Paradise / Toni Morrison.
Booklist Monthly Selections - #2 November 1997
/*Starred Review*/ We all long for paradise, although we are apparently incapable of creating one. And America, immense and wild at heart, has always made paradise seem possible to the oppressed, the enraptured, and the lost. It is this dream of utopia in a world of tangled and deeply rooted conflicts that Morrison explores and dramatizes in this tentacled and gripping novel about life in a small, all-black Oklahoma town during the 1970s. Oklahoma is spacious enough for people to achieve physical and moral isolation, which is just what the determined citizens of Ruby have done. Descendants of slaves who founded a town called Haven during Reconstruction, the people of Ruby are proud of their pure African American heritage, their religious convictions, and their prosperity, and not at all welcoming of strangers, especially the suspect females congregating at an old mansion known as the Convent. Once a school for Indian girls, it is now the home of an enigmatic, beautiful, and racially ambiguous woman named Consolata. Young women hitchhiking their way cross-country or driving stolen cars--refugees from domestic violence, disastrous love affairs, and madness--begin to appear at Consolata's door as if by magic. As Morrison braids together their wrenching stories and the stories of Ruby--the stern twin brothers who own the bank, their forgiving wives, young people feeling the pull of the greater world, a preacher skeptical of the town's insularity--she subtly connects their travails to tragedies of the past, including the Vietnam War and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., as well as to the pervasiveness of "disorder, deception, and drift." Morrison is at her complex and commanding best in this mysterious tale as she presents a unique perspective on American history and leaves her dazzled readers shaking their heads over all that is perpetually inexplicable between men and women, rich and poor, the tyrannical and the free spirited. ((Reviewed November 15, 1997)) Copyright 2000 Booklist Reviews
LJ Reviews 1997 October
It's the 1970s, and four young women living in a convent near an all-black town have been viciously attacked. This is Morrison's first novel since winning the Nobel prize, and by the time she's done, she has taken on Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Movement, the counterculture, and more. The 400,000-copy first printing is no surprise. Copyright 1998 Library Journal Reviews
LJ Reviews 1998 February
Nobel laureate Morrison creates another richly told tale that grapples with her ongoing, central concerns: women's lives and the African American experience. Morrison has created a long list of characters for this story that takes place in the all-black town of Ruby, Oklahoma, population 360, which was founded by freed slaves. In what could be seen as an attempt to create some of the same mysticism that was present in many of her previous works, Morrison alludes to Ruby's founding citizens, now ghosts, and only minimally focuses on the present generations that have let the founding principles of Ruby's forebears deteriorate. Paradise is an examination of the title itself and deliberately builds into a plot that is unexpected and explosive. This is Morrison's first novel since her 1993 Jazz, and it is well worth the wait. Highly Recommended for all collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/97.]?Emily J. Jones, "Library Journal" Copyright 1998 Cahners Business Information.
PW Reviews 1997 November #3
So intense and evocative in its particulars, so wide-ranging in its arch, this is another, if imperfect, triumph for the Nobel Prize-winning author (Song of Solomon; Beloved; etc.). In 1950, a core group of nine old families leaves the increasingly corrupted African American community of Haven, Okla., to found in that same state a new, purer community they call Ruby. But in the early 1970s, the outside world begins to intrude on Ruby's isolation, forcing a tragic confrontation. It's about this time, too, that the first of five damaged women finds solace in a decrepit former convent near Ruby. Once the pleasure palace of an embezzler, the convent had been covered with lascivious fixtures that were packed away or painted over by the nuns. Time has left only "traces of the sisters' failed industry," however, making the building a crumbling, fertile amalgam of feminine piety and female sexuality. It's a woman's world that attracts the women of Ruby and that repels the men who see its occupants as the locus of all the town's ills. They are "not women locked safely away from men; but worse, women who chose themselves for company, which is to say not a convent but a coven." Only when Morrison treats the convent women as an entity (rather than as individual characters) do they lose nuance, and that's when the book falters. Still, the individual stories of both the women and the townspeople reveal Morrison at her best. Tragic, ugly, beautiful, these lives are the result of personal dreams and misfortune; of a history that encompasses Reconstruction and Vietnam; and of mystical grandeur. 400,000 first printing; simultaneous audio and large print editions (ISBN 0-375-40179-2; -70217-2) (Jan.) Copyright 1998 Publishers Weekly Reviews