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This rich and moving novel traces the lives of two black heroines from their close-knit childhood in a small Ohio town, through their sharply divergent paths of womanhood, to their ultimate confrontation and reconciliation.

Nel Wright has chosen to stay in the place where she was born, to marry, raise a family, and become a pillar of the black community. Sula Peace has rejected the life Nel has embraced, escaping to college, and submerging herself in city life. When she returns to her roots, it is as a rebel and a wanton seductress. Eventually, both women must face the consequences of their choices. Together, they create an unforgettable portrait of what it means and costs to be a black woman in America.

174 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1973

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About the author

Toni Morrison

204 books18.3k followers
Toni Morrison (born Chloe Ardelia Wofford) was an American author, editor, and professor who won the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature for being an author "who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality."

Her novels are known for their epic themes, vivid dialogue, and richly detailed African American characters; among the best known are her novels The Bluest Eye , Song of Solomon , and Beloved , which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988. In 2001 she was named one of "The 30 Most Powerful Women in America" by Ladies' Home Journal.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 6,570 reviews
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,990 reviews298k followers
August 6, 2018
Because each had discovered years before that they were neither white nor male, and that all freedom and triumph was forbidden to them, they had set about creating something else to be.

4 1/2 stars. I have known for some time that I haven't read enough Toni Morrison. Before Sula, I had only read Beloved, which is also a great book. Reading this, I can't understand what took me so long to pick up another.

Toni Morrison's writing is frank and uncompromising. She creates characters who burn with an inextinguishable fire, and she does it through a series of carefully-written moments; ugly, heartbreaking scenes that somehow capture a person, a time, a place or an injustice in full.

Sula is, at times, a strange book; it is about an intense, complicated relationship between two black women - Sula and Nel - from the 1920s to the 1940s. I could tell immediately that it was the kind of book I love: small town politics and gossip, intricate relationship dynamics, and gritty no-holds-barred storytelling.

It's a short, hard-hitting story that I would call a bildungsroman if that didn't seem a little trite. But it's essentially about Nel and Sula growing up - surrounded by racism, injustice and segregation - and becoming women, discovering their sexuality in very different ways, and living very different lives. Their close friendship is pulled apart by an act that is at once straight-forward, unforgivable without question, but also complex and multilayered.

Sula is a fascinating character. Bold, brash, unlikable in some ways... but it is hard not to feel deeply for her. This is a book that in less than two hundred pages takes you deep into the despair and loneliness of life in the Bottom, and at the centre of this is Sula herself.

Morrison is just one of those authors that seems to understand certain aspects of life and human nature better than the rest of us. I can't wait to read The Bluest Eye and Song of Solomon.

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Profile Image for karen.
3,988 reviews170k followers
February 14, 2021
looking for great books to read during black history month...and the other eleven months? i'm going to float some of my favorites throughout the month, and i hope they will find new readers!

thanks for this book.

Because each had discovered years before that they were neither white nor male, and that all freedom and triumph was forbidden to them, they had set about creating something else to be.

this one gets 4 "please don't hit me again, sula!" stars.

and honestly, for more than half of it, it was leaning towards 5 stars, and not just because of stockholm syndrome.

i have never read toni morrison before. her name was at the top of my "authors i have never read, much to my great personal shame" list along with tolstoy, balzac, alice munro, etc. and before this book, my impression of her was that she was a very rigidly literary american author who wrote important books about important themes that were technically masterful, but took themselves very seriously and were probably not much fun to read.


that is not the case with this one, at least.

right from the get-go, i was smitten. it was all the things i loved - it was Winesburg, Ohio, it was grit lit, it was smalltown gossip and neighborly scrutiny, it was the ingenuity of the disenfranchised, it was the sun rising like a hot white bitch, and best of all, it was FUN! but, like, my kind of fun, where people get set on fire and playtime ends in a body count. this is v.c. andrews without the incest!

and now i understand why this book kept injuring me - Sula does NOT play nice. it is a rough book full of rough things too potent to be contained between the covers of the book itself. or maybe the book was just trying to get my attention because it knew i would like it so much. either way, it was worth the price of a few battle scars marking me like sula herself, whose birthmark gives her face a broken excitement.

to me, this book was absolute perfection when it was focused on the childhood friendship of sula and nel, but it lost something once they grew up. which is a shame, because the childhood parts were SO GOOD. she writes the intensity of nel and sula's intertwining perfectly:

They never quarreled, those two, the way some girlfriends did over boys, or competed against each other for them. In those days, a compliment to one was a compliment to the other, and cruelty to one was a challenge to the other.

and she captures that transition from girlhood to half-understood sexuality wonderfully:

It was in that summer, the summer of their twelfth year, the summer of the beautiful black boys, that they became skittish, frightened and bold - all at the same time.

although i do have to say, her overreliance on the word "beautiful" as a descriptor for men and boys is grating. eeeevery man is beautiful, which is statistically improbable, and it's also lazy wordsmithing in someone who has proven herself to be much better than that.

but back to the sexxy bits, because you know i'm not into romance or erotica unless it involves all the hilarious ways a human can copulate with a monster or a tater tot or something like that. but human-on-human gyrations tend to leave me cold. however, while it doesn't involve actual intercourse, her descriptions of sula and nel at twelve, wishbone thin and easy-assed, walking to the ice cream store through the gauntlet of men who are themselves passing the time sitting on stoops watching women walk by, through this valley of eyes chilled by the wind and heated by the embarrassment of appraising stares, knowing and not-knowing their effect, delighted and ashamed all at once, and despite the fact that it's totally gross to call a situation in which men in their twenties up through to elderly gentlemen are ogling twelve-year-old girls "hot," still, there's something here that worked on me the way no fifty shades of story of o has, and it comes from the perspective of the girls themselves, and the mysteries of what they have yet to experience:

It was not really Edna Finch's ice cream that made them brave the stretch of those panther eyes. Years later their own eyes would glaze as they cupped their chins in remembrance of the inchworm smiles, the squatting haunches, the track-rail legs straddling broken chairs. The cream-colored trousers marking with a mere seam the place where the mystery curled. Those smooth vanilla crotches invited them; those lemon-yellow gabardines beckoned to them.

They moved toward the ice-cream parlor like tightrope walkers, as thrilled by the possibility of a slip as by the maintenance of tension and balance. The least sideways glance, the merest toe stub, could pitch them into those creamy haunches spread wide with welcome. Somewhere beneath all of that daintiness, chambered in all that neatness, lay the thing that clotted their dreams.

so you see why i'm frustrated by her repetition of "beautiful" when she can pull off such superior writing. even her descriptions of nature become erotic, although this passage has more of that b-word gumming up the works:

Then summer came. A summer limp with the weight of blossomed things. Heavy sunflowers weeping over fences; iris curling and browning at the edges far away from their purple hearts; ears of corn letting their auburn hair wind down to their stalks. And the boys. The beautiful, beautiful boys who dotted the landscape like jewels, split the air with their shouts in the field, and thickened the river with their shining wet backs. Even their footsteps left a smell of smoke behind.

very saucy stuff, that.

so, yeah - i really loved this book. i loved the final third less than the beginning, because i didn't really understand what i was meant to be getting out of the story's turn, but it was still excellent writing, and it closed very nicely, so it's an easy four stars, and immunity granted for all injuries sustained.


okay, i finished the book. if it lets me live long enough, i will review it soon.



okay, so here's something weird. i started this book yesterday, and read several chapters just before bed. when i woke up, i had this gigantic bruise on my eyelid:

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i have no memory of any trauma to my eye (and i am eye-attack-phobic, so i'd remember) and i wear my glasses all day, which protects me from such trauma. the only way this could have happened would have been when my glasses were off, while i was asleep. when my glasses were off, while i was asleep, WITH THIS BOOK NEXT TO ME IN BED.

seriously, sula - what's your beef with me?

although i gotta say, i like how it makes me look like i'm wearing fancy new wave eyeshadow.

