Toni Morrison, the celebrated author responsible for such American classics “Sula,” “Beloved” and “Song of Solomon,” has released a new book, much to the delight of readers everywhere.
The 160-page “Home” tackles issues familiar to Morrison’s fan base such as racism and the search for identity of African-American’s in the United States.
The story focuses on Frank Money, who returns home after serving his country proudly overseas in the Korean War. However, once away from the battlefield and out of uniform, the fight for respect continues unabated for a man who is still judged by the color of his skin and not the content of his character.
Forced to travel through a segregated South, keeping to the back of the bus and securing shelter in those few places that will allow him entry, Money takes the reader of 2012 who likely never experienced racism like this first-hand on a journey back in time to the horrors of a pre-Civil Rights America.
Morrison has made a career out of exploring different eras in American history. “Beloved” captured the Civil War era. “Jazz” was a story set in the Roaring Twenties. “A Mercy” was set in colonial times.
In every one of her novels, Morrison’s goal is to try and dispel some of the nostalgia of “how good things used to be” that the distance of time tends to add in retrospect.
Most people, when asked about the 1950′s, would describe a “simpler time” and idealize the decade.
While the television shows of the era all have happy endings and show perfect families, the truth is that there was enormous division in the United States, all of which boiled over in the 1960′s with political assassinations and ultimately, the Civil Rights movement.
Morrison portrays a more savage time, when segregation ruled the day and local police forces played by their own rules without fear of reprisal.
While “Home” is a work of fiction, she does draw on some of her own experience as a student at Howard University, where for the first time in her life, she saw signs designated certain facilities as for “whites only.”
From a literary standpoint, Morrison allows her character, Money, to talk in the first person.
It’s a device she has not used before in her works and she says she wanted to be surprised by the character.
By letting him, at times, speak for himself, she found her own writing choices challenged in a way se had never experienced before as an author.
Morrison’s “Home” is a history lesson and a treatise on how far we’ve come in terms of race relations in this country.
However, it is also a very relevant story in terms of the cost of war in terms of the damage done to the soldiers who we ship off to fight in them, and often forget about them once they return back to society.
But in the end, as in all of Morrison’s work, it comes down to the powerful relationships of the characters.
In this case, the relationship between Money and Cee, brother and sister, is one that rings true regardless of the era that the author has decided to set her story. That, in the end, is the true genius that is Toni Morrison.
By making you care about what happens to her protagonists, even flawed individuals like Frank Money, Morrison makes the reader feel their struggle to survive. And when an author makes the reader feel, then the author has succeeded.