“And talking about dark! You think dark is just one color, but it ain’t. There’re five or six kinds of black. Some silky, some woolly. Some just empty. Some like fingers. And it don’t stay still, it moves and changes from one kind of black to another. Saying something is pitch black is like saying something is green. What kind of green? Green like my bottles? Green like a grasshopper? Green like a cucumber, lettuce, or green like the sky is just before it breaks loose to storm? Well, night black is the same way. May as well be a rainbow.”
With utmost passion and an undaunted voice that echoes with beautiful details, Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon explores the pursuit for cultural identity. Centered on an African-American folktale about enslaved Africans who escape captivity by returning to Africa, it narrates the tale of Macon “Milkman” Dead, a young male isolated from himself and estranged from his family, his community, and his historical and cultural heritage. Milkman (named so because his mother nursed him way past infancy) is mentally enchained and spiritually numb, but with the support from his eccentric aunt, Pilate, and loyal friend, Guitar Bains, he set off on a metaphysical quest that enables him to reconnect with his past and realize his self-worth.
Although the novel revolves around Macon, the stories spun out from him contain myriad characters and experiences. The author explores the lasting stamp of slavery, the intimate culture of women, the hunger for property and respectability, the idea of one’s own “people”; the violence of civil rights, and many more issues that African-Americans faced in those times and today. Despite the reverberation of history, Song of Solomon is eventually about its people and lives. Morrison writes with a certain humanity and skill that few authors possess, which ultimately results in a extraordinarily emotional and intelligent story that will stay with you for times to come.
Though the author has a Nobel Prize Winner status, the language the book is written in is extremely accessible. You don’t need to be of a specific race, gender, or level of education to slip into her enchanted prose. Although some parts of the story will puzzle readers, the end manages to tie it all together. But stick with it until the very last page, there are lessons waiting to be learnt in every seemingly whimsical sub-plot.
By Sanjana Ahuja