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Tar Baby

3.90  ·  Rating Details  ·  13,558 Ratings  ·  330 Reviews
A magnificent novel from the Nobel Prize-winning author of Beloved. Morrison probes deeply and sensitively into the relationships between blacks and whites, blacks and blacks, and women and men, in this raw, emotionally intense narrative set in a rainforest paradise.
Paperback, 306 pages
Published April 1982 by Plume (first published 1981)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Rowena
Apr 30, 2016 Rowena rated it it was amazing
Shelves: african-american
"The island exaggerated everything. Too much light. Too much shadow. Too much rain. Too much foliage and much too much sleep."- Toni Morrison, Tar Baby

I think the tropical Caribbean setting and all the talk of candy and flowers fooled me into thinking that this would be one of Toni Morrison's simpler reads. It turns out that like with most Toni Morrison books, it's impossible to summarize everything; there's just too much to talk about.

In this novel we meet retired rich American Valerian Street
...more
brian
Jan 22, 2009 brian rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
i have a great idea for a wildly over-the-top romance novel. slap a likeness of blair underwood on the cover, airbrush some dreadlocks on his head, a tropical landscape in the back… ready? ready:


crazy dreadlocked black man is found hiding in the closet of a wealthy white couple’s carribean house. rather than take him to the police, Valerian Street (the white millionaire) invites him to dinner. now check it: Valerian and Margaret (a former beauty queen!) have two black servants who have a niece,
...more
Zanna
Apr 24, 2016 Zanna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The opening of this book was a complete surprise to me as a moderately seasoned TM reader – it felt just like the start of an action movie, some kind of spy thriller, only infused with verbal beauty. Something of this atmosphere persisted; perhaps because of Valerian, the white millionaire, who somehow wears an arch-villain halo even when he’s being likeable. I also found the dialogue sparky and often humorous, the tone frequently light

So is it a light book? Noooooo of course not. From the turbu
...more
Mmars
Dec 04, 2013 Mmars rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm wondering how many 1 and 2 star ratings came from readers thinking this would be a good Caribbean vacation beach read. I also wonder how many of them were clueless to the meaning of the term "tar baby". Sigh... There should be no need to discuss that, it's rather obvious that, well, ALL the characters, black, white and mulatto, were tar babies. Inextricably stuck to who they are, no matter where they are, they cannot escape themselves, their pasts, their childhoods. In fact, WE ARE ALL tar b ...more
Anne
Dec 04, 2013 Anne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pretty much any possible interaction between blacks and whites, rich and poor, man and woman, is played out in this novel - there are no real resolutions and some of the relationships are wildly overplayed, but overall this is an incredible piece of literature that I could see spending an entire semester on in college. It is basically the story of the rich white Valerian who retires to the Caribbean where his much younger wife broods over the absence of her college-aged son who is racked by whit ...more
Rachel
Jan 20, 2008 Rachel rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Those who liked "Beloved"
Recommended to Rachel by: College Course
Shelves: 1-favorites
Everyone knows that Beloved is Toni Morrison's most famous work, but I would argue that Tar Baby is better. There are so many relationships in this book and so many layers to each of those relationships. Love, sex, race, gender, class, ethnicity, even geography...there isn't much Morrison doesn't take on in this beautiful story. And, of course, there are always those heart-stopping passages that Morrison's writing never fails to produce. Tar Baby is an absolute must-read, and if you have the pri ...more
Mia
Jul 14, 2011 Mia rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: re-read
After reading Morrison's Tar Baby I felt slighted. Although I know that a perfect resolution is not required, I felt as though she left the primary characters' conflicts unresolved. Jadine and Son especially. Maybe I am a hopeless romantic and wished for them to make it, for their love to sustain them where ever they traveled, whether from Isle des Chevaliers, New York, Eloe to Paris. The situation on Isle des Chevaliers, at Valerian's house seemed a bit more tidied up. Morrison conveyed a sense ...more
Nick Iuppa
Aug 16, 2015 Nick Iuppa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Tar Baby by Toni Morrison

It’s a poem, really... in spite of the brilliant characterizations, dead-on dialogue, penetrating observations, toxic lover’s quarrels, and tender romance. It’s really a poem... an allegory.

