Review: Sula by Toni Morrison

Nel and Sula share an intense friendship while growing up in the neighbourhood of Bottom, the hills above the valley town of Medallion, Ohio. Nel comes from a neat and orderly home and a rigid and conventional family, while Sula comes from a disorderly household, a family of disregard for social conventions. Sula has a fiery spirit and can’t sustain any emotion for long while Nel appears to be more consistent. However, with their contrasting personalities, they both have distant mothers and both have an adventurous spirit, along with an urge to explore whatever beckons their curiosity and interest.

Sula comes from a family of strong and independent women who enjoyed maleness, and that enjoyment they took and did with it in their own design and rules. Sula’s grandmother Eva has a regular flock of male callers but for its own sake and not really to sleep with. Hannah, Sula’s mother, attaches no passion to her relationships with men and is into spontaneous sexual adventures with mostly friends’ and neighbours’ husbands.

Around the time that Nel marries, Sula goes off to study and returns ten years later on a peculiar day, which makes people suspicious of her. She hasn’t changed – still the same with her sharp tongue, feisty attitude and determined to live her own life by her own rules. Their friendship is broken when she betrays Nel. Sula is vilified by everyone and they believe that she leaves behind chaos wherever she passes. All these beliefs bring them together against one evil, and they start improving their family lives. When Sula is dying, Nel finally pays her a visit.

Sula is a provocative read that examines good and evil and confronts the idea of morality. It questions what we believe to be moral and not. We see good and evil as things that change with perspective and sometimes with convenience. For example, the married men who see no evil when they cheat on their wives and sleep with Sula but vilify her when she sleeps with white men.

I love the way Auntie Morrison shows us how the make-up of a home and a family, knits into the fabric of a person’s character. Just like her mother and grandmother, Sula shows a blatant disregard for social code and does whatever pleases her. We also get to witness friendships and the things that affect and influence them.

I absolutely love the way she brings out female independence, personal and sexual liberty, and individualism. The Peace women are unapologetically what they say they are and if anyone doesn’t like it they can go suck it. A lot of stories, especially set around the same period (1919 to mid-1960s) usually have docile women who took what they were given as their lot in life and readily accepted a position of belonging to men. The Peace women, even after a husband who left, one who died and a lover who disappears as soon as he sees signs of serious feelings, they belong to themselves.

“Lonely, ain’t it?
Yes, but my lonely is mine. Now your lonely is somebody else’s. Made by somebody else and handed to you. Ain’t that something? A secondhand lonely.”
― Toni Morrison, Sula

If you’ve read any of Auntie Morrison’s work then don’t expect any less. Her words are agents of transformation and her characters become a sort of transportation for the reader to a place of empowerment. As long ago as the story is set, it can easily speak in a language that our generation can understand. Sula is a powerful book – satisfying, heavy and intelligent.

Review: The Mourning Bird by Mubanga Kalimamukwento

“‘NEVER LET AN OWL STAY, mwanake,’ my father warned. ‘Why, Tate?’ I asked him. ‘Because,’ he replied, throwing a stone at the mango tree, ‘they are a bad omen. They mourn at night so that we mourn in the morning.'”

– The Mourning Bird, Mubanga Kalimamukwento

The 1990s in Zambia were a devastating period of a crumbling economy, election riots and an attempted coup. It is in this same period that we meet eleven-year-old Chimuka and her family, and the tragedies that befall them.

Chimuka’s father dies from the concealed hands of AIDS, leaving her behind with her two younger brothers, the toddler being born sick, her mother and the belligerence of his bitter family. Their lives undergo a devastating change, reducing them to savage circumstances.

When loss strikes the family again, Chimuka and her brother Ali are all they have and end up on the streets, where drugs, hunger, rape, prostitution and theft become their reality.

There are books that bombard the reader with one tragedy after the other, and end up creating a boring and predictable text. However, in The Mourning Bird, Mubanga Kamlimamukwento handles these events with such impressive literary decorum, resulting in a beautiful yet heart-wrenching story. It reminded me a bit of Boy, Interrupted by Saah Millimono (war, poverty and child soldiers) but with triple the trauma, the anguish and tear-jerking.

I have to say, this story is certainly not for the lily-livered. At some point I wanted to stop reading it, afraid of the rawness of the reality it mirrors. Kamlimamukwento perceptively penetrates hard issues such as infidelity, HIV/AIDS and the secrecy that accompanies it, suicide, family betrayal and neglect, rape and prostitution.

It is undeniably impressive how, instead of creating a theme that is lightly sprinkled onto a story, she merges the story and these issues into one raw flesh, which terrifies and at the same time never fails to astonish you.

I loved everything about the book, from the plot, the characters, to the language and evident talent in writing rich prose. The one small spot that I would criticise would be the ending of the story. Throughout the book, the pace has been steady while the end comes in with a quick resolution, which could have been stretched out a little more than it was done.

The Mourning Bird is definitely for the brave but I wouldn’t advise anyone against reading it. It will open your eye to the weight that a country’s failings, blemishes and turmoil has on people. It is sad but powerful and unforgettable.

Mubanga Kalimamukwento is a Zambian award-winning novelist, a mother of two and a criminal lawyer. She’s a fellow of the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program and the Young African Leaders Initiative. The Mourning Bird won the 2019 Dinaane Debut Fiction Award. She also won the Kalemba Short Story Prize, and was shortlisted for the SyncityNG Anthology and the Bristol Short Story Prize in the same year.

One Indian Girl by Chetan Bhagat

“Why do we need our men to praise and validate us in order for us to feel accomplished?” 

Radhika Mehta is getting ready to get married this week. It’s going to be a big event; a destination wedding in Goa with a large number of family members from both her side and Brijesh’s.

She works at Goldman Sachs and makes tons of money, young and making moves in her career. To her mother’s dismay she’s too opinionated, too feminist and is not the child that behaves accordingly. The daughter who is always compared to her sister.

Things start spinning out of control when first an ex-boyfriend who dumped her and made her relocate to Hong Kong, calls her and is on the way to Goa. As if that’s not enough, the man she met in Hong Kong and fell in love with but also ended up heartbroken over also makes it to Goa with his own intentions. All three men are here and she has a hard decision to make.

It’s a not a bad story at all but there are times when it can be taxing. The main character’s strong feminist ideas and arguments sometimes contradict her actions. There is also something exhausting about a character who constantly seeks pity from the reader where it isn’t due. At times it becomes difficult to understand where she’s coming from and you want to shout, “Oh get over it already!”

It is, however, a relief when after all the power she has given to all these men in the past, and the power she has given to tradition as pressured by family, she finally takes her power back and that’s refreshing.

One Indian Girl is not completely a waste of time but if you’re not ready to sit down listening to someone whine about things she could easily avoid, then you might put it down early. If you’re into typical Hollywood drama then this is your book.