In Toni Morrison's evocatively entitled novel "Home," set in the pre-Civil Rights era, a Korean War veteran escapes a jail cell where he's being held on charges of being a derelict picked up on the streets of the U.S. far northwest. His fiercely determined purpose is to make his way across the country to the Deep South.
Novelist and essayist Morrison is not known for writing poetry but her style is subtly metaphorical, particularly in this book, which give readers who enjoy pondering such notions as moving East for wisdom many opportunities to set the story aside for a moment to muse.
"Home" is a short novel at 147 pages but written in a way that lets you meander if that pleases you or move right along if you're in it only for the story, which is a gripping one.
Our hero, and he is very much that, has received a letter that his younger sister whom he raised in dire circumstances needs his help. To get to her side and to make his way to a place to which he had never wanted to return, Frank Money, dead broke, relies on a chain of ministers quite like the stops for fugitives called the Underground Railroad of slavery times who give him small amounts of money and sandwiches, sometimes even a spot to rest overnight, some graciously, others less kindly.
As he makes his way to Lotus, Georgia, he experiences Jim Crow discrimination and hatred despite his Medal of Honor status from the military.
A vivid writer, Morrison tells a good story that will grab you however skimpy or profound your acquaintance with the history of black people on these shores and elsewhere. Those who are steeped in that narrative, whether through an interest in the past or through literature, will have a still richer experience reading the Nobel Prize for Literature's 10th fictional outing.
Morrison was awarded the Nobel in 1993 and then in 1987 the Pulitzer Prize both for her novel "Beloved." Her Nobel citation reads that her novel "characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality." On May 29, Morrison received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Psychologically speaking, with "Home" she offers a major theme. It is that the road is torturous when building a sense of self worth or identity that is of your own making when everything around you tries to beat you into the ground. That is, of course, a story we are all trying to puzzle through.
Alfred A. Knopf
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