Son, a handsome, intelligent, but uneducated black man from Eloe, a small town in north Florida, jumps ship in the Caribbean and eventually ends up on a small island called Isle des Chevaliers (Island of the horseman). He’s on the run, has committed a crime, and is tired of worrying
...more
Jasmine Star
Nov 10, 2008 Jasmine Star rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow, I was pleasantly surprised by the depth and eloquence in this book. The relationship between and within races and sexes and cultures is so incredibly insightful. Toni does not hold back comments that might make the reader ouncomfortable and i found myself laughing at the reality of the characters reactions (specifically to finding Son in the closet). I have to admit i was infuriated by the lack of closure to the book...i got to the last sentence praying that there was another chapter hiding ...more
Donovan Lessard
Feb 05, 2015 Donovan Lessard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Morrison's progression from The Bluest Eye (a masterpiece, for sure) to Tar Baby, written a few years later, shows her deepening ability to weave together histories and geographies through compelling characters and an amazing story. The real jewel of Tar Baby is Morrison's ability to show the relationships between a wealthy white man (Valerian) who lives in a mansion in the Caribbean, his Black servants and their adopted daughter whose college was paid for Valerian, a fugitive Black man from the ...more
Aly
Aug 23, 2014 Aly rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I simply can't stomach a book in which I'm expected to accept that a woman falls in love with a man who essentially sexually assaults her, and whose justification for it is explicitly that he was so in awe of her that he needed to debase her.

This is the core of the "romantic relationship" at the center of this book, and while the book is critical of the gender dynamics in Jadine and Son's relationship as they attempt to sort out whose world they will live in and whose relationship model they wil
...more
 Imani ♥ ☮
It's a bit awkward for me to write a good review for anything Toni Morrison has written, if only because, after I read Beloved, I condemned her. But Tar Baby was far different than anything I suffered through in her most popular novel. In fact, almost everything I hated about Beloved was almost nonexistent in this book.

To compare the two novels doesn't make sense because while Beloved is set in Reconstruction America, Tar Baby is mostly set in circa 1970s Caribbean with a few sprinkles of the De
...more
E Wilson
Dec 04, 2013 E Wilson rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition

This book almost seemed like a fable or allegory. There are the rich white couple,Valerian and Margaret, who take their black servants for granted and except for the old retainers, Sydney and Ondine,don't even bother to learn their names,calling one "Yardman" and one "Mary" even though that isn't her name.
Sydney and Ondine are the faithful black servants who have
been in service all their lives and know their place.
Their niece, Jade, thanks to Valerian and Margaret, has gotten
an education a
...more
Deja Johnson
Jan 09, 2013 Deja Johnson rated it did not like it
My personal opinion on the book? Well, I believe that the book was terrible and I would not recommend this book to anyone. I say that because the book was altogether irrelevant and I did not understand why it was written. To add fuel to the fire, it was boring. There was no action whatsoever and the first few chapters of the book was meaningless. If I had to give the book a rating out of 5 stars, I would literally give it a 1 star. I would give it that because at least she tried to write somethi ...more
Drick
Oct 01, 2008 Drick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Whenever I have [tried to:]read a Toni Morrison novel, I have feeling that there is a whole lot more here than I am getting. Her language and imagery is so rich and imbued with the African American experience that I am sure I miss as much as I learn. This story primarily takes place on the Carribean island of Dominque and centers of the characters involed in a home away from home of an elderly white couple, their two black servants, the servants niece who has become a European model and a strang ...more
Laura
Mar 28, 2008 Laura rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
OK, I really tried to get into this, but finally gave up. I love the intro!
Grace Mc Gowan
Feb 16, 2016 Grace Mc Gowan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As with brown girl dreaming, I thought that this month was a perfect time to start reading through my Toni Morrison shelf. I'm trying to read all her books in chronological order of publication which means doing some rereads. I'd started reading Tar Baby way back in July last year, but when I got ill I found I just couldn't get back into it. It's not that anything particularly distressing happens in this book, but Morrison's writing is so intense that when I was ill I felt like it was overwhelmi ...more
Abby
"At some point in life the world's beauty becomes enough. You don't need to photograph, paint or even remember it. It is enough. No record of it needs to be kept and you don't need someone to share it with or tell it to. When that happens—that letting go—you let go because you can. The world will always be there—while you sleep it will be there—when you wake it will be there as well. So you can sleep and there is reason to wake. A dead hydrangea is as intricate and lovely as one in bloom. Bleak ...more
Alex
Apr 28, 2015 Alex rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I’m just going to say it: if you claim to love metaphor but haven’t read a Toni Morrison novel, you’re doing yourself a disservice. The language and symbolism in Tar Baby is what elevated it from a wonderfully complex, often heartbreaking look at race and class relations to a truly thought-compelling piece of art.

