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White America used to run to African Americans out of the South. Toni Morrison advises its people to go back Home.

May 28, 2012

Toni Morrision’s new novel is short and sparsely populated, but concentrated within just one character are the voices of many. Our protagonist and occasional narrator is Frank Money, a Korean war veteran on his way home to the Southern backcountry already familiar to modern America through Morssison’s previous works. Her commitment to the recording of the black American experience has not waned.

The town is called Lotus and it was once hated by Frank. Yet upon his return from war, he cannot wait to get there. Waiting for him is his sister, Cee. He was once responsible for her and it is in her need that he makes his desperate return.

During the passage of only a few pages Frank is a prisoner of a mental facility, a benefactor of the church, a wanderer, a passenger, a victim and a witness. He becomes a live-in boyfriend and a bad omen too. All the time, he is suffering from post-traumatic stress, but is he suffering from his childhood too?

Morrision’s use of semiotics and allegory is so proficient one wonders whether she needs ever write literally again. This text is rich with questions both obvious and subtle. Where is home for black people in America? Where does redemption lie for those who do unforgivable things? Does cruelty in the home and in the world meet, or even cancel each other out?

I like the way Morrison leave questions unanswered in her book that can be answered elsewhere. She is creating fictional accounts of wretched things that really happened in America. Cee is strangely damaged by a doctor and left to the mercy of doctoring as practised by her southern aunties, but the source of her ordeal is never revealed. Her carers did not know, and how could they? They just tried to heal her the best they could. But the readers know. And if they don’t, they should, because America practised the scientific theory of Eurogenics until the 1960s.
That is Morrision’s gift; giving people who have nothing to do with black America the eyes of a black American. The reader sees and experiences things as her characters do. And with the benefit hindsight and knowledge, America can start to think about where its guilty conscience can find a restful home too.

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