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the final book in my quarterly literary fiction box from pagehabit:


here's the story with me and sula. long ago, when i was working at barnes and noble and we hosted the new yorker festival every year, i was in the back room on the fourth floor, gathering books to restock the festival displays. while i was grabbing books from a shelf far above my head with my monkey-arms, a hardcover copy of sula slipped from the stack and its very solid lower spine-corner hit me right in the center of my skull with all the force of gravity and book-malice behind it. naturally, i yelled "FUCK YOU, SULA," and naturally i vowed never to read that book, ever. but then this box-thing happened, and now i have to read it, regardless of the abuse i have suffered at its hands. fortunately, this is a paperback, and it is not as tough as its momma. i remain vigilant - i could still get papercuts, after all…

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Profile Image for Rowena.
501 reviews2,517 followers
February 29, 2016
"Then summer came. A summer limp with the weight of blossoming things. Heavy sunflowers weeping over fences; iris curling and browning at the edges far away from their purple hearts; ears of corn letting their auburn hair wind down to their stalks. And the boys. The beautiful, beautiful boys who dotted the landscape like jewels, split the air with their shouts in the field, and thickened the river with their shining wet backs. Even their footsteps left a smell of smoke behind."- Toni Morrison, Sula

This is a captivating book about the friendship between two girls (Sula and Nel) with very different personalities. Despite the fact that Sula is the titular character, we're not introduced to her until halfway through the book. Before that we have the opportunity to discover the poor black community where most of the action will take place, and think more about PTSD in the lives of black American soldiers, while waiting for the central story. In particular, the description of Bottom and how it affects the people who live there sets the stage:

"What was taken by outsiders to be slackness, slovenliness or even generosity was in fact a full recognition of the legitimacy of forces other than good ones. They did not believe doctors could heal—for them, none ever had done so. They did not believe death was accidental—life might be, but death was deliberate. They did not believe Nature was ever askew—only inconvenient. Plague and drought were as “natural” as springtime. If milk could curdle, God knows robins could fall. The purpose of evil was to survive it and they determined (without ever knowing they had made up their minds to do it) to survive floods, white people, tuberculosis, famine and ignorance. They knew anger well but not despair, and they didn’t stone sinners for the same reason they didn’t commit suicide—it was beneath them."

Because I'm reading Morrison's books in chronological order, and The Bluest Eye was read not too long ago, I was maybe more sensitive to the connections and similarities between the two books. In this book, as in The Bluest Eye, the theme of the two Americas emerges, in particular on the theme of parental love. What does love mean when you are a single black mother of three children, abandoned by your husband and living in a poor, black community? I kept going back to read the passage where Hannah is asking her mother, Eva, whether she had ever loved her, and Eva replied, "You settin' here with your healthy-ass self and ax me did I love you? Them big old eyes in your head would a been two holes full of maggots if I hadn't." And also:

"Play? Wasn't nobody playin' in 1895. Just 'cause you got it good now you think it was always this good?"

This sentiment was so reminiscent of The Bluest Eye where the black mother showed her love to her children in somewhat gruff ways which weren't even recognized as love until those children were older. In a sense I feel they were too busy to focus on love as most of us envision it, focusing all their attention on survival instead.

I'm still quite conflicted about Sula, although my opinion of her has softened over the years as I myself have gained more empathy through age and personal experiences. In many ways I sympathize with her; she is smart, a rebel of sorts, doesn't like traditional expectations of women, and is very unconventional. She tries to forge her own life, even gaining the courage to leave Bottom. But something is missing in her and Morrison tells us that Sula "had no center, no speck around which to grow." Despite this Morrison is not judgmental in how she portrays her, and it led me to empathizing with her role as an outsider, living in a small community with a small-town mentality :

"In a way, her strangeness, her naivete, her craving for the other half of her equation was the consequence of an idle imagination. Had she paints, or clay, or knew the discipline of the dance, or strings; had she anything to engage her tremendous curiosity and her gift for metaphor, she might have exchanged the relentlessness and preoccupation with whim for an activity that provided her with all she yearned for. And like any artist with no art form, she became dangerous."

Although Morrison focuses mainly on the lives of black girls and women in her writing, she also spares a thought to black men. She looks at black masculinity, particularly in the kind of environment that constrains the lives and movement of black people, and what that manifests as:

"So it was rage, rage and a determination to take on a man's role anyhow that made him press Nel about settling down. He needed some of his appetites filled, some posture of adulthood recognized, but mostly he wanted someone to care about his hurt, to care very deeply. Deep enough to hold him, deep enough to rock him, deep enough to ask, “How you feel? You all right? Want some coffee?” And if he were to be a man, that someone could no longer be his mother. He chose the girl who had always been kind, who had never seemed hell-bent to marry, who made the whole venture seem like his idea, his conquest."

In the end, I really enjoyed this book more than I did a decade ago when I first read it. And I'm awed by how much Morrison can pack into a novella of this size.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews47 followers
April 29, 2022
(Book 349 from 100 books) - Sula, Toni Morrison

Sula is a 1973 novel by Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison, her second to be published after The Bluest Eye. Two girls who grow up to become women. Two friends who become something worse than enemies. In this brilliantly imagined novel, Toni Morrison tells the story of Nel Wright and Sula Peace, who meet as children in the small town of Medallion, Ohio.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: هشتم ماه سپتامبر سال2012میلادی

عنوان: سولا؛ نویسنده: تونی موریسون؛ مترجم: گلرخ سعیدنیا؛ ویراستار: فاطمه تیموری؛ تهران، نشر قله، سال1387؛ در226ص؛ شابک9649204806؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان ایالات متحده امریکا - سده20م

سولا، اثر «تونی موریسون»، سرگذشت و زندگی، و رمز و راز دوستی دو زن سیاه پوست است، در «اوهایو»، زندگی «سولا»، و دوست عزیزش «نل»، از کودکی تا بلوغ، و از بلوغ تا مرگ (درگذشت)؛ رمان، جایزه ی کتاب ملی منتقدان را نیز، کسب کرده است؛ کتاب افتخار این را دارد، که در ردیف سیصد و چهل و نه، از فهرست هزار و یک کتاب بنشیند

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 10/03/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ 08/02/1401هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Fabian.
956 reviews1,623 followers
February 8, 2020
This unerring writer has been the only one to get all 5 star reviews from me so far (for "Beloved," "The Bluest Eye," & this); all of her books have that same wondrous quality. What can be said about our most cherished writer that hasn't already been said? It is really hard to come up with a favorite novel ("Beloved" for its twinges of Goth? "Eye" for its incessant play with tenderness and cruelty? Or this, for its inspiring mix of grief from [the ultraheavy psychological effects of] "Eye" & the magnificent deus ex machina at the end, a-la "Beloved"?). Better than Faulkner, the scenes we are shown here vary in tone. Morrison's narrator has certain privileges but also decides what not to show us. Sula involves the strong relationship between 2 women, how it can possibly transcend the love for family, the love for love. It is something so completely foreign to me, so delicious, & as bizarre, as, say Cindi Lauper's anthem "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun."

What is it that men miss out on?!

After "Sula" I am now suddenly & utterly aware that there are certain circles (circular... perhaps a fitting definition for the manner in which the writer displays her never-normal narrative) which I am barred from entering--the feeling of being shown only glimpses of something I WILL NEVER UNDERSTAND is that mystical magical engine which keeps my nose perpetually in novels.
Profile Image for Hannah Greendale.
701 reviews3,352 followers
March 27, 2017
Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.

In the hills above the valley town of Medallion, Ohio is a small neighborhood known as the Bottom where black residents form a tight-knit community. They are united in their understanding of discrimination and their experience with racial oppression. The Bottom is home to Nel Wright and Sula Peace, two girls whose friendship is solidified by the burden of a horrendous secret. Once grown, they remain guardians of that secret, but an act of betrayal threatens to terminate their friendship forever.

White people lived on the rich valley floor of that little river town in Ohio, and the blacks populated the hills above it, taking small consolation in the fact that every day they could literally look down on the white folks.

Though Sula posits to be the story of two women, Nel and Sula don't take center stage until roughly fifty pages into the book. Prior to their time in the limelight, the book reads like a collection of character studies, which provides backstory of family history that lays the foundation for the type of drastically different women Nel and Sula each grow up to be.

