Customer Reviews: Sula (Oprah's Book Club)
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on April 5, 2002
I think Toni Morrison is America's greatest living author. Perhaps she is the greatest living woman author. Surely she is in the top three. Although "Sula" isn't my favorite Morrison work, I think it is one of Morrison's most complicated and one of her richest. Those who read Morrison must remember she is a classicist and approach her as such. Not to do so only creates needless problems for the reader and Morrison can be difficult to read, though always enjoyable and always superb.
On it's surface, "Sula" is the story of two black women who remain lifelong friends despite their obvious differences and the different way in which each pursues her life. Set in an Ohio community called, The Bottom, "Sula" follows these two women, Sula Peace and Nel Wright, from childhood to marriage to old age to death.
Nel is the conformist in this oddly matched pair. She marries and raises a family in the place of her birth. Outwardly, at least, she seems to need no more than husband and children and community to make her happy. She adapts. Sula, on the other hand, is a far different story.
Sula is a woman who feels the need to escape, to break free of whatever binds her. And, if her breaking free involves pain...for herself or for others, then so be it. She moves from The Bottom, goes to college and becomes the epitome of everything that Nel is short, Sula becomes a waton seductress. For Sula, hell is stability; for Nel, hell is change.
Is either woman happy with her choices in life? No, not entirely, and we do find echoes of Nel in Sula and echoes of Sula in Nel. Though it's not obvious at first glance, the women are really two sides of the same coin. One came up "heads," the other, "tails." Both women are, however, black Americans and both are proud to be black Americans. It is how they express their heritage, and their love for each other, that differs.
Morrison is a masterful writer and her handling of the character of Sula is miraculous. We could have so easily come to hate this wanton women, we could have so easily come to have seen her as the stereotypical seductress, the temptress, the tramp. Yet Morrison manages, somehow, to endow Sula with a humanity and a beauty that shines through all her artifice and pain.
For me, "Sula" is a book about choices and the problems of living with those choices. It is about loving someone who chooses a very different path in life than we do and what is needed to keep that love alive...or even if it can be kept alive. Sula and Nel are both beautiful characters and both are vibrantly alive. Both want desperately to hold onto their love for each other, but fate and circumstances make it increasingly difficult. The story of Sula's and Nel's growth from child to adult to old age is the thread that ties the other stories in this book into one seamless whole.
Although "Sula" could be seen as an allegory or metaphor for the rediscovery of the core self of black America, I feel the characters, themselves are too rich, to fully-drawn, to alive, to call this book an allegory. Perhaps on some level, it is, but Morrison is a writer of literature, not genre fiction.
All of Toni Morrison's books are masterpieces and all can be read on many levels. "Sula" is no exception. It is a difficult book but one that is both beautiful and tragic and worth every second any reader spends with it. I really can't recommend "Sula," or any other Morrison book, highly enough.
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on October 17, 2005
"Sula" is a peculiar and haunting novel exploring the lives of several women who live in the Bottom, a black neighborhood on top of a hill in Ohio. Spanning the years 1919 to 1965, Morrison's book stitches together snippets of episodes and pieces of relationships. Because of its focus on character and community, the book's plot is difficult to summarize without oversimplification and, despite its brevity, the novel weaves many themes into its patchwork: motherhood, the tyranny of traditionalism, racism, the paradox of gentrification, and more.

The most obvious of Morrison's subjects, however, is her examination of the lives of black women in a society controlled by whites and by men. "Sula" is, above all, a study of contrasts, exploring the lives of three disparate women. The Old Testament version is represented by Eva Peace, an iron-willed woman who goes to biblical extremes to protect and control her children; she is so defined by her household that she never even leaves it. Not content with the company of her immediate family, she adopts stray children and takes in boarders to fill the rooms of her constantly expanding residence.

