Paradise | Toni Morrison


historical fiction | books by women | race | feminism

First published 1997

photo of pile of books on a wooden floor surrounded by plants

Toni Morrison's novel, Paradise, is set in a remote Oklahoma town called Ruby. Seventeen miles outside of the town is a large house known locally as the Convent. Back in 1950, 15 families set off from a former town called Haven, taking the Oven with them. The Oven was once a source of heating and cooking for the community, but over time has come to symbolise something more mysterious and enigmatic. Ruby is an all-black town and the founding families can trace their ancestry back over a hundred years. They practice their own form of discrimination, making outsiders feel very unwelcome.

The first trauma in the community's history dates back to 1890, when they were turned away by their own people after leaving their original homes in Louisiana and Mississippi. The history of the Convent is equally colourful: it was originally built by an embezzler, then taken over by nuns (hence the name), and after the death of the last nun, the house passed informally to Connie, who had been raised by the nuns after being kidnapped from Costa Rica by Sister Mary Magna.

Over the years, Connie took in an eclectic collection of female waifs and strays all seeking refuge from abuse and unhappiness; the differences between the women of the town of Ruby and the women at the Convent were stark and the tensions between the two grew, reaching an explosive and bloody point in the 1970s. Finally, nine men from the town set out for the Convent, armed with guns and ropes.

The book is told from a number of different points of view, with flashbacks used to give background to why the men feel the need to attack the Convent women. The supernatural element, always present in Morrison's writing, is fully unleashed in the last part of the novel, with Connie seemingly invoking dark forces and withcraft.

By the end of the book, race no longer plays a direct role and the stories of the women, both in the town and at the Convent, completely take over the narrative. At its heart, this is a feminist book, telling the stories of women who, when pushed to the brink and forced to come together, are a force more powerful than any man or group of men.

My Verdict: Toni Morrison's writing is so beautifully poetic, that sometimes I just don't think I possess the type of mind that can fully appreciate it. What I liked most about this book was the feminist angle and the strength that women must have to overcome and beat the odds. I'm not so on board with the supernatural elements evident in much of Morrison's writing, but she is forgiven, because her understanding of how to use exactly the right word to convey exactly the right feeling is virtually unmatched in modern literature.

Review Award | 3.5/5

Posted 30.01.2023

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