Opulent language is regularly employed to describe the setting and character attributes:

Then summer came. A summer limp with the weight of blossomed things. Heavy sunflowers weeping over fences, iris curling and browning at the edges far away from their purple hearts; ears of corn letting their auburn hair wind down their stalks. And the boys. The beautiful boys who dotted the landscape like jewels, split the air with their shouts in the field, and thickened the river with their shining wet backs.

Her voice trailed, dipped and bowed; she gave a chord of the simplest words. Nobody, but nobody, could say "hey sugar" like Hannah. When he heard it, the man tipped his hat down a little over his eyes, hoisted his trousers and thought about the hollow place at the base of her throat.

Young Nel is raised in an environment that stifles the glowing qualities of her personality, yet she aspires to be wonderful.

Only with Sula did that quality have free reign, but their friendship was so close, they themselves had difficulty distinguishing one's thoughts from the other's.

As a grown woman, Nel is an accepted figure in the community, content with the status quo and the confines of a life as mother and wife. Young Sula, by stark contrast, enjoys the neatness of Nel's parents' house and finds it a comforting opposite to the dirty, cluttered conditions of her own home where her mother - known around town for being loose with men - adheres to a lax method of parenting. As an adult, Sula challenges the status quo with her anarchistic ways, free of the rules for women established by men, making Sula - first and foremost - a study of an outlaw woman disrupting the harmony of a unified neighborhood and tragically injuring a lifelong friendship.

They said that Sula slept with white men. it may not have been true, but it certainly could have been. She was obviously capable of it. In any case, all minds were closed to her when that word was passed around.

Towards the end of the book, the story shifts without preamble from a third person to a first person narrative for just a few pages. It's likely this was a strategic move, enacted by the author to emphasize a character's deep sense of betrayal, but the sudden and unexpected shift was initially jarring. Once oriented, the scene does allow for a more intimate experience of betrayal as told through the eyes of a character via a first person narrative.

Coming full circle, the book concludes nicely by deferring to the characters introduced in its opening pages.

With only limited time devoted to its two leading characters, Sula is a tragic portrait of a woman breaking societal rules and suffering the grievous consequences of her actions.

My deepest gratitude to Quarterly.co for providing a free Literary Box with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Quarterly.co's Literary Box comes with bookish goodies, a feature book, and two additional books selected by the author of the feature book.

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What makes the Literary Box special are the notes written by the author of the feature book. These notes give readers unique insights into the book that only the author would know.

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Profile Image for Raul.
295 reviews210 followers
November 25, 2022
Loved every sentence of this re-read. I remember the first time I read Sula; I went in expecting an innocent and charming story about friendship from the small talk I had heard of the book. Nothing had prepared me for the complexity in the relationship between Sula and Nel; nothing had prepared me for the force that was Sula. I remember my initial feelings towards Sula: at first fascination, then shock, then almost-loathing, later understanding and loving, and, finally, missing her when all was done.

The story opens with a short description of the setting of the book. The Bottom, a Black neighbourhood in Ohio; the irony in its name; the history of the place; its attractions. The introduction is told in a reflective and nostalgic tone. Of a place distant, disappearing, and being gentrified. Then the story of the people of the place begins, focus being on Nel and Sula, two friends who love and need each other in various complex ways.

Toni Morrison says in her foreword to this book:
"Outlaw women are fascinating - not always for their behaviour, but because historically women are seen as disruptive and their status is an illegal one from birth if it is not under the rule of men. In much literature a woman's escape from male rule led to regret, misery, if not disaster. In Sula I wanted to explore the consequences of what that escape might be, on not only a conventional black society, but on female friendship. In 1969, in Queens, snatching liberty seemed compelling. Some of us thrived; some of us died. All of us had a taste."

Sula is an outlaw. A woman who lives fully for herself, with no apologies for it to the end. One of the stunning bits of dialogue from this book, the final conversation between Nel and Sula, Nel asks her what she has to show for the life she lived, to which Sula responds: "Show? To who? Girl, I got my mind. And what goes in it. Which is to say, I got me." To which Nel remarks, "Lonely, ain't it?" Sula's brilliant reply: "Yes. But my lonely is mine. Now your lonely is somebody else's. Made by somebody else and handed to you. Ain't that something? A secondhand lonely."

Re-reading this meant diving into the richness of this book all over again. The wonderful world that Morrison creates with the Bottom and its people, and the beauty of the language.
Profile Image for brian   .
248 reviews3,119 followers
February 1, 2009
all these new editions of morrison’s books have the same author photo on the back. and it’s been causing problems. check it out:

despite that weird author hand placement thing, i've been kinda seriously obsessing over all these pictures of morrison's huge lion's head, piercing eyes, and silver dreads... and as i plow through her body of work i stare at her face for some external indication of all the furious demented & psychotic shit she flings at us. by all appearances she's a lovely woman. & i just don't get it.

it's gotten to the point where i've gotta stick duct tape over the author photo so that everytime i read some crazyass shit and my OCD flares up, i'm unable to flip to the back cover and snicker/mumble to a photograph and an empty room.

again with the hands.

Profile Image for Michael.
655 reviews964 followers
March 14, 2020
Short and tinged with sadness, Sula charts the rise and fall of a friendship between two Black women living in a conservative Midwestern town. The story follows extroverted Sula and quiet Nel as the pair of girls grow up in radically different households but nevertheless form an intense bond with one another that they sustain over the years, only for it to collapse dramatically when Sula betrays Nel’s trust on a whim, leading to disaster for all. Meanwhile, the writer vividly contrasts images and memories of birth and death, violence and marriage, in a way that borders on the grotesque. The tale’s swift, the characterization stark, and the setting vividly drawn, but the work lacks the depth of Morrison’s best novels, like Beloved or Song of Solomon.
Profile Image for Glenn Sumi.
404 reviews1,587 followers
February 13, 2022
Toni Morrison’s novels - allusive, poetic, with plots that are carefully, artfully constructed - take work. You can’t read them casually. But they also offer up rich rewards to those with patience.

Sula, her second novel (published in 1973), tells the story of two girls who grow up in the 1920s in a Black hillside community called the Bottom in the small town of Medallion, Ohio.

Nel Wright, as her name implies, does everything right, including get married to a nice Black man and raise children; Sula Peace, who grew up in a non-traditional household overseen by an eccentric, one-legged grandmother, is a rebel with a slightly demonic streak. Later she takes on an attitude towards men that causes the town to shun her.

As children, the two girls take part in something that’s shrouded in secrecy and shame. Only in the novel’s final pages will the truth emerge about that incident.

As with Beloved and Song Of Solomon, the two other Morrison novels I’ve read, the language is dense and poetic. This is prose that should be read aloud, savoured. In fact, I reread a couple of passages just to admire them and see how they felt in my mouth and sounded to my ears.

This might also explain why Morrison’s novels don’t adapt well to the big or little screen. They’re gorgeously written, but they don’t rely much on plot. Morrison, in her omniscient third person POV, gets into many characters’ heads (with one exception, in which we’re given a long, aria-like monologue by Nel), but that doesn’t have much momentum or drive.

Did I like this novel? Yes. I really liked the way it was structured, orienting us at the beginning of each chapter with a year, but often taking its time to tell us who or what we were going to read about.

I wish the girls’ friendship had been illustrated a bit more at the beginning. We’re mostly told that they had this great friendship; I wanted to see it evolve naturally.

But the scenes Morrison does provide - including a sequence in which the girls are being assessed by the town’s men, and one in which they’re being accosted by white boys (boy does Sula ever have a powerful way to escape this situation) - are stunning. They have to be, because Morrison refers to them later.

The theme of how women judge each other over sex and men is communicated vividly. And the uneasy social and geographical relationship between Blacks and whites is handled subtly.

It’s a novel that gains in power as it progresses. Incidents have to accrue; time has to pass; words have to be spoken; and people have to die before the full weight of the story is felt.

