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229 pages, Paperback
First published April 1, 1992
“Sssst… yo conozco a esa mujer. Vivía rodeada de pájaros en la avenida Lenox. También conozco a su marido. Se encaprichó de una chiquilla de 18 años y le dio uno de esos arrebatos que te calan hasta lo más hondo y que a él le metió dentro tanta pena y tanta felicidad que mató a la muchacha de un tiro solo para que aquel sentimiento no acabara nunca. Cuando la mujer, que se llama Violet, fue al entierro para ver a la chica y acuchillarle la cara sin vida, la derribaron al suelo y la expulsaron de la iglesia. Entonces echó a correr, en medio de toda aquella nieve, y en cuanto estuvo de vuelta en su apartamento sacó a los pájaros de las jaulas y les abrió las ventanas para que emprendiesen el vuelo o para que se helaran, incluido el loro, que decía: “Te quiero”.”(Leí por ahí que ese sssst que da inicio al texto es el ruido que hace la aguja en el disco antes del inicio de la música.)
Sth, I know that woman. She used to live with a flock of birds on Lenox Avenue. Know her husband, too. He fell for an eighteen-year-old girl with one of those deepdown, spooky loves that made him so sad and happy he shot her just to keep the feeling going. When the woman, her name is Violet, went to the funeral to see the funeral and cut her dead face they threw her to the floor and out of the church. She ran, then, through all that snow, and when she got back to her apartment she took the birds from their cages and set them out the windows to freeze or fly, including the parrot that said, "I love you."
I ought to get out of this place. Avoid the window; leave the hole I cut through the door to get in lives instead of having one of my own. It was loving the City that distracted me and gave me ideas. Made me think I could speak its loud voice and make that sound sound human. I missed the people altogether.
I thought I knew them and wasn't worried that they didn't really know about me. Now it's clear why they contradicted me at every turn: they knew me all along. Out of the corners of their eyes they watched me. And when I was feeling most invisible, being tight-lipped, silent and unobservable, they were whispering about me to each other. They knew how little I could be counted on; how poorly, how shabbily my know-it-all self covered helplessness. That when I invented stories about them - and doing it seemed to me so fine - I was completely in their hands, managed without mercy...
“Like a million more [running from want and violence] they could hardly wait to get there and love it back...
"There, in a city, they are not so much new as themselves: their stronger, riskier selves...
"I'm crazy about this City...
"[It was] a City seeping music that begged and challenged each and every day. ‘Come,’ it said. ‘Come and do wrong.’...
"It was the music. The dirty, get-on-down music the women sang and the men played and both danced to, close and shameless or apart and wild...
"Where you can find danger or be it; where you can fight till you drop and smile at the knife when it misses and when it doesn't.”
“I call them cracks because that is what they were. Not openings or breaks, but dark fissures in the globe light of the day...
"Sometimes when Violet isn't paying attention she stumbles into these cracks, like the time when, instead of putting her left heel forward, she stepped back and folded her legs in order to sit in the street.”
“I messed up my own life. Before I came north I made sense and so did the world. We didn't have nothing but we didn't miss it...What's the world for if you can't make it up the way you want it?”
“Sth, I know that woman. She used to live with a flock of birds on Lenox Avenue. Know her husband, too. He fell for an eighteen-year-old girl with one of those deep down, spooky loves that made him so sad and happy he shot her just to keep the feeling going. When the woman, her name is Violet, went to the funeral to see the girl and to cut her dead face they threw her to the floor and out of the church. She ran, then, through all that snow, and when she got back to her apartment she took the birds from their cages and set them out the windows to freeze or fly, including the parrot that said, ‘I love you.’"
“I have...longed to be able to say...'that I have loved only you, surrendered my whole self reckless to you and nobody else. That I want you to love me back and show it to me. That I love the way you hold me, how close you let me be to you...’”
It was the music. The dirty, get-on-down music the women sang and the men played and both danced to, close and shameless or apart and wild.
Another dazzling novel from Morrison which follows Beloved in her trilogy but which can equally be read as a standalone as the connections are thematic rather than through characters.
The 'now' is the mid-1920s and the place is Harlem, NY - but while chronologically this takes place during the Harlem Renaissance, the book studiously avoids glamour and artistry and instead sets itself amidst ordinary people: a hairdresser, a door to door salesman, their local community, and the clubs and speakeasies where the jazz of the title floats out and over the landscape of the text.
Once again, this speaks to intergenerational traumas centred on the legacies of chattel slavery, of broken families, of orphaned children in search of some rootedness and home, with light touches of the horrors of lynching, race riots, and the pervasive racism that, for example, allowed Black men to serve in WW1 but not to be honoured or respected.
There's a sensuous, hard-hitting story with a violent love triangle that gives the book its structure but what really stands out is Morrison's lyricism and the way her prose duplicates the syncopated rhythms of the music that threads through this tale, with motifs presented and re-occuring and improvisations moving across time as individual voices emerge to tell their story before harmonising back into the main melody.
Polyphonic, beautifully sculptured: this continues the story of African-Americans that began so devastatingly in Beloved.
Sst, la conosco quella donna.Viveva con un nugolo di uccelli in Lenox Avenue.Conosco anche il marito. Ha perso la testa per una diciottenne: uno di quegli amori tutti di pancia,da far spavento, che lo ha reso triste e felice al punto da spararle perché quell'emozione durasse in eterno. Quando la donna ,Violet, andò al funerale per vedere la ragazza e sfregiarle il volto esanime, venne spinta a terra e cacciata dalla chiesa.Lei allora si mise a correre, in mezzo a tutta quella neve, e quando arrivò a casa, aprì le gabbie ,spalancò le finestre e lasciò gli uccelli liberi di morire di freddo o di volare via, compreso il pappagallo che diceva "ti amo".
Nella neve spazzata dal vento non restarono impronte,sicché per un po' nessuno seppe dove abitava esattamente,in Lenox Avenue.
Ma ,come me, sapevano chi era, chi doveva essere, perché sapevano che il marito, Joe Trace, era quello che aveva sparato alla ragazza
And when spring comes to the City people notice one another in the road; notice the strangers with whom they share aisles and tables and the space where intimate garments are laundered. Going in and out, in and out the same door, they handle the handle; on trolleys and park benches they settle thighs on a seat in which hundreds have done it too. Copper coins dropped in the palm have been swallowed by children and tested by gypsies, but it’s still money and people smile at that. It’s the time of year when the City urges contradiction most, encouraging you to buy street food when you have no appetite at all; giving you a taste for a single room occupied by you alone as well as a craving to share it with someone you passed in the street. Really there is no contradiction—rather it’s a condition: the range of what an artful City can do. What can beat bricks warming up to the sun? The return of awnings. The removal of blankets from horses’ backs. Tar softens under the heel and the darkness under bridges changes from gloom to cooling shade. After a light rain, when the leaves have come, tree limbs are like wet fingers playing in woolly green hair. Motor cars become black jet boxes gliding behind hoodlights weakened by mist. On sidewalks turned to satin figures move shoulder first, the crowns of their heads angled shields against the light buckshot that the raindrops are.
Whatever happens, whether you get rich or stay poor, ruin your health or live to old age, you always end up back where you started: hungry for the one thing everybody loses - young loving.