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Song of Solomon (Oprah's Book Club) by Toni…

Song of Solomon (Oprah's Book Club) (original 1978; edition 1987)

by Toni Morrison

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6,71672556 (4.01)312
Title:Song of Solomon (Oprah's Book Club)
Authors:Toni Morrison
Info:Plume (1987), Paperback, 337 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Fiction. American.

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Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (1978)


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Toni Morrison is one of the best American writers of the 20th century. Her novel “Song of Solomon” is rich in language (almost like a poem), and riddled with classical allusions (the Bible, Homer’s Odyssey) and symbolism (such as the transient flash of color in the spread tail of a white peacock). It tells the story of Macon Dead III’s (“Milkman’s”) search for identity through four generations of mysterious family history.

The importance of names is a pervasive theme in the novel. Near the end of the story, when Milkman starts his journey back home after discovering the legend of his ancestors, he is thinking about names: “When you know your name, you should hang on to it, for unless it is noted down and remembered, it will die when you do.” The family name “Dead” originated in 1869 when the freed slave “Jake” (Macon Sr.) misunderstood when asked who his father was and told the drunken Union soldier registering him that his father was dead. “Milkman” (so-named by Freddie the janitor who observed the boy’s mother through the window nursing the child long past infancy) spends the first half of the book aimlessly seeking personal gratification without commitment to anyone or anything, but half-way through the story, what begins as a materialistic search for a long-lost cache of gold culminates in personal understanding and freedom.

Macon Jr. (Milkman’s father) and Macon Jr.’s sister Pilate are Jake’s grown children who take polar opposite approaches to life. Macon Jr. sees money and personal property as the only way to rise above his background whereas the uneducated Pilate embraces the spiritual folklore of her past. Macon Jr. is financially successful, but emotionally bankrupt (estranged from his wife and children and ashamed of his past). The earthy Pilate wears a snuff box earring that contains her name on a slip of paper, has a mysterious heavy green sack hanging from the ceiling of her primitive home, and luxuriates in the cooking of a perfect soft-boiled egg.

In addition to names, flight is a major theme. The novel begins on February 18, 1931 (which just happens to be Morrison’s birthdate) when local insurance agent Robert Smith, using homemade blue silk wings, attempts to fly across Lake Superior from the top of Mercy Hospital. The note he leaves behind (“Please forgive me. I loved you all”) suggests a different intent. Near the end of the book, Milkman has discovered the legend of a different kind of flight. His great-grandfather Solomon escaped slavery and flew back to Africa: “You know, like a bird. Just stood up in the fields one day, ran up some hill, spun around a couple of times, and was lifted up in the air.” Milkman solves the puzzle of this legend after hearing the words of a song sung by children playing in the streets of his ancestral town of Shalimar, Virginia – hence the book’s title. The liberation of flight however has consequences for those left behind (such as Solomon’s grieving wife Ryna and their 21 children). Throughout the book, the suffering of African American women as a result of racism and the faithlessness of their own men is emphasized. These women are the cohesive forces of their families (such as the household consisting of Pilate, her daughter Reba, and her granddaughter Hagar, who is cruelly discarded by Milkman). At the end of the story, Milkman and Pilate bury Jake’s bones back in Shalimar at “Solomon’s Leap” and put their family history to rest. Then, Milkman leaps to a flight of his own that Morrison leaves open to the reader’s imagination. Does he leap to his death or is it, like Solomon’s, a flight to freedom? I’ll place my bet on the latter. ( )
  sdibartola | Jul 9, 2015 |
Interesting book about black relations. Read almost like a fairy tale with allusions to flying and a children's song abou the main charachter "Milkman's" family. All the names of the charachters were indicative of something. Lots of refrences to the Bible. I felt like I understood a lot but that there was a lot hidden in the book I didn't get. ( )
  KamGeb | Apr 5, 2015 |
To me this novel is about not being limited by your history and circumstance, but learning to understand, transcend and even love it. I was struck most when I read it about Pilate Dead's ability to love others and propel Milkman to transcendence over self and sense of place in the world.

The character names were brilliant. The novel has many layers of meaning and contexts in which it might be appreciated, and the names are just the beginning to unraveling them. ( )
  JeaniaK | Dec 13, 2014 |
A brilliant work whether read as an allegory of identity and origin or as a straight tale. The complex relationships between Milkman and his family, Milkman and Guitar, Macon and his wife, Macon and Pilate gave the book layers of meaning. Milkman's coming of age at a late time in life rang very true. His final realization that the world did not revolve around him, though long in coming, redeemed him as a truly heroic character. ( )
  AliceAnna | Oct 23, 2014 |
I don't even know how long it would have taken me to finally read this book had not my resolution to read more of the Bookslut 100 converged with book bingo: A book from the bottom of your to-read pile. Not that I have a pile,but if my list were prioritized, it would be near the bottom. I've owned it for years and years. I once picked it up and read about three pages before I gave up and put it back on the shelf. This book was not going anywhere soon.

Sometimes, I am a bit of an idiot.

Okay, so still, the first few pages were a bit bewildering and I had to kind of slog through them. But not much further in and I was hooked. I mean, it's not like it's a revelation to say that Toni Morrison is a great writer. I think that has pretty much been covered. But it's still a revelation to discover it for oneself.

What is the power of names? What is the value of knowing your heritage? The overlapping of stories and myths and meaning-making. The work of unravelling all of that. I don't know how it can be so foreign and yet so familiar all at the same time. If ever a book made you feel like you'd really walked that mile in a stranger's shoes, this book is on that shelf.

I'm grateful I finally read it. ( )
  greeniezona | Sep 20, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 67 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (16 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Toni Morrisonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Beek, RonaldTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Verhagen, PietTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The fathers may soar / And the children may know their names
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The North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance agent promised to fly from Mercy to the other side of Lake Superior at three o'clock.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 140003342X, Paperback)

The third novel from one America's most powerful writers turns 20 years old in 1997, but Song of Solomon long ago ascended to the top shelf in the ranks of great literature. This Everyman's Library hardcover edition of the Nobel Prize-winning Morrison's lyrical, powerful, and erudite novel contains a chronology that situates the book in its historical context, and an introduction from author Reynolds Price.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:47 -0400)

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Four generations of black life in America.

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