But Morrison delivers, and does so with admirable economy. A lesser writer would have padded out the story, made us love these characters sentimentally, but I appreciated her way of letting the reader fill in the gaps. (One exception: I wanted more, even a sentence or two, about Nel’s children.)

I look forward to reading The Bluest Eye and Tar Baby - a misfit character with that name is referenced in this book - next.

But I know I’ll need an extended, uninterrupted period of time to read and appreciate them.
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews3,222 followers
August 3, 2016
This is the first time I’ve ever struggled to review a book I’ve read. Perhaps this relentless English rain is getting to me and addling my brain? Not that Sula was in any way bad. Just that I find my response to it is as mysterious as the book itself. I could say it’s been a while since I read Toni Morrison and my first response was excitement at the reminder of how stunningly she can write a sentence – “Grass stood blade by blade, shocked into separateness by an ice that held for days”. I could say it’s about two girls who strike up a poignant intimacy as children and how one becomes a compromised adult and the other becomes the quintessential outsider until she’s resented and feared by her entire neighbourhood, a neighbourhood that seems to exist on a barren island, cut off from the wider world of opportunity and hope – everyone’s hopes are centred on the rumoured construction of a tunnel and a bridge to the neighbouring town. And how it does a moving job of showing how all the odds are stacked against a black woman living in the USA in the first half of the 20th century – “ because each had discovered years before they were neither white nor male and that all freedom and triumph was forbidden them they set about something else to be." I could say it’s a strange mix of poetic myth and grubby realism with perhaps an absence of narrative drive, of compelling storytelling. Despite the beauty of its language and its moving chronicling of appalling social injustice – “the staggering childish malevolence of their employers”. In fact, I think that’s what I’ll say and leave it at that – except to conclude that in this novel all Morrison’s immense gifts as a writer are on display, except her genius of weaving them all together into riveting storytelling. The ending though is fabulous. 3.5 stars.

The sun's just come out!
Profile Image for Whitney Atkinson.
940 reviews13.9k followers
February 25, 2020
I wish I would've read this book for class or with a group because I felt like I was reading a story with a lot of points on a map that didn't quite connect for me. I loved the storyline of the two characters this rotated around, but the book also focused on the town at large, and those bits got lost on me. I found I wasn't quite sure what this was trying to do, and I get really easily frustrated with myself when that happens and it just leaves a bad taste in my mouth that I wasn't smart enough to figure it out. I ended up skimming the last 20 pages of this because I just didn't have the energy anymore to piece things together. So although Morrison is undoubtedly one of the most talented writers in the world and there were so many great quotes I marked, I wish I would've tackled this book with Sparknotes open or something because it just went a little over my head.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
464 reviews604 followers
August 8, 2019
She had no center, no speck around which to grow.

I can't start to explain this book or the feeling I get each time a new chapter (numbered according to years) gives me the anxious expectation similar to unwrapping a piece of chocolate from the box of assortments - you never know what you'll get.

I can't accurately explain why this fluidity of language, this mixture of elegant vernacular, this exhilarating and encompassing flow of words forms trails down my spine and envelops me into a warm cocoon that somehow makes me feel shielded, somehow makes me feel understood.

I can't pinpoint a character who Sula reminds me of, so uniquely peculiar and atypical she is that even though I don't necessarily like her, nor am I drawn to her, I still understand the themes she embodies, her skepticism about the world, her desire to live in her dreams and her disdain for conformity.
There, in the center of that silence was not eternity but the death of time and a loneliness so profound the word itself had no meaning. For loneliness assumed the absence of other people, and the solitude she found in that desperate terrain had never admitted the possibility of other people.

I can't even start to decipher this ornately drawn friendship between Nel and Sula, this sisterhood that is too tightly boarded to enter, and yet still fragile enough to form cracks; a friendship "so close, they themselves had difficulty distinguishing one's thoughts from the other's."
They were solitary little girls whose loneliness was so profound it intoxicated them and sent them stumbling into Technicolored visions that always included a presence, a someone, who, quite like the dreamer, shared the delight of the dream.

I can't articulate the juxtaposed gloom and excitement that riddles the city of Medallion, nor the irony of the city segregated but still atop a hill that protects and shields the rest of the community from nature's doom; can't explain properly, or conjure up fairly, the delectable concoction of lust and betrayal and jealousy and strife that parallels one woman's psychological journey and self-realization.

What I can say is that this is a Toni Morrison novel that stands apart in its singularness, a book and author you have to read to understand, a book that surprisingly doesn't appear in many book club reads even though it would make for pretty interesting discussions. This is the fourth novel of my Morrison journey I started a couple of years ago. First The Bluest Eye, then Paradise, and later, Home. And I can't wait to keep exploring.
Profile Image for Lisa (NY).
1,548 reviews602 followers
September 5, 2021
The cover flap of Sula describes it as a novel about a friendship between two women. The friendship between Sula and Nel, (starting when they are young girls) is the center of this intense novel, but there are so many other intertwined layers. Morrison has created a portrait of several strong women who survive, with no help from men, in a Black Ohio neighborhood from 1919 to 1965. The men are mostly weak, philandering, drunk or mentally ill.

Each chapter is an eloquent masterpiece, encapsulating a period of time and the essence of Helene, Eva, Hannah, Nel or Sula. I listened to almost the entire novel, then picked up the print version and started from the beginning. As much as I like Toni Morrison's velvety voice, her reading was hard to follow at times. This novel could be read again and again and again. Every sentence is a gold mine. A dazzling, rich work of art.
Profile Image for leynes.
1,111 reviews3,027 followers
June 28, 2023
Hmmm. Sula is a book that left me somewhat confused, frustrated, and underwhelmed. Nonetheless, I think it definitely has some merit to it, and provided great food for thought. So I have to settle with a non-committed 3 stars.

When Morrison set out to write Sula in the 1970s, she knew what she wanted to explore: "What is friendship between women when unmediated by men? What choices are available to Black women outside their own society’s approval? What are the risks of individualism in a determinedly individualistic, yet racially uniform and socially static, community?"

Questions that hadn't been taken on in fiction yet, at least not in the mainstream. And so, as most of Morrison's books, Sula is a very female driven story. A story in which (the limits of) female freedom are explored, and how female freedom ties in with sexual freedom and economic freedom.

We meet many different Black women, across multiple generations with varying attitudes toward freedom: Hannah has many suitors and takes full pleasure in sex. Eva sacrifices her body for economic freedom (she sells off her leg in order to provide for her family), Nel tries to accommodate with the protection that marriage promises, Sula resists to either sacrifice or accommodation.

And so, Sula can be described as a story of motherhood, friendship, and sacrifice. It follows Nel and Sula, two girls who grow up in a mostly Black village in Ohio, from childhood to adulthood and describes the way their deep bond is tested by societal norms, and hot it is shaped by the constrictions of a segregated, patriarchal South.

The novel starts off with an announcement of the looming destruction of the Bottom (the Black neighborhood of Medallion). Morrison then takes us back in time to show us the various people who existed and lived there before. We see Nel and her mother Helene (= "an eagerness to please and an apology for living met in her voice") as they travel to New Orleans to visit a dying relative. We see them face the difficulties that travelling posed for Black people in the segregated South. Nel is shaped by this visit, as she realizes that she never wants to be as "shameful" as her mother's mother (who didn't raise her because she worked as a prostitute), Nel wants to be "wonderful". She begins this venture by befriending Sula against her mother's wishes.

We then get to know Sula and her family. The matriarch of the Peace family, Eva (Sula's grandmother), came to Medallion with her husband BoyBoy and their three children: Hannah, Pearl, and Plum. However, BoyBoy eventually abandons the family and Eva is forced to raise the children on her own. Exhausted and impoverished, she leaves the children with a neighbor for eighteen months and returns with a mysterious new prosperity and a missing leg. Eva uses her money to build a large home on Carpenter's Road where she accepts boarders and takes in children.
The children needed her; she needed money, and needed to get on with ehr life.But the demands of feeding her three children were so acute she had to postpone her anger for two years until she had both the time and the energy for it.
Despite their differences, Sula and Nel become fiercely attached to each other and do almost everything together. The girls also come to share a dark secret when they participate in the accidental death of a young boy named Chicken Little. And he's not the only one to die. Around the same time, Plum returns from war with a drug addiction. Eva, in an act of "ensuring" her son would die like a man (and not a sick child), sets him on fire. Hannah also dies, burning alive after accidentally setting herself aflame while trying to do laundry.