At one point while reading this book, I had to stop and reread the folktale of Br'er Rabbit and the Tar Baby- I encourage anyone who thinks but isn't sure that they remember the story t
...more
Dimas
Apr 13, 2011 Dimas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I haven't read all of Toni Morrison's novels (Sula, Paradise, Love) but I have read most of them. Out of her novels that I've read, Tar Baby is easily the most digestible. Not to say that it doesn't have depth, it's just a little easier to read and more mainstream. If someone came up to me and said they wanted to start reading Morrison, and I knew they weren't strong, attentive readers, I would definitely recommend this book.

It's her most modern book. The story takes place during the '70s, and i
...more
Corina
Jun 24, 2008 Corina rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Corina by: Sara campos
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jon
Jan 26, 2008 Jon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Outstanding. Brilliantly plays with the intersections of gender, race, and class. Very insightful, imaginative, and intelligent.

I also really enjoyed the narrative structure. It will keep shifting focus between the different characters, but it uses dialogue as a bridge. So, for instance, a long passage delving into the history and psychology of Valerian, followed by a conversation between him and Sydney, followed by Sydney's history and perspective. The net effect is a collection of incredibly i
...more
Chris
Apr 11, 2012 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Probably out of all of the Toni Morrison books I've read, my favorite so far. It was easy to understand and I enjoyed the characters and storyline. I also loved what happens in the end. I didn't get it at first but once I realized what it was, it was very funny. The story deals with different classes of whites and African American people and the role of a mother/father in their son's life. I loved the big secret that is revealed about why the son, Michael, doesn't want to come and visit too.
Only
...more
Dionne Smith
one of the most beautiful and realistic descriptions of a relationship I've ever read. interesting dissection of relationships from many angles: black/white, master/servant, male/female, husband/wife, black/black, american/caribbean...hated the ending
Denise Cooper
Sep 11, 2015 Denise Cooper rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This Book has it all, beauty, love, fear, crime, abuse, cultural clashing, disrespect, lessons learned, avoided, shock, fantasy, realism, racism, growth, avoidance, mental illness, there was so much to contend with handled by the beautiful genius writing when Morrison was in her prime. This is a literary feast.
Sara
Jun 18, 2016 Sara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, lit, own
When Morrison hits high notes I forget her age, sex, race and nationality, which for me is a sign of an author who has mastered thier art. Plus I'm a sucker for cranky old men like Valerian who is just one of highly developed characters found in this novel.
Crystal Belle
Jan 27, 2009 Crystal Belle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
the best novel ever written in my opinion! the significance of black female sexuality and the relevance of love in everything that we do and every decision we make.
dom
Sep 17, 2014 dom rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2014
This is my fifth Toni Morrison novel (after Beloved, Jazz, The Bluest Eye, and Paradise). I'm on the fence about this one. On one hand, "Tar Baby" is a meaty study for students of literature, appropriate for various levels of engagement. On the other hand, I couldn't wait to get through it. I have little patience for theatrics, which became a problem when the cast walked in with their inner monologue and dialogue-heavy scenes. The most intriguing characters are the locals of Dominique, but I was ...more
Chad
Apr 27, 2016 Chad rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reading the reviews for Tar Baby on Goodreads, you will see that many do not think highly of this book. They consider it to be a "lesser Morrison" novel and belittle the plot for the romance at the center of this story.

