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"They shoot the white girl first. With the rest they can take their time." So begins this visionary work from a storyteller. Toni Morrison's first novel since she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, Paradise opens with a horrifying scene of mass violence and chronicles its genesis in an all-black small town in rural Oklahoma.

Founded by the descendants of freed slaves and survivors in exodus from a hostile world, the patriarchal community of Ruby is built on righteousness, rigidly enforced moral law, and fear. But seventeen miles away, another group of exiles has gathered in a promised land of their own. And it is upon these women in flight from death and despair that nine male citizens of Ruby will lay their pain, their terror, and their murderous rage.

In prose that soars with the rhythms, grandeur, and tragic arc of an epic poem, Toni Morrison challenges our most fiercely held beliefs as she weaves folklore and history, memory and myth into an unforgettable meditation of race, religion, gender, and a far-off past that is ever present.

318 pages, Paperback

First published December 24, 1997

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About the author

Toni Morrison

180 books17k followers
Toni Morrison (born Chloe Ardelia Wofford) was 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 known are her novels The Bluest Eye , Song of Solomon , and Beloved , which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988. In 2001 she was named one of "The 30 Most Powerful Women in America" by Ladies' Home Journal.

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Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews2,891 followers
October 21, 2017
Sometimes you have to hold up your hands as a reader and admit maybe you didn’t do a book justice. I found Paradise really difficult to follow. Mainly this is due to there being no central character. The central character instead is a town called Ruby where only blacks live and are free of white legislation and a nearby building known as the convent. The awfulness of men and magical prowess of women is its theme. Well not quite but the divisions drawn here are not between blacks and whites but between men and women. The men drawing their inspiration from the past, the women much more inclined to look forward.

I’d be interested to know how many characters there are in this novel. I would guess about a hundred and they all have significance which for me meant Morrison was asking too much of the reader. No doubt a novelist lives obsessively in the novel she’s writing. As a reader this isn’t the case. We have the rest of our life to get on with every day. If a character who has only had two lines reappears after a hundred pages it’s almost cruel to expect us to remember him or her. And yet if we don’t remember them here we are punished, shoved out of the narrative. To fully appreciate this novel I’d guess you’d have to read it in three sittings. Unfortunately I was only managing to read about twenty pages a day. On top of that I wasn’t really convinced by any of the characters.

At the beginning, a lynch party of men set out with guns and various other weapons to put an end to the reign of a few mysterious women living in the building outside the town. A witch hunt in other words. The men have managed to convince themselves these women are ungodly. The novel then goes backwards in time to document both the history of the small town of Ruby and the various women who have ended up at the convent. There’s some cleverness in the construction of this novel – I liked how it turns full circle which does create a lot of intrigue - but there’s also a good deal of clumsiness. For starters the characters aren’t particularly memorable with perhaps one or two exceptions. A lot of them, especially the men, seemed interchangeable. Neither is the prose as haunting and exalted as Morrison’s usual fare. So though I felt I didn’t do it justice I can still say with conviction it’s no Beloved. In fact it’s my least favourite of the Morrison novels I’ve read.
Profile Image for Rowena.
500 reviews2,410 followers
July 31, 2016
" They shoot the white girl first, but the rest they can take their time. No need to hurry out here. They are 17 miles from a town which has 90 miles between it and any other. Hiding places will be plentiful in the convent, but there is time, and the day has just begun. They are nine. Over twice the number of the women, they are obliged to stampede or kill, and they have the paraphernalia for either requirement--rope, a palm leaf cross, handcuffs, mace, and sunglasses, along with clean, handsome guns."- Toni Morrison, Paradise

In my opinion Paradise is one of the most complex books Morrison has written, and possibly the one I've had the most trouble reviewing. This is my second reading of it and I feel I need at least a couple more before I truly get it; I’m happy with what I gleaned from it this time around, but to put it all down in words is still difficult.

Paradise tells the story of the black town of Ruby, Oklahoma, founded by former slaves who find themselves rejected both by white people but also by lighter-skinned black people ("Us free like them; was slave like them. What for this difference?"). Ruby was created to insulate the townspeople (as much as possible) from Out There, the outside world:

"Out There where your children were sport, your women quarry, and where your very person could be annulled..."

Since reading Zora Neale Hurston's autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, I've been curious about the founding of black towns.Through this fictionalized account I was able to think more about how black towns were formed (the "why" is easy enough to guess at), but it's also clear to see that towns like these, often founded with high hopes, are definitely not utopian. Ruby ends up becoming quite insular and patriarchal, and full of strife not only due to inter-generational quarreling, but also because of the women in the Convent. Throughout the book independent women, such as the women living in the Convent, are met with ridicule, scorn, hatred, and fear. The Convent is a haven, a refuge for women who have experienced trauma and hardships in their lives, and a place where women are enterprising and self-sufficient. The Convent women actually benefit the town, but all that labour and kindness is taken for granted and unappreciated in the end. It's practically a witch-hunt where strong, independent women are the scapegoats when things aren't going well:

"So, Lone thought, the fangs and the tail are somewhere else. Out yonder all slithery in a house full of women. Not women locked safely away from men; but worse, women who chose themselves for company, which is to say not a convent but a coven."

Morrison is one of the best at illuminating different aspects of African-American history with human stories. This always helps me appreciate the history even more and also think of the people involved, not just the bare facts and figures that we are often fed when we are taught history, so much so that we often feel removed from it. Definitely recommended for those who enjoy challenging reads!


Profile Image for Jean-Luke.
Author 1 book366 followers
November 10, 2022
[If you haven't watched the documentary Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, do yourself a favor and find it somewhere.]