And it was moments like this that pulled me out of the story. These deaths didn't feel organic, they felt quite over-the-top, and loaded with symbolism. However, I couldn't quite grasp what Morrison intended by describing these deaths in such a gruesome way. It didn't click into place for me.

As Sula and Nel grow up, they remain close. However, after Nel's wedding to Jude Greene, Sula leaves Medallion and the girls don't see each other for another ten years. When Sula returns, she has Eva placed into a nursing home, and also has an affair with Nel's husband, which leads him to leave his wife, and Nel to no longer talk to Sula.
Sula: “I don’t want to make somebody else. I want to make myself.”
Eva: “Selfish. Ain’t no woman got no business floatin’ around with no man.”
The townspeople regard Sula as the very personification of evil for her blatant disregard of social conventions. And so, Sula spends the rest of her days hated and judged by the people of Medallion, since she frequently sleeps with the men/ husbands of the village. Ironically, the community's labelling of Sula as evil actually improves their own lives, as her presence in the community gives them the impetus to live harmoniously with one another, as well as treat each other better.

Personally, I really hated that. To me it read like Morrison made the statement that Sula's existence in the town was a good thing because it reminded the women to be good daughters/ wives, in order to ensure that their fathers/ husbands wouldn't leave them. That's such a fucked up message which left a really bitter taste in my mouth. It is not (!) a woman's job to ensure that her husband doesn't cheat on her. She doesn't have to be "nice" or "caring", so that she wouldn't be abandoned. Ugh. Instead of dismantling the patriarchal structures of Medallion (which I would've loved to see), Morrison chose the grim route of reinforcing them. (And I can see why, it's more realistic yada yada yada, but I don't get why Sula needed to be portrayed as this patron saint of this fucking village for literally being an asshole, and reminding everyone to not be an asshole??? Ehh?? Why?)

After a while, Sula starts an affair with Ajax, but as soon as she gets attached, he leaves town. Saddened by his departure, Sula falls ill shortly afterwards. Nel visits Sula on her sickbed and the women fight, since Nel gets frustrated by Sula's attitude toward conformity and tradition, and her unwillingness to apologise for cheating with Jude.
Sula: “Why? I can do it all, why can’t I have it all?”
Nel: “You can’t do it all. You a woman and a colored woman at that. You can’t act like a man. You can’t be walking around all independent-like, doing whatever you like, taking what you want, leaving what you don’t.”
That conversation was the nail in the coffin for me. I hated Sula and her self-righteous ass so much. This woman never worked a single day in her life, lived off the business her grandmother started, never had to take care of a single child in her entire life, and yet she was the one trying to lecture Nel on the topic of freedom and responsibility. Gurl, please, sit your ass down. You lived your whole life like a child, having no responsibility at all. Your notion of what freedom is isn't worth anything to tell. Nel can't just fuck off and leave her children starving, she literally HAS to work to provide for her family.
Sula: “Work’s good for you, Nellie. It don’t do nothing for me.”
Nel: “You never had to.”
Sula: “I never would.”
Sula's privileged ass was really embarrassing herself throughout this entire conversation. And to top it all of, she had the nerve to accuse Nel of never getting over her cheating with Nel's husband ("If we were such good friends, how come you couldn’t get over it?"), when SULA NEVER (!! NOT ONCE) APOLOGISED FOR SLEEPING WITH JUDE???? The audacity was real with one.

Overall, I feel like Sula was living in a lie. In this weird capitalist notion that freedom is an individual thing. That being free means that you're literally shitting on anybody else, that you only care for yourself. That being selfish is the way to go. And that's such a deficient life. I totally get that that's (unfortunately) the truth in our capitalist and very individualistically driven societies, but I wished that Morrison would've explored what TRUE freedom is. That we cannot be free as long as our neighbors aren't. Sula's freedom meant nothing, because none of the women around her were free. It would've been so powerful had Morrison really pondered on what it would've meant for this community of women to carve out a space for themselves, all of themselves, where they cut be free, despite the structural racism and sexism in the US.

I get that that's a big fucking scope, and would've taken the novel in an entire new direction, but the way Sula was written left me very confused (...and somewhat disappointed) about Morrison's notion of freedom, and what that means for Black women. Because it freedom means living my life like Sula (only caring about myself and nobody else), then I don't want to be a part of it. I'm sorry.

After Nel leaves, Sula dies alone. And albeit the people of the village are pleased by her death, they start behaving differently afterwards, abandoning their righteous indignation and becoming slack in their roles as mothers and daughters again. [Again, absolutely hated that, because it reinforced the notion that women need to dutifully fulfil their roles as mothers and daughters, and please the men in their lives. No, thank you.]

The story ends in 1965, when Nel is fifty-five years old, and all of her kids have grown up. She visits Eva in the hospital and is forced to reflect on her role in Chicken’s death. Nel realizes that she was complicit in his death and that she enjoyed watching him fall. At the novel’s end, Nel also realizes that she has harbored a deep pain and sorrow about losing her friend Sula, and that she had missed her all along, not her husband. That ending would've hit a lot harder had I cared for Sula but alas! it wasn't meant to be.

From a Black feminist standpoint, I totally see the need of writing unlikeable Black female characters. It is important to show their complexity. So, don't get me wrong, Sula is a perfectly fine character for a book like this ... That just doesn't mean I have to like her on a personal level. ;) Also, for those interested: there is also a queer reading of Sula which focuses on how Nel and Sula live their lives outside of/beyond heteronormative expectations for social interaction. For more on that see Barbara Smith's and Roderick Ferguson's takes on Sula.
Profile Image for Reggie.
116 reviews392 followers
May 1, 2020
Imagine writing a Black feminist novel that precedes the release of seminal Black feminist texts like Black Macho & the Myth of the Superwoman (1978), Aint I a Woman (1981), & Women, Race & Class (1981), among others. Toni Morrison did just that in 1973 with the release of her stellar second novel, Sula.

Although this novel is called Sula, I wouldn't have been surprised if this novel was called the Bottom, which is the neighborhood in the fictional city of Medallion, Ohio that the story takes place in.

The Bottom, which is home to a fully realized Black world. Where every January 3rd a holiday called National Suicide Day, created by a World War One Vet named Shadrack, is celebrated. Where Eva is the town matriarch. Arguably the most loving & evil woman this town has ever seen. Home to Hannah Peace who will make love to your man in the pantry & wash your dishes afterwards. The Deweys, Tar Baby, Ajax, but most importantly, Sula Peace & Nel Wright.

Sula & Nel are two women who show you what happens when at one point in your life you two are rebels. You share a singular & defiant vision that allows the both of you to see through any & everyone in your town. A vision that will always keep y'all home, on the margins. But what happens when one of you who shared that vision betrays it? They become apart of the people y'all used to see through, yet, When you come back to town after an extended absence she looks at you funny, she wants you to explain yourself in ways you never would have had to before? Whose really wrong? The person who stuck to the vision, or the person who conformed?

Besides those questions that stem from Sula & Nel, this novel touches on themes of womanhood as a whole, sexuality, love & if there is a right way to perform it, perception, indiviuduality, gentrification, white flight, the disgusting pervasiveness of anti-Black racism, & how religion can uplift your morals while also compromising your potential to defend against those enemies with a lack thereof.

I advise you all to read Sula multiple times and when you do, cherish the gems you dig up from each visit. Morrison is far too kind for providing us with them, especially within 174 pages.

(Review from my first read back in 2017): https://www.instagram.com/p/BUZ8UZMF7...
Profile Image for Jibran.
224 reviews664 followers
September 18, 2015
Hell ain't things lasting forever. Hell is change.

