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Book Review: Home - Saurabh Kumar Shahi - The Sunday Indian
 
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Book Review: Home

 

Of Love and Loss
SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | New Delhi, July 13, 2012 12:36
Tags : home book review | toni morrison | sexual assault in the Southern African-American community |
 

Somewhere in the middle of Toni Morrison’s new outing, the author introduces a Black female character, a woman who specialises in tending to people. The down-to-earth woman who takes cares of the mentally and physically broken sister of the protagonist is supposed to have “seen-it-all eyes”. Morrison writes, “They practiced what they had been taught by their mothers during the period that rich people called the Depression and they called life.” This, I concede, is probably the most powerful line to come out of American fiction in a long, long time.

Toni Morrison is no stranger to praise. In her superlative career spanning over what now is four decades, there is hardly any motif in African-American life or otherwise in the US that she has not explored. Way back in 1970, she came out with her first novel, The Bluest Eye, her groundbreaking saga of self-hatred and incestuous sexual assault in the Southern African-American community. In the decades after that she has introduced to sanitised Americans and the world the experiences of what it means being Black in the US. At times, when you think that you have read it all that is worth reading about such experiences and there is nothing more to know, Morrison comes back with another riveting masterpiece almost on cue and takes up your challenge only to tear it to smithereens.

Home is another such experience. This novella-of-a-novel tells the story of Frank Money, a 24-year-old Korean War veteran. Set in the early Fifties, it chronicles the reluctant journey of Frank back home. It is an era when America is still reeling with the pangs of transition. While the end of legal segregation in public transportation and public places is in the offing, the end of illegal segregation was nowhere in sight. While many of the Northern states were mulling stringent laws to curb hate-crimes, Eugenics Boards still sat in close to a dozen states in the South. It is through this America that Frank returns home to Lotus, Georgia, which he has avoided since his return from Korea as it triggers hated childhood memories, and also because he is fearful of facing the families of the two hometown friends whose violent deaths in Korea molests his dreams. He lingers till he receives a letter informing him that his younger sister, Cee, a  victim of medical experiments gone wrong, is in serious trouble. “Come fast. She be dead if you tarry.”

But the readers get introduced to him way before that journey. Frank, a clear case of post-traumatic stress disorder, is fighting to get hold of things in life following his return from the battlefields. The life inside the integrated army gives way to the way of life in the segregated Seattle where he wanders on the street “not totally homeless, but close.” He fails to hold on to anything; loses his Army pay to gambling, jobs to restlessness and girlfriend to “craziness”. His brief confinement in the “nuthouse” by the police for an offence he fails to remember, does not help either. However, his escape and the letter telling him about his sister’s condition triggers something inside him that brings him back from the abyss he was slipping into.

But home has troublesome memories that conspire with his inner demons from to stop his recovery. His hometown, in the words of Frank, was “the worst place in the world”, where there was “no future, just long stretches of killing time”. It was here that he and his little sister had seen the aftermath of a brutal racial killing long ago. Years later, when his sister is left half dead after being used as a guinea pig, he realises that only the method of brutalisation has changed. He believed that the only difference between civilian life in `50s America and the battlefield was that on the battlefield you could hope to survive. But it is under these circumstances that he learns to finally confront his demons and heal his heart and mind.

Like in all her previous novels, Morrison plays brilliantly with African-American motifs but treats them in a way that facilitates universal recognition. Similarly, it is her by now well practiced themes of love and loss as well as uprooting and homecoming that drives the narrative. She avoids explicitly mentioning the colour of the characters, primarily to preserve those universal themes, and gives it away only in style and that too if strictly required. For example, when Cee first arrives at the farmhouse of her would-be tormentor, Dr Beauregard Scott, she cannot decide whether to knock on the front door or the back. After a painfully long fraction of a second, she chooses the back door, revealing her and her master’s color. It cannot get better than this.

Author: Toni Morrison

Edition: Hardback

ISBN: 978-0701-1-8607-4

Pages: 147

Price: Rs. 499

Publisher: Chatto & Windus (A Random House imprint)


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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017