Set below Eva's expansive and commanding view of matriarchy is Nel, who embodies more traditional ideals about marriage and maternity, faith and subservience; she is the daughter, wife, mother who willingly capitulates to the demands of social convention. Nel's life will be much like the life of her mother: defined by husband and children. One of the more touching and oddly resonant moments occurs during Nel's wedding in her mother's home. The guests are spilling their drinks on the carpet and "the children are wrapping themselves into the curtains." but the normally abstemious Helene simply lets go: "Once this day was over she would have a lifetime to rattle around the house and repair the damage."

And perhaps this moment, too, defines the rebellious, independent, and "amoral" Sula, Eva's granddaughter and Nel's closest childhood friend. Immediately after the wedding that forever transforms Nel's and Helene's lives, Sula leaves town. After a ten-year hiatus in the urban deserts of America, she refuses to settle down with her own family, choosing instead a life of autonomy. Her homecoming, with its open defiance of social conventions, supplies her neighbors with a clearly defined enemy: "They began to cherish their husbands and wives, protect their children, repair their homes and in general band together against the devil in their midst."

Morrison's subtle symbolism and her signature sarcasm constantly defy reader's expectations: has a recent author ever been so consistently and brutally witty? The novel is filled with shocking incidents, hilarious escapades, and offbeat characters, but what linger are the portrayals of these three women and the choices they make. In the end, the reader confronts Nel's anguished acknowledgment of what has been surrendered to the pursuit of social conventions--yet Morrison is too adept to offer easy lessons. Each woman suffers from her own failings as much as from the expectations of others, and not one of them is able to salvage much from the ashes of her sacrifices.
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on January 25, 2005
Sula isn't the most famous of Toni Morrison's books, but it may be the best. It reveals humanity at its most raw and vulnerable. The only other Morrison book with this kind of power is Beloved, and the less publicized Sula moves with all the passion and compassion of the acknowledged work of genius. Sula and Beloved both belong on any list of greatest books ever written.
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on June 12, 2001
In this novel, Toni Morrison's deals in part with the concept of community in a town called the Bottom. Using the Bottom as a microcosm, Morrison introduces us to a series of characters, which although Black, can very well make up any other community regardless of their ethnicity or background. Morrison's ironic style reminds us the Latin American Magic Realism writers from the 1960s, that populated our imaginations with unforgettable towns with fictitious characters very much grounded in reality in order to give us a glimpse at issues of social and economic injustice. The name of the town itself - the Bottom - is an irony: The Bottom is situated at the top of a mountain. It was given to its black founder by his slave-owner master claiming that it was the best piece of land around because it was at the Bottom of Heaven. The white slave owner is the representation of what white colonialism has done for centuries, especially in the American Continent: trading useless trinkets for good land or gold. While Blacks were pushed up to the dry, arid barren lands of the Bottom, the whites settled in the good fertile lands of the valley in the town called Medallion. Morrison shows the segregation of whites and blacks which has been a perpetual issue in the history of the United States. The Bottom could have been a new Liberia. Morrison could have chosen to create a utopia for those who because of racial segregation would bind together and carry out a social experiment. Yet, she chooses to turn it into a microcosms of individuals who, as a community, live their lives on the margins of mainstream white society - outside the mainstream of Medalllion. Like Marquez's Macondo or Rulfo's Comala, the Bottom has its share of self-righteous individuals like Helene Wright and her churchgoing neighbors. These characters are the ones that create and abide by the social rules of the community they live in. But the Bottom also has its share of outcasts. Shadrack and Sula are their maximum exponents. Shadrack is a shell-shocked veteran from World War I that returns to the Bottom and institutes National Suicide Day. The town, at first astonished, allow him to celebrate National Suicide Day with out interfering. Every January 3rd since 1920, Shadrack parades in front of its townspeople celebrating what at the end of the novel becomes a collective holiday. The reaction of the town to this extravagant person is a sample of the people's attitude toward their own lives. At first they are astonished, then they remain impassive, and at the end they join in the celebration. This passivity also determines the character of the town. The inhabitants do not fight back or argue - as if they felt that their futures were already predetermined. In this same fatalistic line, Sula becomes the excuse for the town's setbacks. Sula grew up in the Bottom in a house of women, of independent women. Sula's grandmother Eva and her mother Hannah were comfortable with their own sexuality and men are constantly coming in and out of the house. The author points out at this environment as one of the causes why Sula does not seem to understand the concept of personal property within the community. Sula defies the Bottom by attending the church's fairs without underwear, picking at their food and sleeping with their men and discarding them as if she were at a wine-testing event. This self-assertion and detachment from the rules of the community is what angers the Bottom. The community vilifies her and justifies all the mishaps that occur in the community to her evil-doing. And while her attitude appalls her townspeople, it also serves as the catalyst that brings the community together. By having to confront Sula, the She-devil, the people in the town are able to give meaning to their lives: wives were more loving with their discarded husbands and mothers were more caring and attentive to their children. Sula becomes the invisible glue that holds the town together giving meaning to the townspeople's lives. At the end when Sula dies, the common evil against which the town had to join forces in order to fight, disappears and with her the invisible force that gave the town a sense of community and identity.