It is time for change; slowly, painfully, but inexorably the spirit of the age sheds old rags and dons a new garb. The mutes are beginning to discover a voice that had been trapped in their windpipes; eyes see things that they had hitherto only watched; and hearts ache with a new throb of hope mixed with fear of which no one can tell which is greater. From this sense of foreboding out comes Sula.

The excluded community confined up in the hills outside a small Ohio town is made, through centuries of social conditioning, to see themselves as different and separate from the white people. They know who they are and they also know they are not the same as the people who live in the town down the hills. They are different, in every imaginable way. You could see that.

They are scandalised when Sula, one of their own, embarks on a path that's opening up out there, a path of education and mobility, of employment and relocation, of mingling with the white folks as their human equal, if not racial, social or political equal. Gods be good, the black people are offered to live their lives like the white folks!

“It was a fine cry - loud and long - but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow.”

When she returns home after a long absence Sula is transformed into an unintelligible mass of thoughts and actions her people find difficult to square: It's like a white girl in black skin. Or so people think. Unpardonable. Outrageous. Her community is devastated; nothing is more sacrilegious than dressing like white people, speaking like them, behaving like them, being like them. And what's more, Sula has taken a white man for a lover. Sula, we're not the same. Ah, what an incredible fact of human psychology that even if you do not lose a sense of identity and self-respect, you eventually come to accept the role to which your oppressor designates you.

Sula becomes a pariah in her own community, uncomprehending and incomprehensible. The ominous signs that lend her a preternatural aura testify to something strange. People see those signs in retrospect, from her birth to childhood, from her growing up as a daughter of a woman abandoned by her husband, from the way she looked at them when she was a child, the way she walked and sat, ate and gestured. Sula, they reach on a terrifying conclusion, is not a young black girl but a phantom implanted from a world of shadows. She is almost a witch, and if she really is not, she ought to be one.

Sula’s character is a symbol (self-contradictory, torn, divided, compartmentalised, unmappable) of the conflict borne of the changing values that had held together isolated, nebulous, inward-looking black communities across the United States in the age of institutionalised racism. Values constructed so carefully over centuries when challenged elicit a response that’s always out of proportion. Sula is a couldn't-care-less woman whose threatening individuality alienates her from her community. For this she is taken to task. Her own dealings with her family and the community bespeak a cruelty she's picked up in the course of her contact with the outer world. She, a black woman, treats her own kith and kin with a shade of contempt with which they had always been treated by the White Others.

Her character elicits mixed reactions. Sometimes you want to blame her, sometimes blame her family, sometimes you want to blame the sudden rush of new ideas that has thrown the whole social equation out of balance.
Was it the new life among the white folks that turned her against herself? Or was it to do with her troubled early years, living as she did with her mother who had taken to selling sex as the most natural vocation a woman might take when her husband walked out on her, causing a rupture in relations with the community? Or did her people, unable to take her novelty, pushed her to the wall, turned her into an alien in her own skin?

What made Sula, Sula? This is a question you'll be grappling with by the end of the novel.

“You been gone too long, Sula.

Not too long, but maybe too far.”

Originally posted February '15
Reworked September '15
Profile Image for William2.
758 reviews3,078 followers
July 20, 2022
This is a wholly black novel. There isn’t a single white character developed here, not even the mention of a white name. No white character so much as utters a word. This seems just and equitable, even commensurate. Morrison has a beautiful idiosyncratic American voice unlike anyone else. She’s inimitable.
September 11, 2019
“When you gone to get married? You need to have some babies. It’ll settle you.'
'I don’t want to make somebody else. I want to make myself.”


I found Toni Morrison to be one of the most consistent authors I ever read. And, with her being one of my favourite writers of all time, this means I found all her books I read to this day extremely interesting and deeply touching. Not only she was consistent with her style, but also with her themes, characters, and general tone of her stories. Toni spoke about women, power, life, the absurdity and inevitability of human weakness. There are few other authors who can make me feel such deep emotions and connect so authentically with characters who live a completely different life than my own. She never fails to make me shed a tear.

This book was no exception: short, raw, unapologetic; the story of the community of "The Bottom" refuses to sugarcoat the roughness of black people's lives in the 1920s-40s, and it's filled with pain, guilt, regret, timeless women's wisdom and the sheer horror of the human condition. In a world where happiness seems to be a forgotten concept - only good for children and people who don't know better - women and men thrive and, against all odds, they love, laugh, cry, and survive. There are moments, in this book - especially the very ending - which struck me with the depth of their truth. I truly believe Toni had one of the deepest insights on the real meaning of life in history. It's not rare at all, for me, to read one of her books and have to stop and think about how she just gave an explanation for one of the greatest mysteries of reality. Take, for example, this description of the loneliness of a single woman and the loneliness of a married, unhappy one:

“Lonely, ain't it?
Yes, but my lonely is mine. Now your lonely is somebody else's. Made by somebody else and handed to you. Ain't that something? A secondhand lonely.”

And this desperate, incredibly touching declaration of love of an abandoned woman:

“But Jude,' she would say, 'you knew me. All those days and years, Jude, you knew me. My ways and my hands and how my stomach folded and how we tried to get Mickey to nurse and how about that time when the landlord said...but you said...and I cried, Jude. You knew me and had listened to the things I said in the night, and heard me in the bathroom and laughed at my raggedy girdle and I laughed too because I knew you too, Jude. So how could you leave me when you knew me?”

Or this description of the horror of routine:

“The real hell of Hell is that it is forever.' Sula said that. She said doing anything forever and ever was hell.”

These words come from characters who would be described as "uneducated", but who share the timeless wisdom of humankind; that kind of knowledge who seems to be inherited from mothers to daughters, fathers to sons, like it's written in our genes. This is what makes good poetry. And this is why I love Toni: because there is no one, in the whole world; man or woman, child or adult, black or white, who would not understand her words with their own heart.

67 reviews407 followers
April 7, 2009
Toni Morrison is the bee's knees, the cat's pajamas, the flea's eyebrows, the canary's tusks, the eel's ankle, the snake's hip, and the mutt's nuts.
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,635 followers
April 20, 2020
Toni Morrison has always been one of my favorite writers, and I mourned her recent passing. Sula is not her greatest work (that, in my opinion, would be Beloved), but it is a wonderful story of growing up as a black woman and compares two life choices: be the obedient (occasionally battered wife) or become the vamp. Sula chooses the latter while Nel, her best friend chooses the former. After a tragic incident by the river, the two women's lives diverge and we see the Bottom transform over time from the 20s to the 60s. Beautifully narrated with great dialog and vivid characters, it is a real pleasure to read, again and again.

Toni's descriptions can be so alive and full of life. Here are a few of my favorite passages:
Her bare feet would raise the saffron dust that floated down on the coveralls and bunion-split shoes of the man breathing music in and out of the harmonica. The black people watching her would laugh and rub their knees, and it would be easy for the valley man to hear the laughter and not notice the adult pain that rested somewhere under the eyelids, somewhere under their headrags, somewhere on the palm of the hand, somewhere behind the frayed lapels, somewhere in the sinew's curve. (p. 4)

Shadrack, the half-crazed witness, the bard, comes back from the Great War disheveled: he took the blanket and covered his head, rendering he water dark enough to see the reflection. There in the toilet water he saw a grave black face. A black so definite, so unequivocal, it astonished him. He had been harboring a skittish apprehension that he was not real - that he didn't exist at all. But when the blackness greeted him with its indisputable presence, he wanted nothing more. In his joy, he took the risk of letting one edge of the blanket drip and glanced at his hands. They were still. Courteously still. (p. 13)

Helene and Nel make a voyage to New Orleans where they had to make do with the fields for their needs because the toilets were for whites only. Helene could not only fold leaves as well as the fat woman, she never felt a stir as she passed under the muddy eyes of the men who stood like wrecked Dorics under the station roods of those towns. (p. 24).

