79 of 85 people found the following review helpful
Difficult, but Well Worth It,
By A Customer
This review is from: Sula (Oprah's Book Club) (Paperback)
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 not...in 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.