to relocate (but some of them were also ex-lieutenant governors, they were not just ex-slaves, which is very bizarre to me. Ex-slaves were allowed to be lieutenant governors but that went downhill yet again when even more racism fired up. They weren't given so much power again for a long time. ) On their way, they tried to stay at a town with people that were not '8-rock' (a way for one character to describe how pure black the town is) and were rejected. They realized that not only were whites racist, but so were other black folk to shades of skin different than their own. When they eventually found their new home, the town of Ruby is unaccepting of anyone, until inevitable tragedy. Also near the town is an old convent, a house of women, that are trying to escape the brutality of the world, just like Ruby.There is much brutality, like any Toni Morrison book, but how can that be avoidable with such subject matter? There is just something in the way of the little details that make the story (ie: the words "Furrow of His Brow" on a community oven and how people in the town interpret what it means, and the many meanings that only Morrison could show it has). Everything ties together amazingly well. I also liked that at least one woman at the convent is white, which we learn on the first page, but we are never told which woman it is. It is so important to the characters, but Morrison is saying it shouldn't be for the reader, I think. It isn't shoved in your face : "This woman is black. This woman is white." The women's problems are universal and deserve sympathy that the town of Ruby never gives them. What happened to the town of Ruby wasn't right, but neither was their unacceptance of anyone else. They did the same and worse and ultimately became what they were trying to avoid.
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LibraryThing member andreablythe
"They shoot the white girl first. With the rest they can take their time." These powerful first lines set up this beautifully written and complex novel that explores what utopia means and the cost required to maintain it.

Ruby is a small town, founded by black families who persevered through the
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roughest of times to make a home for themselves away from the threat of whites and the shame of being rejected by other blacks. Built 90 miles from anywhere, Ruby has been able to preserve and protect itself from the influence of the outside world, in addition to creating a complex mythology around its founding that sustains it. The families live in peace without threat of violence, drugs, television, or the miscreant behavior of mistreated children.

Meanwhile, far on the outskirts of this small town is the Convent, once the home of nuns aiming to plant a seed of culture in young native girls, is now a last refuge for lost women, who have been shattered by their lives. Each reach the Convent, one way or another, by accident, and intending to stay only a few days, end up staying years.

The novel interweaves the history of Ruby and its founding families and the lives of these women, and true to Morrison's style, nothing is simple, not people, or towns, or history, or stories.

One of the things I remember from when I first read it in class was the question of who the "white girl" was. Race is an important question in the book, or I should say, it's an important question and focus for the townsfolk of Ruby, who pride themselves on being dark-skinned blacks, as opposed to the light skinned blacks who rejected them, not to mention the whites they were trying to escape and avoid. However, among the women who live at the Convent, the story is different. Race is less of an issue, and Morisson never makes it clear who the "white girl" is, and though we spent a lot of time in class trying to debating it, in the end, I think perhaps it doesn't matter, because these women (after a long false start), began to create a kind of paradise for themselves that was not at all built on race, but on something else entirely.

Paradise is a rich, complex book with rich, complex write that you could pick up 50 times and come away with something new each time. It requires a certain amount of focus, of paying attention to get through, but it is absolutely worth the effort, and is a beautiful read.
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LibraryThing member novelcommentary
Another wonderfully told story by one of my favorites. In a town named Ruby, Ohio, a community of Black families, lead by twin brothers settle into their own segregated paradise, hopefully never to be ruined by the outside world. As time progresses the younger generation of teenagers start to want
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to change things and the status quo is being questioned. At the same time there is an abandoned convent that once was used by nuns looking to educate the locals. Now it is home to a collection of women in need or desperation. Each chapter title is the name of one of the women. The novel begins with the murder of one of these women and then circulates back to provide the back story to why this carnage is happening. It is an amazing intertwined saga, one that does take some concentration or in my case book notes. However the journey is well worth the effort. Morrison is masterful with her language and her depiction of characters. I have read most of her book and look forward to her newest: Home.
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LibraryThing member Frenzie
Paradise opens with a scapegoat massacre. "They shoot the white girl first. With the rest they can take their time." Who that white girl is, is left for the reader to decide. I suppose the mystery is meant to be compelling.

