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Paradise by Toni Morrison
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Paradise

by Toni Morrison

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2,969281,927 (3.7)199
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English (27)  Dutch (1)  All languages (28)
Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
35. Paradise by Toni Morrison (1997, 318 page kindle e-book, read July 13-30)
Rating: 3 stars

Unfortunately, "Paradise" is everything that "Beloved" was not: it's a heavy-handed, schematic piece of writing, thoroughly lacking in the novelistic magic Ms. Morrison has wielded so effortlessly in the past.

-- MICHIKO KAKUTANI in the New York Times:
http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/01/04/daily/morrison-book-review-art.html

...a many-layered mystery...

-- Kirkus Review:
https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/toni-morrison/paradise-morrison/

I can only flipflop in this review. I agree with both quotes above. I liked it quite a bit, but I also think it's failed novel and I won't recommend it to anyone. Like most Morrison's it's very angry and very ambitious, but it was not successful. Something was missing along the way, namely the novel part.

It begins, “They shoot the white girl first." In the opening scene nine men begin a massacre. They are at the "Convent", 19 miles from their town of Ruby, Oklahoma, which is 90 miles from the next small town. In the sort of pure isolation in the Oklahoma panhandle, the nine men calmly explore the mansion and methodically hunt down the women.

The rest of the book is the back story, both of the convent and the all-black town of Ruby, founded in 1950 by nine "8-ball" families who had been outcast by whites and lighter-skinned blacks repetitively since the end of slavery. The Tulsa massacre of 1921 more-or-less defines the state of race relations.

Ruby is their paradise, protected from the outside world and all that rejection by distance. It's prosperous and civil. There is no police force and no one has died in town since 1955, although some residents have died outside town, notably in Vietnam. There are a lot problems under the surface. There are three churches plus the Oven, apparently a simple brick oven that marks the center of town, and serves as a sort of town altarpiece. Underneath the surface are a myriad of tensions between shades of skin, between the richer and poorer, between generations and, especially between the men and women who really don't communicate all that much. Not that anyone talks about it. The town leaders, identical twins, don't really talk about anything, and don't feel they need to. The town has essentially strangled itself.

As for the convent, although we become intimate with each woman there, we never do figure out which is the white girl. Each girl is carefully constructed to be raceless.

I read this book trying to figure out a mystery. Who was the white girl? Who were the nine men? What was their story? It seemed like each line in the book has a slight reveal. So slowly I would work out the different relationships in the town, and, with some mistakes, its basic history. I thought I had the white girl picked out. And then I finished.

So what to make of this game on race and on the consequences of American racial history? There is actually a lot to work out. Why do we care who the white girl is? And how can the girls be raceless if the first line instructs us to work out their race? And why is that particular mystery so compelling?

And what to make of what it is not? For all the Morrison has constructed, she seems to have forgotten to make a novel out of it. It's work all the way through. We pick up hint after hint, detail after detail, accumulating. But, the experience of a novel, whatever the various vague definitions of that are, seems to be lacking.

After all the Morrison's I've read, I don't know what to make of this one. It's not to be tossed aside, despite it's flaws. There is something important woven in. But I'm glad to be done with the trilogy of Beloved, Jazz, and Paradise, which I think would have best been left as just Beloved. (Also, I never did figure out what the link is between [Paradise] in the earlier books.) ( )
1 vote dchaikin | Aug 2, 2015 |
Paradise weaves a powerful mystery says the blurb on the inside front cover, but I found no mystery, just a muddle, that was alternatively heavy handed mumbo-jumbo and portentous parody. Published in 1998 this was Morrison’s first novel after receiving a noble prize for literature and so would have been an obvious choice for the book-of-the-Month main selection: perhaps someone should have read it first. It is unfortunate because the premise is an interesting one: the book focuses on one of the all black towns of Oklahoma that existed in the previous century and tells of the families that founded the town after suffering persecution from other towns.

The novel starts with a powerful opening sentence “they shoot the white girl first’ and goes downhill from there. A group of nine men from a nearby town have come out to a makeshift refuge for women armed to the teeth and intent on running them off the land or worse. They have come from the all black town of Ruby the title of the first chapter and Morrison fills in a little of the history of the town, while leaving the reader in suspense concerning the attack on the refuge. Subsequent chapters are titled from the names of the women who have lived in the refuge and their stories are told together with their connection to Ruby. The women’s stories are interlaced with the folklore of the town and their names are thinly disguised to keep the reader guessing as to who they are and where their story fits into the larger picture. The time shifts and fragmentary nature of some of the story telling makes it difficult to get a clear idea of events and this would have been interesting if the novel had not at the end of the day been so intent on ramming the themes of the book down the readers throat, backed up with some religious hokum and a desperate attempt to keep the mystery going after we learn of the events of the raid.