It was poisonous, unnatural to let the dead go with a mere whispering, a slight murmur, a rose bouquet of good taste. Good taste was out of place in the company of death, death itself was the essence of bad taste. And there must be much rage and saliva in its presence. The body must move and throw itself about, the eyes must roll, the hands should have no peace, and the throat should release all the yearning, despair and outrage that accompany the stupidity of loss. (p. 107)

Finally, a nice passage about the relentless femininity of Sula: She had been looking all along for a friend, and it took her a while to discover that a lover was not a comrade and could never be - for a woman. And that no one would ever be that version of herself which she sought to reach out to and touch with an ungloved hand There was only her own mood and whim, and if that was all there was, she decided to turn the naked hand toward it, discover it and let others become as intimate wth their own selves as she was. (p. 121)

Toni Morrison was uniquely gifted with words to express the deepest feelings of lust, love and grief and Sula certainly gives a timeless portrait of heartbreak and desire.

Fino's Toni Morrison Reviews:
The Bluest Eye
Song Of Solomon
Tar Baby
Profile Image for Barry Pierce.
576 reviews7,749 followers
October 18, 2014
I always thought of Toni Morrison as one of those writers that your mother reads. Y'know, somewhere in the realms of Danielle Steel. How wrong was I eh? For something so short, the breadth of time and story is remarkable. I loved the dichotomous friendship of Nel and Sula and its eventual result. This novel is surprisingly disgusting as well, like Bret Easton Ellis disturbing. I like twisted tales though and I definitely like Morrison. More like this please!
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,392 reviews4,905 followers
October 25, 2021

'The Bottom' is a community of black families in the hills above the valley city of Medallion, Ohio where white families live.

The story begins in the early 1920's - just after the end of WWI - and traumatized soldiers are returning to town. The main characters in the story are Nel and Sula, who bond as young schoolgirls in 'The Bottom.'

Nel is the only child of a repressed mother determined to control every aspect of Nel's life.....

…..while Sula grows up in a rather raucous extended family. This includes her grandmother Eva - an elegant woman who lost a leg in mysterious circumstances;

Her mother Hannah - a free-spirit who exudes sex appeal and beds almost every man she meets;

A disturbed alcoholic renter;

And Eva's other children - Plum and Eva Jr. Some members of the household are lost in various tragic circumstances that are difficult to comprehend and which probably affect Sula deeply.

Nel and Sula accidentally cause the death of a young boy, which they keep secret. They also engage in the usual youthful antics, enticing young men and dreaming of their futures.

Then Sula leaves town and Nel marries a local boy, has children, and becomes a respected member of the community.

Ten years later Sula returns and Nel is thrilled; however there is soon an irreparable break in the women's relationship which throws Nel's life off kilter.

Moreover, Sula generally acts with such abandon (copying some of her own mother's behavior) that most local people label her a witch and shun her.

This is rather slight story whose strength lies in the memorable characters - and Toni Morrison is a master of characterization. With relatively brief but pithy descriptions and scenes she gives us a feel for the motivation of the important characters. We're able to understand (a little) about their turmoil and why they behave as they do - causing heartache and chaos around themselves.

I'm not quite sure I 'enjoyed' the book per se (as I found parts quite disturbing) but it's certainly worth reading.

You can follow my reviews at https://reviewsbybarbsaffer.blogspot....
Profile Image for Eliasdgian.
413 reviews116 followers
February 8, 2019
Πίσω από τον αυτάρεσκο, ηγεμονικό κυματισμό της αστερόεσσας και πέρα από τα υποκριτικά λευκά χαμόγελα των μεγαλοαστών στις εξώθυρες των ευρύχωρων σπιτιών τους, υπήρχε ανέκαθεν η Αμερική των άλλων∙ των απόκληρων, των παριών, όλων εκείνων που η θέση τους στην κοινωνική πυραμίδα είχε προκαθοριστεί από το χρώμα του δέρματός τους∙ που είτε γεννιόντουσαν δούλοι, είτε απλώς φτωχοί, τα φτερά τους ήταν πάντοτε τσακισμένα. Άνθρωποι που ήταν αποφασισμένοι να επιβιώσουν, «να ζήσουν ενάντια στις πλημμύρες, τους λευκούς, τη φυματίωση, την πείνα και την άγνοια»· που γνώριζαν τον θυμό, αλλά όχι και την απελπισία, «που δεν λιθοβολούσαν τους αμαρτωλούς, για τον ίδιο λόγο που δεν αυτοκτονούσαν – ήταν κάτι κατώτερό τους.» Αυτοί οι άνθρωποι κι αυτή η Αμερική βρίσκονται στον αφηγηματικό πυρήνα του έργου της (αγαπημένης μου) Τόνι Μόρισον.

Στο μυθιστορηματικό αυτό σύμπαν, η Sula Peace διεκδικεί τη δική της ξεχωριστή θέση. Σκούρα, όπως όλες οι ηρωίδες της Μόρισον, με δυο μεγάλα, ήσυχα μάτια. Κι ένα σημάδι εκ γενετής που έμοιαζε με τριαντάφυλλο δίχως κοτσάνι, πάνω από το βλέφαρο του δεξιού της ματιού κι ίσαμε το φρύδι. Μοναχοπαίδι, μεγαλωμένη χωρίς πατέρα σ’ ένα σπίτι γεμάτο πράγματα, ανθρώπους, φωνές και θορύβους. Ξεχωριστή, όσο και το σημάδι της, έφυγε από τη γενέθλια πόλη της, περιπλανήθηκε στ��ς μεγαλουπόλεις των Η.Π.Α., κι επέστρεψε, περισσότερο για ν’ ανταμώσει ξανά με την αδελφική της φίλη, Nel Wright. Όμως, η Nel δεν ήταν ο ίδιος άνθρωπος που είχε αφήσει πίσω της, ούτε κι η μικρή κοινωνία του Μεντάλλιον Σίτυ έτοιμη ν’ αποδεχτεί τη Sula και τη διαφορετικότητά της.

Τρία χρόνια μετά τα Γαλάζια Μάτια (1970), η Toni Morrison, μέσα από τη διήγηση της ξεχωριστής ιστορίας της Sula Peace, καλωσόρισε στο λογοτεχνικό γίγνεσθαι μιαν ακόμη αντισυμβατική ηρωίδα, που «έζησε τη ζωή της ψηλαφητά, σα να ‘ταν ένα συνεχές πείραμα· πρόθυμη να νιώσει πόνο, όσο και να δώσει πόνο, να νιώσει ηδονή, όσο και να δώσει ηδονή
Profile Image for Deacon Tom F.
1,851 reviews147 followers
February 28, 2021
4 1/2 stars

I love Toni Morrison books and this one, “Sula” was exceptional like most of the others I’ve read.

Typical of most of Toni Morrison’s books, the writing was outstanding in every way. Descriptions were so clear and so vibrant that one could taste flavors and feel the emotions. That is Toni Morrison at her best!

Pacing was outstanding. It started quickly, although I will admit, I got a little bit lost in the middle but it finished very strongly.

Part of why I love Morrison is that she doesn’t back away from controversy. This book is exceptional in that respect.

I highly recommend this book.
Profile Image for Jessica Woodbury.
1,639 reviews2,150 followers
August 18, 2019
I listened to the audiobook of this and I have to say that having Toni Morrison read to me each day made something shift inside me. It was kind of like having a little guardian angel in my ear. Many have complained about her reading style. She doesn't read like most professional readers do. Her voice ebbs and flows, often ignoring punctuation. But to me, her voice moved like a river, speaking to something deep inside me, a sweet rumble, a purr. I couldn't get enough of it.

I hadn't read this book before and I love what it has to say about friendship. After it I just want to read Toni Morrison forever.

Update: the audio is still amazing. But this time through I realized that this isn't really a book about friendship at all. It's about the ways women get by either inside of or out of society. This time I could just feel deep in my soul that this is a book written by a divorced woman who does not need a man but who remembers what it felt like before she realized that and oh it spoke to me.
Profile Image for Teresa.
Author 8 books816 followers
December 8, 2020
Reread (I first read this in the late ‘80s.)

In an essay in The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations, Morrison explains and discounts the first few pages of this book, the prologue, a “door” she calls it, something she hadn’t used in her first novel and wouldn’t in subsequent novels.

