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Song of Solomon (1977)

by Toni Morrison

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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9,077102624 (4.02)443
Milkman Dead was born shortly after a neighborhood eccentric hurled himself off a rooftop in a vain attempt at flight. For the rest of his life he, too, will be trying to fly. With this brilliantly imagined novel, Toni Morrison transfigures the coming-of-age story as audaciously as Saul Bellow or Gabriel García Márquez. As she follows Milkman from his rustbelt city to the place of his family's origins, Morrison introduces an entire cast of strivers and seeresses, liars and assassins, the inhabitants of a fully realized black world.… (more)
Recently added byephemeralmochi, AanchalB, private library, andrisll, MAR67, booksforbrunch, Raechill, PeaceUCC, MelindaEinander, ejmw
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» See also 443 mentions

English (93)  Spanish (3)  Dutch (2)  Catalan (1)  French (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (101)
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  fmc712 | Feb 18, 2021 |
Morrison's third novel is a little bit more ambitious than the first two in the amount of time and space it covers; it's also unlike the first two in using a male central character — a choice prompted by the recent death of the author's father — although, as you would expect, it's still full of strong female characters.

But in other ways we are very much still in the world of the earlier novels. The core setting for at least the first part is the black community of a small industrial town on the Great Lakes around 1940; the story is framed by two families, one that defines itself by "respectability" and its social and economic success compared to other families in the black community and the other that consists of three generations of strong, independent women without men, who seem to care nothing for other people's rules and conventions.

At the centre of the story is Milkman. He's officially called Macon Dead, like his father and grandfather — who originally got the name when a drunken official registering freed slaves filled in a form in the wrong order — but universally known by the nickname that reflects his mother's attempt to delay his growing up as long as possible. We follow his progress from being the spoilt son of a successful local businessman to a kind of self-realisation through the perils and humiliations of a journey back into his family's past in the South. With plenty of the kind of grotesque, paradoxical and borderline magic-realist elements you would expect in a Morrison novel, he learns that you can't be a fully-developed human being until you understand some important things about who you are and where you come from and what it means to love and be loved.

Reading this directly after the first two, it felt a little bit drier, more detached in its style: there is a lot of suffering and injustice, some brutal murders and even more abrupt and tragic pieces of self-destruction, but they are just that little bit further away from us as readers than they were in Sula and The bluest eye. It's hard to say whether that makes it more or less effective as a novel, though: it's simply a different approach. ( )
1 vote thorold | Feb 11, 2021 |
Very readable for a Morrison so that’s a bonus for a start, even though it does bear her trademark style. If you’ve not read her before, this is a great place to start, and in the current climate, it should be on any white person’s required reading list.

In a northern US black community, the novel centres on Macon Dead, a man who goes in search of his past and, in doing so, confronts questions about his identity.

For the first time, Morrison brought me face to face with the issue of identity for the African American community for whom the idea of family history is not a simple matter at all. The complexities are reinforced no doubt by the insistence of every white person in the US to define themselves not as a US citizen primarily but some bizarre concoction of (usually) European nations.

“Hi, I’m Emily. I’m quarter Dutch, half Irish, six eighths Belgian and have a smattering of Italian on my father’s side.”

If they’re feeling particularly woke, they might add

“And my grandmother was half Navajo.”

But for someone imported at the whim of a plantation owner, family history might be a complete blank despite the incredibly strong tribal roots that many people will have been torn from. In that perspective, the search for identity becomes much more important and Solomon portrays this very well.

While the storyline is not entirely straightforward, the novel is moving and Macon is a very tangible character. This might sound a strange thing to say about a character. But, if you’ve never read Morrison before, you won’t be familiar with her tendency to write settings and characters that can feel as tangible as air (see Beloved for more).

Nevertheless, for all that the newbie to Morrison will find to hold on to here, you’ll still have to deal with some elements of magic-realism and transcendence of what we might term reality. For those forcibly ripped from their homelands though, it’s entirely appropriate that reality is best described intangibly. ( )
  arukiyomi | Dec 27, 2020 |
Dang. This one left me reeling a little. Morrison is honestly one of THE BEST American writers in our literary history. She creates a narrative and a mythology regarding a family, and she teases you with little bits throughout until you find yourself captivated by this incredible story. And then she gives you an ending that is both unsatisfying and fulfilling AT THE SAME TIME. It's a puzzle, and she does it better than anybody. Song of Solomon starts off slow but it picks up speed, and the characters gain clarity and poignancy as the story moves on. The end of the book feels like the end of Darren Aronofsky's film The Wrestler: you think you know how it will end, but you're really not sure. It's abrupt, and you as the reader are left to fill in the blanks.

This is a book that, like many of Morrison's others, is best read with patience and curiosity. The payoff was worthwhile. Not a starting point if you've never read Morrison, but definitely a must-read if you're a fan. 4.5 stars. ( )
  DrFuriosa | Dec 4, 2020 |
bailed after 1st chaper.
  GRLopez | Nov 10, 2020 |
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» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Morrison, Toniprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Beek, RonaldTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cavagnoli, Francasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Criado, CarmenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Edlund, Mårtensecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Guiloineau, JeanTraductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kaplan, MarthaAuthor Photosecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rué, SylvianeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thigpen, LynneNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Verhagen, PietTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
The fathers may soar / And the children may know their names
Dedication
Daddy
First words
The North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance agent promised to fly from Mercy to the other side of Lake Superior at three o'clock.
Quotations
He soaped and rubbed her until her skin squeaked and glistened like onyx. She put salve on his face. He washed her hair. She sprinkled talcum on his feet. He straddled her behind and massaged her back. She put witch hazel on his swollen neck. He made up the bed. She gave him gumbo to eat. He washed the dishes. She washed his clothes and hung them out to dry. He scoured her tub. She ironed his shirt and pants. He gave her fifty dollars. She kissed his mouth. He touched her face. She said please come back. He said I’ll see you tonight.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Milkman Dead was born shortly after a neighborhood eccentric hurled himself off a rooftop in a vain attempt at flight. For the rest of his life he, too, will be trying to fly. With this brilliantly imagined novel, Toni Morrison transfigures the coming-of-age story as audaciously as Saul Bellow or Gabriel García Márquez. As she follows Milkman from his rustbelt city to the place of his family's origins, Morrison introduces an entire cast of strivers and seeresses, liars and assassins, the inhabitants of a fully realized black world.

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