I read those reviews before starting Tar Baby, and think most of those reviewers totally missed the point. Tar Baby does stick out if you're looking at the work Morrison had written up until this point (The Bluest Eye, Sula, and Song of Solomon). It may lack the seriousness or imp
...more
Tess
Jun 04, 2012 Tess rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Toni Morrison is one of the most lauded writers of our time and I can understand why after experiencing her unique structure in this novel. The [3rd person] narration's focus flows from character to character without pause, mirroring the Caribbean waters that play their own role in the novel.

Writing prowess aside, I was disappointed in the ending of the novel. I was angry that after the grand revelation of Margaret's abuse of her son, nobody made any effort to make amends with the boy who was cl
...more
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Toni Morrison (born Chloe Anthony Wofford), is an American author, editor, and professor who won the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature for being an author "who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality."

Her novels are known for their epic themes, vivid dialogue, and richly detailed African American characters; among the best k
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“At some point in life the world's beauty becomes enough. You don't need to photograph, paint or even remember it. It is enough. No record of it needs to be kept and you don't need someone to share it with or tell it to. When that happens — that letting go — you let go because you can.” 41 likes
“The hills below crouched on all fours under the weight of the rainforest where liana grew and soldier ants marched in formation. Straight ahead they marched, shamelessly single-minded, for soldier ants have no time for dreaming. Almost all of them are women and there is so much to do - the work is literally endless. So many to be born and fed, then found and buried. There is no time for dreaming. The life of their world requires organization so tight and sacrifice so complete there is little need for males and they are seldom produced. When they are needed, it is deliberately done by the queen who surmises, by some four-million-year-old magic she is heiress to, that it is time. So she urges a sperm from the private womb where they were placed when she had her one, first and last copulation. Once in life, this little Amazon trembled in the air waiting for a male to mount her. And when he did, when he joined a cloud of others one evening just before a summer storm, joined colonies from all over the world gathered fro the marriage flight, he knew at last what his wings were for. Frenzied, he flied into the humming cloud to fight gravity and time in order to do, just once, the single thing he was born for. Then he drops dead, having emptied his sperm into his lady-love. Sperm which she keeps in a special place to use at her own discretion when there is need for another dark and singing cloud of ant folk mating in the air. Once the lady has collected the sperm, she too falls to the ground, but unless she breaks her back or neck or is eaten by one of a thousand things, she staggers to her legs and looks for a stone to rub on, cracking and shedding the wings she will never need again. Then she begins her journey searching for a suitable place to build her kingdom. She crawls into the hollow of a tree, examines its walls and corners. She seals herself off from all society and eats her own wing muscles until she bears her eggs. When the first larvae appear, there is nothing to feed them, so she gives them their unhatched sisters until they are old enough and strong enough to hunt and bring their prey back to the kingdom. That is all. Bearing, hunting, eating, fighting, burying. No time for dreaming, although sometimes, late in life, somewhere between the thirtieth and fortieth generation she might get wind of a summer storm one day. The scent of it will invade her palace and she will recall the rush of wind on her belly - the stretch of fresh wings, the blinding anticipation and herself, there, airborne, suspended, open, trusting, frightened, determined, vulnerable - girlish, even, for and entire second and then another and another. She may lift her head then, and point her wands toward the place where the summer storm is entering her palace and in the weariness that ruling queens alone know, she may wonder whether his death was sudden. Or did he languish? And if so, if there was a bit of time left, did he think how mean the world was, or did he fill that space of time thinking of her? But soldier ants do not have time for dreaming. They are women and have much to do. Still it would be hard. So very hard to forget the man who fucked like a star.” 17 likes
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