As with The Bluest Eye, more questions come to mind after reading than do answers. (That’s a good thing.) Has Sula been shaped by the actions of her mother, Hannah? Of her grandmother, Eva? Of the insular community that Sula leaves for a decade? Who is the “brilliant friend” of the pairing of Sula and her beloved friend Nel? Is one, a conformist, and the other, nonconforming, good and the other bad? Are the two girls one and the same as Eva says? Is the perceived embodiment of evil the only thing that creates its opposite in the community?

Only while writing this review did I think of Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, but while reading this novel, a certain passage reminded me of Ferrante’s The Lying Life of Adults: When Sula is eleven, she overhears Hannah telling two friends that she loves her daughter, she just doesn’t like her, and that is the difference. Sula is bewildered and hurt, at least momentarily, by her mother’s words. Does this incident lead directly to Sula’s (in)actions later that day and a couple of years afterward?

Morrison may not have liked her beginning, but it all leads to a deeply satisfying ending.
Profile Image for Zanna.
676 reviews967 followers
February 19, 2016
I'm grateful to Rowena for inviting me to join The Year of Reading Toni Morrison group which spurred me to read this now. It's one of Toni Morrison's shorter works, and in her brief introduction to this edition, she notes its uniqueness in having a friendly, comfortable opening to orient the outsider (possibly white) reader.
Ignor[ing] the gentle welcome [would] put the reader into immediate confrontation with his wounded mind ['the emotional luggage one carries into the black-topic text']. It would have called greater attention to the traumatic displacement this most wasteful capitalist war had on black people, and thrown into relief their desperate and desperately creative strategies of survival. In the revised opening I tried to represent discriminatory, prosecutorial racial oppression as well as the community's efforts t remain stable and healthy: the neighborhood has been almost completely swept away by commercial interests (a golf course), but the remains of what sustained it (music, dancing, craft, religion, irony, wit) are what the “valley man,” the stranger, sees – or could have seen. It is a more inviting embrace [...] it helps to unify the neighborhood until Sula's anarchy challenges it.

Outlaw women are fascinating – not always for their behaviour, but because historically women are seen as naturally disruptive and their status is an illegal one from birth if it is not under the rule of men. In much literature a woman's escape from male rule led to regret, misery, if not complete disaster. In Sula I wanted to explore the consequences of what that escape might be, on not only a conventional black society, but on female friendship.
The friendship in question is between two girls who have extraordinary women among their foremothers. Nel's conservative mother Helene, raised by her grandmother, has come to the town to get away from her own mother, sex worker and thus 'outlaw' woman Rochelle, who has no role in Nel's life. Sula's mother and grandmother are accepted by the community but widely censured for their promiscuity and disorderly household.

Nel only has the courage to defy her mother's disapproval and embark on a friendship with Sula when she experiences a moment of self-discovery after a trip she and her mother made to see Helene's ailing grandmother. This long train journey is an important event in her young life, and involves a key scene, where Helene somewhat inadvertently smiles at a white conductor who is treating her in a degrading way. The smile, a nervous, defensive reaction, exacerbates her own and Nel's humiliation, and earns the disgust of fellow black passengers. Nel looks at her respected and respectable mother and sees her as 'custard', fearing that she too might be of the same stuff underneath, sickly, cloying, unresisting, pale custard. She meets her despised grandmother and is intrigued by her, and on returning home, reaches the epiphany “I'm not their daughter, I'm not Nel, I'm me. Me.” She does not have to become either of these women.

In Sula's family 'loving men' is the habitual way of being. Toni writes this loving sweetly; women and men demand little from each other and share much pleasure. Eva, Sula's grandmother, takes in children loose in the community, but the care she provides is minimal. Sula feels rejected by her own mother, Hannah, when she overhears her talking about children to some friends. The narration is so hands-off, so free of judgement, that a sympathetic response to all of the characters was automatic to me at first, and I had to be startled into a more thoughtful frame of mind. The casualness of the narrative voice in relation to Sula's household reflects the community's attitude towards them, this the storyteller subtly seems to take on a kind of collective embodiment (and unreliability) which also comes to attention in the stark instances of foreshadowing. At such moments in the text I felt myself in the circle around the fire at the telling, and was pushed to search my own feeling about Sula, Nel and other characters rather than accept narrative guidance uncritically.

One aspect of the story that was very illuminating to me, was a marriage made for what seemed an appalling reasons; a man's desire to affirm his masculinity in defiance of the company that is refusing to hire black workers for a local infrastructure project. However, the marriage is a modest success. I think as a white woman I got insight from that into the expectations black people, especially women, might have had of marriage and relationships in the town; while white girls were socialised to expect effortless bliss from marriage and romantic relationships generally, the expectation here was more of a life one could fit oneself to and make work. Of course this is a simple idea, though rich in cultural and socio-political import and implication, and in the context sheds light on Nel's psychology, but it pulled me up short, it woke me, again. In discussion, Rowena shared her thoughts on the idea of love in the African-American context as TM writes it in The Bluest Eye and in Sula - she concluded that love meant 'providing for'. This helps me with Nel and her husband, but I feel an intergenerational rift between Eva and her daughter Hannah; there is slippage in the meaning of love that divides them and leaves Sula, Hannah's daughter uncertain, unable to connect, unable to love even, because the world has opened to her enough to make space for a larger love that her family couldn't prepare her for.

Verbal communication is scarce, even between Nel and Sula. One day they dig holes at the river bank and bury some rubbish, silently. I felt that they were sharing their fears about the lives of women, in a way that was beyond them to express in words. Perhaps this was successful. At other times though, I feel that people are silenced by their trauma and that this silence causes further hurt. When Sula and Nel do fail to understand each other, the rift comes deep out of their histories. When one of Sula's lovers reads unspoken signs of her devotion and makes a decision to conclude their relationship, he says nothing.

In the group's discussion of the book one of the contributors suggested that Toni Morrison 'forces us to look at life unflinchingly with the hope we'll get it right before it's too late.' This comment made me consider what the characters and community might have done differently to make their stories, especially Sula & Nel's, less painful, and it's a hard question. There is no fatefulness about the mood, no feeling of inevitability, but on reflection the pressures on the community become more and more evident; neither college nor respectability are effective remedies for their trouble. The only thing I can think of is the breaking of silence.
Profile Image for Judy.
1,709 reviews295 followers
December 20, 2019
Toni Morrison, one of my top three favorite authors, passed away in August of this year. She was 88 years old. She had won the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, and wrote eleven novels. I have read them all. Now I am rereading: The Bluest Eye, her first novel, earlier this year and now Sula, her second.

I first read Sula in 2001. It was September of that momentous year of the terrorist attacks, from which America and the entire world is still reverberating. For me, that was a moment that announced the last gasp push back of patriarchal power; they are still gasping, they will not go down easily or they may take the planet down with them. Toni Morrison fought that power all her life through her support of important writers and through her novels.

She did not march or join demonstrations. She wrote from the viewpoint of a woman of color. I like to think she "womansplained"...to women, to men (if they would listen), to the whole world (if they would read.)

In fact, during September 2001, I read four of her novels. I was mightily impressed but I can see on rereading, that I missed a lot of her deeper meanings. Sula is about female friendship, always a fraught endeavor, susceptible to irreparable change, especially during and after puberty.

Yet I don't think there is ever any deeper or more unconditional connection in life than childhood friendships between girls. It is hardly about words. It is just a communion of souls, a recognition, a pact. I got that on the first reading. What I got this time was the complexity of issues: sex, men, marriage, children and of course racism.

Morrison, in her usual incredible prose, captures all this. She hits economics, generations of women and mothers, longing for both freedom and safety, morality and mortality.

I read some reader reviews where I often came across women who found Sula, the character, hard to understand or accept. I think as we grow and age and experience the stages of life, many of us realize that we have a bit of Sula in ourselves, no matter how much we try to bury or ignore or fight against the kind of woman she was.
Profile Image for Spencer Orey.
557 reviews140 followers
July 28, 2020
Lovely, insightful, and biting writing, with a few parts that felt manipulatively cruel (the one that got to me was an absolutely unnecessary killing of a young boy). Morrison was an incredible talent and is much missed.
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