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Song of Solomon – Book Review

The song of songs, which is Solomon’s. -From Chapter One, Song of Solomon, The Bible-

With her father as her muse, Toni Morrison has created a memorable African American family with strong male characters in her novel The Song of Solomon. The novel opens with an insurance agent attempting to fly and therefore diving to his death off of Mercy (referred to as No Mercy) hospital in 1931. This sets the tone for the rest of the novel – a novel about flight and self discovery…mystical, triumphant, and disturbing.

Morrison’s story centers around the Dead family composed of Macon (the abusive, yet savvy father), Ruth (the mother – a sad woman whose grief for her dead father defines her life), First Corinthians (a daughter both beautiful and educated  who stumbles in her search for a lover), Magdalene called Lena (the second daughter), and finally Milkman (Macon’s son). There are other important characters as part of the extended family – namely Pilate, Macon’s free spirited sister who lives with her daughter Reba and Reba’ daughter Hager.

There are many themes and much symbolism throughout the book, and I found myself marking passages and re-reading paragraphs to make sense of them. First and foremost, the novel is about discovery of one’s roots, and the painful search for love. Milkman starts his life fighting to avoid murder at the hands of his father, and this theme continues through the book ending with Milkman’s protracted journey from his home in Michigan to his grandparent’s home in Virginia. Along the way, Milkman’s views of life are challenged and his connection to his roots are strengthened. Another strong theme in the novel is that of racism and the struggle of blacks in American to overcome the history of slavery. Finally, the idea of taking flight and finding oneself is replayed over and over in the book. In one memorable scene, Milkman and his friend Guitar observe a white peacock. Milkman asks why the peacock struggles to fly and Guitar says:

“Too much tail. All that jewelry weighs it down. Like vanity. Can’t nobody fly with all that shit. Wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.” -From Song of Solomon, page 179-

I avoided reading a Morrison novel for a long time because I had heard that Morrison’s books were often difficult reads with weighty themes. And this is certainly true. But despite this, I found myself looking forward to picking up the book. Morrison writes beautifully and is a superb storyteller. Although she is sometimes heavy handed with the symbolism, I didn’t find it distracting from the story. I found myself caring deeply about the characters in Song of Solomon, even those who were not terribly likable.

Song of Solomon has been banned in the United States for “language degrading to blacks,” violent imagery, sexually explicit and profane language and depictions of sexuality. It has been accused of promoting a “homosexual agenda.” There is profanity, violence and sex in the novel, but it is not gratuitous.

Morrison won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993 for her body of work, and I can certainly see why based on this book alone. I will be reading more of Toni Morrison in the future.

Song of Solomon is highly recommended; rated 4.5/5.

8 Comments

  1. Anonymous Anonymous
    February 26, 2008    

    I have several of Morrison’s book on my shelf but like you have been scared to read them. Whenever I think about it I chicken out because I don’t want to read anything “heavy.” Who knows when I’ll get the courage!

  2. Anonymous Anonymous
    February 26, 2008    

    I think I have this one at home. Sula and The Bluest Eye are two Morrison books that I’ve read and found pretty accessible. I had a tougher time with Beloved. Great review!

  3. Anonymous Anonymous
    February 26, 2008    

    I’ve got to admit that the idea of reading another Toni Morrison book kind of frightens me. I read “Paradise” in high school and appreciated the writing but didn’t understand it at all. It’s a rotten feeling to finish a book and have the feeling that most of a book’s subject matter has gone over your head. But having read your review and the reviews of some others who’ve been reading Morrison lately, maybe I’ll have to face my fears and give her another try now that I’m a bit older and wiser. Excellent review!

  4. Anonymous Anonymous
    February 26, 2008    

    Thanks for the great review! I just finished The Bluest Eye recently, and it was like having your nose rubbed in the ugliness of the world.
    Next time I revisit Toni MOrrison, I will have to give this one a chance! You make it sound like a very good read.

  5. Anonymous Anonymous
    February 26, 2008    

    Great review! Like you, I was nervous about Morrison. But I loved Bluest Eye and want to read more. I think I’ll start with Song of Solomon!

  6. Anonymous Anonymous
    February 27, 2008    

    Maw Books: This book was certainly thought-provoking and “heavy” at times, so I think you have to be in the mood for that kind of read before picking it up.
    Trish: Good to hear about The Bluest Eye – I’ve read some mixed reviews on it…
    Megan: I know exactly what you mean. Although I’d encourage you to try Morrison again because I know that some of the books I read in H.S. I liked better as an adult when I had more “life experience” under my belt.
    Kim: Be warned …there is some ugliness in this book as well. But, the underlying message was good.
    Kristen: Let me know what you think after you’ve read it!

  7. Anonymous Anonymous
    February 27, 2008    

    Great review! I’m definitely going to be picking up more Morrison in the future, too. Maybe I’ll start with Solomon!

  8. Anonymous Anonymous
    February 28, 2008    

    Let me know what you think after you read it, Andi!

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