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on December 13, 2002
This is a generalization, but for most people, the movie scenes that cause us to cover our eyes are the same ones that make us inclined to keep watching the film. These same kind of passages are found continuously throughout Toni Morrison's Sula. Sula holds the same intensity and drama of a romance novel yet is written with the shocking talent of a Nobel Prize winning piece of literature. It is grotesquely beautiful and painfully honest, exploring the individual and mutual identity of two young black women growing up in the Midwest.
Morrison traces the lives of Sula and Nel , who are inseparable through childhood, barely able to distinguish themselves from each other. Their friendship is indestructible, until they suddenly take drastically different paths-Nel a path of small town domesticity, while Sula takes off to a wild life of college and city experiences. When Sula returns, they struggle to keep a friendship together despite their changed ways and lifestyles, deciding what is important to them-what is unforgivable and what can be overlooked.
This book is amazing, and worth reading simply for the beautiful writing, although the storyline does add to the appeal. It makes you question your own values-ideas of what is right and what is wrong, who is good and who is bad. It becomes clear through reading this that it is a fine line between these things, and that sometimes friendship is more important than morals.
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on July 26, 2002
Another Toni Morrison under my belt and proud of it! I've always heard that her novels are difficult reads, but after completing (and enjoying) the two that I've read, I'm going to disagree with that statement. Toni has a way with words that make even the most mundane of statements seem eloquent and rhythmic.
Sula tells the story of a small black community called The Bottom located in Medallion, Ohio and its many colorful citizens. We have Shadrack, who, after returning from the war, has spent every January 3 celebrating a holiday of his own making, National Suicide Day. There is Eva Peace, the one-legged grandmother; Hannah, Eva's daughter, who shares her bed with her friends' and neighbors' husbands; and Sula, Hannah's daughter, who shares her mother's wild spirit and befriends her complete opposite, the calm and mature, Nel Wright. This novel tells mostly about the friendship of Sula and Nel and how their lives take different paths as they grow older. However, there is some very powerful writing with the background characters that shock and surprise the reader.
Sula is set in the early 1900s and spans 40 years or so. I truly enjoyed this novel and am very glad I read it. Granted, there are parts of this story that wax poetically and go totally over my head, but for the most part I understood what I was reading and was continually immersed in the lives of The Bottom citizens. After my second successful attempt at a Toni Morrison novel (the first being The Bluest Eye), I'd be more than happy to try another one. So far so good.
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on May 26, 2002
Though I am not an Oprah Book Club [fan], I must say
without being biased that this book of Ms. Morrison is
one of the few good books which Ms. Winfrey has
This book spans between 1921-1965 taking readers to a
journey in the lives of two girls, Sula Peace and Nel
Wright as they become friends, share secrets and make
their way into womanhood. What I liked about the book
was its simplicity - yeah it was simple as would not
be generally expected out of Morrisons' works.