Pride, race, religion, misogyny and the dangers of a closed community are lumped in with mysticism, folklore and a revenge tale that struggles to make itself believable and ends up seemingly like some sort of parody. This reader felt little connection with the characters, so many of whom are little more than stock characters. Everything seems to be thrown into the mix and basically we have seen it all before and some fine passages of writing cannot save this unlikely fable. 2 stars. ( )
1 vote baswood | May 29, 2015 |
This story about race is told by the women of a town that began as a settlement of freed slaves who moved their society to a place they built out of devotion to their beliefs and the signs created from said devotion. The story is short, but is retold from each woman's point of view. Some of the women have always lived there, some have come only recently, all have a connection to the strange house located well outside of the city.

The story isn't always linear and there were times when I thought something was purposefully meant to be so confusing that you just couldn't follow it. Some of the poetic writing is just a little too cryptic to understand without some pause to think about the situation a little. Books should be that way at times, when the balance is right, and this book has almost perfect balance. In a way there is a great mystery to this book, because even though the story starts with what is obviously the end of the story, you find yourself wondering how it all came about. You find yourself reading for the writing style just as much as the mystery though. It is simply that good. ( )
  mirrani | Nov 11, 2014 |
I bought this book in June of 1999 when it was first in bookstores — I don’t know why — perhaps I felt Toni Morrison was an author I should read in order to be better-read. I didn’t realise it was the third in a trilogy (not that it really matters?); nor did I realise that I was going to find the first few chapters so harrowing that I would put the book down until 2014, when after shipping it round with me throughout my nomadic years, I thought I’d better read the darn thing and get my thirty dollars’ worth.

I’d read Beloved in the meantime, found it hard going, and this one is even more so. I’ve developed a thicker skin regards violence in fiction (have we all?) and what I found difficult this time was the following the story itself. I need to make another Goodreads list called something like ‘Can’t Really Understand But Admire Anyhow’. I’d have to read this at least twice or three times to get how all the characters intertwine, that’s for sure, though I’m in no mind to right now. Once is enough. ( )
  LynleyS | Oct 16, 2014 |
Disappointing ending. ( )
  CSRodgers | Aug 10, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Toni Morrisonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Jonkheer, ChristienTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Want vele zijn de aangename vormen die schuilen in
talrijke zonden,
en losbandigheden,
en schandelijke passies
en vluchtige verrukkingen,
die (de mensen) gretig grijpen tot ze
tot bezinning komen
en naar hun rustplaats gaan.
Daar zullen zij me vinden,
en leven zullen ze,
en niet weer sterven.
Dedication
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Voor Lois
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They shoot the white girl first.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679433740, Hardcover)

Oprah Book Club® Selection, January 1998: Toni Morrison's Paradise takes place in the tiny farming community of Ruby, Oklahoma, which its residents proudly proclaim "the one all-black town worth the pain." Settled by nine African American clans during the 1940s, the town represents a small miracle of self-reliance and community spirit. Readers might be forgiven, in fact, for assuming that Morrison's title refers to Ruby itself, which even during the 1970s retains an atmosphere of neighborliness and small-town virtue. Yet Paradises are not so easily gained. As we soon discover, Ruby is fissured by ancestral feuds and financial squabbles, not to mention the political ferment of the era, which has managed to pierce the town's pious isolation. In the view of its leading citizens, these troubles call for a scapegoat. And one readily exists: the Convent, an abandoned mansion not far from town--or, more precisely, the four women who occupy it, and whose unattached and unconventional status makes them the perfect targets for patriarchal ire. ("Before those heifers came to town," the men complain, "this was a peaceable kingdom.") One July morning, then, an armed posse sets out from Ruby for a round of ethical cleansing.

Paradise actually begins with the arrival of these vigilantes, only to launch into an intricate series of flashbacks and interlaced stories. The cast is large--indeed, it seems as though we must have met all 360 members of Ruby's populace--and Morrison knows how to imprint even the minor players on our brains. Even more amazing, though, are the full-length portraits she draws of the four Convent dwellers and their executioners: rich, rounded, and almost painful in their intimacy. This richness--of language and, ultimately, of human understanding--combats the aura of saintliness that can occasionally mar Morrison's fiction. It also makes for a spectacular piece of storytelling, in which such biblical concepts as redemption and divine love are no postmodern playthings but matters of life and (in the very first sentence, alas) death.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:23 -0400)

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As the novel begins deep in Oklahoma early one morning in 1976, nine men from Ruby assault the nearby Convent and the women in it.

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