In spite of some great writing, if I have one main complaint it's that too
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many of the characters seem a little too superficial, a bit too symbolic or perhaps even cliché. For this reason the book drags somewhat in the middle, or maybe even the entire first half except for the opening chapter.
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LibraryThing member pinkcrayon99
Opening with the most chilling line in literature, "They shoot the white girl first," Paradise continues to read as haunting as its opening line. Morrison builds the story around the town of Ruby, its history and the history of its residents. When the occupants of the former Convent on the
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outskirts of Ruby threatens all that the town stands for, the men of Ruby take matters into their own hands.

There are scores of characters throughout Paradise. They all possess a dark secret or either they are shrouded in some type of sorrow. The twins, Deek and Steward, govern Ruby with an iron fist while Connie welcomes women into the Convent with no questions asked. The twins will do whatever it takes to protect the way of life in Ruby. Ruby is somewhat of a African-American utopia with strict age, family, class, and religious divides. At the Convent women of various backgrounds, ages, and lifestyles come and go but most can't seem to stay away. The Convent and its occupants are shunned by most of the residents of Ruby outside of them purchasing vegtables but there are a few who visit for other reasons.

The town of Ruby has a rich history and so does the Convent. There are layers of family and personal history that Morrison weaves intricately throughout each chapter. The stories that surround the Convent and the women that found refuge there were the most captivating for me. Ruby and its residents could have been totally removed from the story and I would not have missed them. The characters that made up the town of Ruby were flat with one except the midwife, Lone DuPres. The Convent women had rich stories full of life and depth.

Paradise is dark and sorrowful. There is a feminist feel about it. For me there was a lot of disconnect and places where I simply got lost in what I would describe as rambling. After a while, I found re-reading passages proved useless. I never truly found the "core" of the story. The reader can never really pin point who the "white girl" is. The race of most of the Convent women is ambiguous. I reached a bright spot in the narrative close to the end when a totally unexpected love story was brought to the light. I once thought if I read and understood Morrison's novel, Love, I could make it through any of her books. I was wrong. Paradise was torture for me.
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LibraryThing member jkdavies
A difficult subject, or couple of subjects really, to write about in alcoholism and adultery, and especially to write in a way that is both realistic and sympathetic, and without resorting to "bad things happened in childhood" as an excuse. I was holding my breath through the final chapters, hoping
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that everything would not be patly explained, and I was so happy that it was not.

And some beautiful and harsh words too..

"Because I've done the married man stuff before: the serious married man stuff with the calls at odd hours and the lunch-break fucks and him making you meet his wife socially (so that you'll know her, so that you can feel bad, too - except that you don't, because you're not married, that's his problem) and the not going out much in daylight and the wanting to have more of him, the hunger that almost wrecks you when you finally do touch - the whole, huge, locked-in crucifying, paranoid fantasy.!

I borrowed this book, and I will try to hang on to it for a while longer, to reread soon.
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LibraryThing member mirrani
This story about race is told by the women of a town that began as a settlement of freed slaves who moved their society to a place they built out of devotion to their beliefs and the signs created from said devotion. The story is short, but is retold from each woman's point of view. Some of the
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women have always lived there, some have come only recently, all have a connection to the strange house located well outside of the city.

The story isn't always linear and there were times when I thought something was purposefully meant to be so confusing that you just couldn't follow it. Some of the poetic writing is just a little too cryptic to understand without some pause to think about the situation a little. Books should be that way at times, when the balance is right, and this book has almost perfect balance. In a way there is a great mystery to this book, because even though the story starts with what is obviously the end of the story, you find yourself wondering how it all came about. You find yourself reading for the writing style just as much as the mystery though. It is simply that good.
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LibraryThing member arewenotben
Beautiful writing but a bit of a struggle, due mainly to the huge cast of characters. Worth looking at if you're able to read for long stretches at a time, would definitely benefit from a re-read.
LibraryThing member laytonwoman3rd
A difficult and disturbing novel about human nature. While I sense its power, and found certain passages absolutely wonderful, I didn't fall in love with the book. Nearly 200 pages into it, I was still trying to sort out the characters and their relationships. I don't object to complexity and often
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embrace it, but I found parts of the first half of this book were just too obtuse. It may have been partly that I never sat down and immersed myself in the reading for long enough to get caught up in it, but that's sort of a "chicken or egg" situation. A book can MAKE me do that and this one didn't. Having said all that, I expect that I'll re-read Paradise at some point. I'm not ready to devote any more of my limited reading time to this book immediately, but I really wish our library had the audiobook on CD so I could listen to it in the car right away. I think that would probably increase my rating from 3 1/2 to 4 at least. I know that I have not got everything there is to get from this book, and I'm not through with it. Some books simply require a second go.
Reviewed in 2011
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LibraryThing member ffortsa
from the group read comments in 75 Book Challenge for 2021:
Great discussion. Sorry I wasn't able to start the book sooner, and add my two cents as the thread went on. I finished about an hour ago, and I'm relieved that others found it confusing, not just me!