This 174 page so-called novella shows readers what it
is that friendship can sometimes do and sometimes
cannot. Sula Peace is one character that is so
enigmatic and rich - she leaves her hometown called
Bottom ( which has a funny yet moving significance in
the book ) only to return and add to the anger of the
Sula has many layers - I feel that the book was
written with much integrity and a lot of afterthought.
Toni Morrison observes the racial issues with such
strength and vigor that the portrayal of which in the
book is breathtaking. We also meet characters from her
earlier books such as Tar Baby and the Deweys - which
do have their significance in the book - only that it
is lost after a certain point. The central link though
is a drunk lost war fellow called Shadrack who comes
across very strongly celebrating "Suicide Day".
I will not say more. The idea is to go pick this book
and believe you me - its not going to be
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on April 6, 2002
I read this book during the summer of my senior year in high school. It is a very powerful book, with an interesting story line. You learn to love Sula. However, there was a scene that may not be appropriate for younger readers. I loved this book and read it quickly. I would read Toni Morrison's other novels based on Sula. Her writing style is very vivid and captivating. I would recommend this book to others.
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on August 4, 2000
The central themes that Toni Morrison tackles in this work are relevant today and wonderfully executed, although very dark and in rough territory. Friendship, death (of more than the physical kind), a hard life, and little regard for morality comes across in this novel. Her primary characters are women, featuring her as an important writer in any Women's Lit class worth its salt. She holds a mirror, making us, forcing us to look, to reinvaulate American Society, to learn from our past so we do not repeat it in our future. However, younger readers should not be allowed this, because the language is harsh and there is some descriptive sexual scenes.
Morrison in detail develops the relationship between Sula and Nel, and show, in this short novel, how each move into different paths and how each must cope with the other's decisions. Sula becomes a seductress whilst Nel becomes a housewife. This woman who so loved Nel she cut off part of her finger to protect her later destroys Nel's family. Sula finds it difficult to stay within proper boundaries, apt to be irresponsible, whereas Nel counteracts her. Morrison also shows the product of the slave mentality: black men who did not feel responsible for their children. She keeps this consistently thruout her works. In the slave nightmarish world, black men did not have to provide for them, because that was the owner's job, and because the white man treated them as stock the black's family structure suffered very extensive damage which that is reflected even today in present society. The men would, when they wanted too, just disappear (Jude and BoyBoy here, Paul D in Beloved). The sins of the men are very great indeed.
Shadrack, who you find in the opening section, plays an important part with his National Suicide Day (January 3). Traditionally, water symbolizes life, but in this novel it harkens death, and Shadrack is linked to the water, being a fisherman. One of the central elements Morrison allows us to perceive is the black community's desire to better themselves, and the white community setting them back. The whites give the blacks hills for farmland, saying it is prime farm land. In one central scene, Shadrack, leading people like a pied piper, go down, and try to cross over a bridge unfinished. On the symbolic level, the blacks, want of work, wanted to cross over to the white man's land that the white man had unfairly dominated. Shadrack, although none follow him for years (National Suicide Day deals with Shadrack's disgust of being alive in a society that has a good deal of racial injustices), which culminates, with everyone following him down to the bridge, and he, like the Pied Piper (although Shad has a better cause) watch as death comes upon them. Water is important here in another scene as well, as illustrated in another scene involving Nel and Sula when they are children.
Over all, an ugly novel about harsh and bitter things. The situations are mean, but Morrison gives us a view into a dark part of life that many of us did not know about - I daresay we wish we didn't, either, because when she holds the mirror up to our face, we are quite repulsed what we see.
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on May 31, 2006
Nell and Sula grow up very differently in a typical black settlement in the 20s. Life choices move them apart, and when they meet again years later, it appears as though they are nothing like the best friends they once were. It takes tragedy for them to realize that they are more alike then they think, and that their bond is far stronger than any other in their life. Morrison has the uncanny ability to transport readers across time and place, and she has an amazing grasp of black history. Her words are like the weaving of a wonderful spell, the reader becomes magically engaged in the story, unable to put the book down until the last page is turned.
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