My first step from the old white man was trees

The Color Purple
by Alice Walker

When I read the first page of this book I wasn’t sure I could carry on. Walker plunges right into the heart of the awful beginnings of her story. But I made myself continue and within a few pages I was hooked.

The story is told in the form of letters, initially all addressed to God, from Celie. She tells how from the age of 14 she was repeatedly raped by her pa and bore him two children, both taken away from her. This has destroyed her ability to have further children so she is offloaded as a wife to Albert, a man looking for a trouble-free mother to his children. He beats her and makes no secret of his hate for her. Her beloved sister Nettie lives with them briefly before being forced to run away when she rejects Albert’s advances.

It’s all pretty bleak. And then along comes Shug Avery. The love of Albert’s life, she is a nightclub singer and quickly becomes Celie’s first real friend. Finally joy, happiness and the ability to talk openly come to Celie and she gradually finds the strength to make her life what she wants it to be.

Obviously, I knew this from reputation, but I realised it was a few chapters before it is clear that all the characters are black (at least, initially they all are). They are simply poor, ill-educated farm folk. But as Celie gets older and meets more people she learns what it means to be black. She learns about black people in other cities, other countries and even other continents. And she learns about being a woman, how she doesn’t have to be subservient.

Although the book goes very firmly from dark to light, it never gets over-sentimental or mawkish. Celie’s matter-of-fact tone gradually gains humour and worldliness. Always observant, she reports the moments and the conversations that have made her who she is at the end of the story:

“I believe God is everything, say Shug…My first step from the old white man was trees. Then air. Then birds…it come to me: that feeling of being part of everything…And I laughed and I cried…It sort of like you know what, she say, grinning and rubbing high up on my thigh.
Shug! I say.
“Oh, she say, God love them feelings. That’s some of the best stuff God did…
“God don’t think it dirty? I ast.
“Naw, she say. God made it. Listen, God love everything you love &ndash and a mess of stuff you don’t. But more than anything else, God love admiration.
“You saying God vain? I ast.
“Naw, she say. Not vain, just wanting to share a good thing. I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”

Now, I’m not religious, but there was something very moving about Shug’s idea of God and I love how it freed her and later Celie to follow their own rules. Not to give too much away, but this book includes some frank talk about sex and some homosexuality, not to mention all of the affairs characters keep having. Which I hadn’t expected and found refreshing. Yes, these are poor black people in the segregated southern USA in I think the 1930s and 1940s (there’s some vague talk about war breaking out in Europe) but take away the poverty and politics and they’re still human beings with hearts to give and break and libidos to follow.

The style of writing took some getting used to. Beside the dialect, Celie doesn’t always name characters or explain a situation clearly until much later. And time was passing far more quickly than I realised. There are sometimes years between letters. Also, the absence of speech marks was sometimes confusing. But looking beyond all that, it is a wonderful book well worth the pain of the early chapters.

First published in the USA in 1983 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

Sunday Salon: Ups and downs

The Sunday Salon

It’s been a bit of an up and down week. I haven’t got much reading done but I am currently completely absorbed in an old Nick Hornby novel. Which is something good to alleviate the curled-up-under-the-sick-blanket day I’m having.

For most of the week Tim was working so many hours we didn’t really see each other but on Wednesday he surprised me by taking me out to dinner. Which was lovely. It was a beautiful evening, we ate tasty food, strolled along Bristol harbour arm in arm, talked and laughed. Perfect.

Untitled

Then I found out my Nan was ill. It’s not super serious but her general health hasn’t been great this year so any illness is a bit worrying. So I got stressed. Then I pushed myself to do too much stuff and got tired.

And I thought maybe I’d got away with it. Yesterday I felt good, it was the weekend, we went into town for the afternoon, got alternatively cooked and soaked by the changeable weather, sorted some chores, drank good coffee, had a nice evening playing silly computer games and watching DVDs.

But today I feel terrible. Completely bleurgh (to use a technical term). It will pass, it’s not even the worst I’ve felt this year, but it’s still a bit of a crap end to the week. Here’s to a brand new week starting tomorrow.

How has your week been?

Sunday Salon: Happiness

The Sunday Salon

For no special reason and after a bit of a rubbish week, today I am feeling good. Really truly happy. Which is nice.

I have barely read 100 pages this week and life is pretty busy so reviews might be a bit sparse for a while. But we have some holiday coming soon so hopefully I’ll be able to play catch-up then. If we can manage not to plan ourselves too many other activities!

I have found time/brain power to post reviews of The Library Book and The Big Sleep, both of which I recommend. And my tired brain was glad that I now have a system for headlines so I didn’t have to pluck something out of thin air. I pick a quote from the book. Do you have a system for writing headlines? Do you use the title of the book you review?

I’m off out now to explore the Southbank Bristol Art Trail (I love my city). In the meantime, to spread my mysteriously good mood, here is a picture of gorillas having fun at our local zoo.

At play

The Sunday Salon: I ♥ coffee

The Sunday Salon

I love coffee. I mean: that smell, that taste, that buzz, even the appearance of it steaming away in a cup. And the effort that a good barista puts into getting it just right – it’s a joyous thing. Did I mention I love coffee?

Until this week I had not drunk coffee for about six weeks, since I had a flare-up of irritable bowel syndrome. Having to eat and drink more cautiously for a while is fine (in fact, when my lupus flared in the meantime it was quite helpful – when thinking through brain fog, fewer choices = good) but damn I missed coffee!

I agree

So this week, feeling miles better, I treated myself. I have also read some good books, including The Light Between Oceans and the first few volumes of Y the Last Man by Brian K Vaughan and Pia Guerra. Life is good.