I found the writing quite powerful, the
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characters as well, although I wish I had Pat's genealogy to guide me! Next time I read it, I will at least keep track of who married whom and which children belonged to which family.

As for the reality of the women at the Convent, I never doubted it. How their bodies disappeared is certainly a mystery, as is (to me) that door or window that Richard and Anna sense in the garden. I think Mavis might be alive at the end - when her daughter embraces her she winces - but maybe not. I think Pallas is certainly dead, as is her baby, because she doesn't answer or look at her mother later when she comes back for her shoes, carrying the baby. I don't know if Lone was able to employ her power to restore any of them, but it's a possibility.

The story of exclusive communities is very old, of course, and we still carry that in some parts of our society today. It's meant as a bulwark against change and contamination, but without change thoughts and habits ossify. The nine families recoil from the hurt of exclusion (no room at the inn for them) into themselves. I was a little surprised that the young men of the latter generation went off to war - so little mention was made of the government I thought the town was itself invisible. But of course, once the boys see the realities of the outside world, it's harder to keep new ideas out. And then the very personal damage that can be caused by exclusion becomes overt.

Much more to be said, if I can think of it. This book certainly bears careful rereading, but I don't expect that to explain things.

I'll go check other's posts on their own threads now. I've been passing them by until I'd finished my own read.
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LibraryThing member streamsong
This is a dense read that does not give up its secrets quickly.

On the surface it’s the story of a group of nine former slave families, freed at the end of the Civil War, searched for a place to settle. When they attempted to join one community of former slaves, they were told they were too black
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and too poor. They traveled onward and settled in Oklahoma. This is the story of the town they founded and the people who lived there.

They settled near a bootlegger/racketeer’s pleasure palace. Eventually, the pleasure palace was taken over by an order of Catholic nuns as a school for Indian girls. But the Indian school fades out, as does the order of nuns. It becomes home to a few wayward girls who have found their way there by accident, or perhaps as if they were drawn there.

It’s a story of racism, classism, colorism, and religion – of men and women in conflict; of supernatural haunting of the old Convent as well as an elderly Brazilian woman who can enter people’s souls and prolong life. It’s a story of old conflicts and hurts bubbling forth and a community founded on the freedom of a newly freed people becoming a very unfree community.

Even after reading several online commentaries on this novel, I was often at a loss. One professor who has taught it several times, said he always starts out by making a crib sheet of names and relationships. When I read it again, I will do so.

Because,having finished reading I feel that I need to read it again -probably multiple times. But for now, I will set it aside and let it soak.
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LibraryThing member Othemts
When Paradise was released in 1997, it was the first new Toni Morrison novel since I had learned about her and started reading all of her books. I got it early on and struggled with it and had to return it to the library after only reading a small part. I checked it out again but enough time had
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passed that I had to start over again and I ended up still not being able to finish it. To my shame, I've finally read all of Paradise. It's still a book I struggle with, featuring a lot of characters and overlapping plots.

The story takes place in Ruby, and all-Black town in Oklahoma where the prominent men of town take up arms against the women in an abandoned convent on the outskirts of town. The men treat the convent as if it were a brothel or a coven corrupting the morals in town. In fact, it is a safe place for women who are escaping abuse, exclusion, and personal tragedies, mainly brought on by the patriarchy of the town and discrimination against light-skin Black people The narrative interweaves the personal stories of women who lived and died at the convent with the history of the town.

As I've noted, I found this to be a complex book. It is also violent and disturbing which makes it hard for me to read. It's nonetheless a poetic work with Morrison's typical honesty and compassion toward her characters. But it is not going to be a favorite of mine among her novels.
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