The moment I wake up, before I put on my makeup, I say a little prayer for you--but more on that in a moment. Reading this after reading The Bluest Eye is probably like reading Dubliners and then following it with Finnegans Wake. Well, maybe not quite (I wouldn't know as I haven't read either one), but this one is definitely much denser than The Bluest Eye and has a cast of characters as large as the Bible. It's not something you read with the TV on in the background, or while having a conversation with your spouse.

Not unmanageable, and certainly not unenjoyable (there's a wedding scene that is simply mesmerizing, or should I say Divine, hence the song from My Best Friend's Wedding, you know where Julia Roberts sits annoyed and horrified as the whole family breaks into song). I would compare it to one of those jigsaw puzzles where the main image, on closer inspection, is composed of hundreds of smaller images. Despite it being divided into sections based on characters, you don't get a single character's whole story in their section. Just keep on reading.
Profile Image for Tim.
293 reviews287 followers
February 9, 2017
Why is it that so often in life the very thing you’re trying to avoid becomes you? Why do the oppressed become the oppressor? Why do the abused become the abuser? Why do those who demand openness and equality become insular and elitist? Why does the love that we strive so hard to obtain turn into a protective curse when we attempt to contain it vs. allowing its empathy and compassion to extend to all? These open-ended questions are only the tip of the iceberg in Toni Morrison’s "Paradise". It is an incredible novel that incorporates many complex themes, mind shattering symbolisms and an obvious personal investment of experience, echoes of generations gone by and silent whisperings from history that we should heed and never repeat.

The idea that a group from any oppressed race can run from their problems, form their own society, and live by their own rules contains within it the basic dangers inherent in utopian thinking. So often, it is not applicable or realistic according to the complexities of human nature. In fact, the idea that this utopia can be acquired affirms the thesis of the oppressed becoming the oppressor. We can see this in modern society with the way the Israelis treat the Palestinians. Or the way that America has chosen to repress and exploit the Third World and the various racial/class/homosexual/religious/political groups at home. Here we have victims creating new victims…and the cycle continues. The real question is, how do we break this cycle? It is only through immense courage, love, empathy, compassion and strength that we step up and say no. I forgive you for what has happened to me and to make that forgiveness concrete in my own life, I will strive to not become bitter and will do my best to not consciously or unconsciously pass it on to others.

The concept of Paradise in Toni Morrison’s novel is akin to looking into an endless sea of mirrors. It reflects back upon you over and over and over. Its meanings can go on to infinity, and those religious representations in the novel imply that Paradise can be infinity itself.

First we have the town of Ruby. It is an honest, and at first, noble idea of escaping exploitation. Ah, but here we have our first red flag. These African Americans are descendants of a group that has set out from the post-Reconstruction era in Louisiana and Mississippi to establish their own community void of whites, or for that matter, any inter-racial mixing. So the very idea of exclusion is there from the start. This is what gets us into trouble. While it is obvious that the group believed they were simply avoiding intense suffering, there was a deep dark seed of hate that had been planted by the white man. Now lest anyone come down on me, I am not saying that this hatred has no reason for being there. It would be quite impossible to be treated as chattel for centuries and not carry animosity. I am only pointing out that this is one of the great tests of life, and applies to any oppressed group. How do you handle this situation within a history of racism experienced? How do the Jews react to the Holocaust? How do the Palestinians react to Jewish oppression?

Unfortunately, the citizens of Ruby handled it by attempting to keep their society untouched by “contamination”. Contamination represents anything outside of their direct ancestors. This incorporates skin color (even as compared to other African Americans), an unspoken but expected moral code, a hierarchy in society that revolves around the founding families, and the expectation of keeping the generations continuous through marriage within the community. It revolves around purity in religion, in dress, in being a productive upstanding member of society, and, consequently, becomes patriarchal, authoritarian, repressive and a power struggle.

This is where we can introduce the Convent to the story. The book does it from the very beginning, but that beginning is actually the end of the story. Or is it the beginning of another beginning? Is the symbolism involved in how the women of the Convent treated the attacking men of the town only the beginning of another cycle of repression? Or, to put it more clearly, are the women plotting revenge at the end of the story that will then turn them into the oppressors? Again, they would certainly be justified. However, what will it accomplish? Only more and more violence.

The Convent is located about 17 miles outside of the town of Ruby. It was originally the project of a white collar criminal, but was taken over by a group of nuns who became yet another symbol of oppression. The patriarchy that bleeds through the pages of "Paradise" is evident in the treatment of women by the Catholic Church. The nuns of the Church have been programmed with this repression to such a degree that they in turn act as the patriarchs in this very convent. It is an important point to understand, because of the way that Connie is affected. She believes that she needs this authority to survive. Connie is the perfect example of the woman who has been pushed down by patriarchy and authoritarianism to the point where her thoughts are not her own. She has not learned the process of discovering her own individuality, but she will and does.

A quick side note, as I’ve mentioned it before in my writing reviews, but Morrison doesn’t miss a beat with touching on what I refer to as “the benefactor syndrome” of missionary work. The convent was set up to take the message of Christ to the Native Americans and “wean them away from anything that was enjoyable in their lives”. It’s the idea that we have it right; you are the sinner, so conform to our way of thinking.

But the Convent is to go through another evolution centralized around Connie. After Mary Magna passes away, Connie is all alone. Mary Magna was the woman who rescued Connie from the poverty of being an orphan, and she was who Connie lived for. Connie never thought of the crucial process of discovery while Mary Magna was around, because she never felt the need. She never had to think for herself as long as she had the convent and the sisters. She didn’t realize that she was a prisoner. It was only the ability to “step inside” that was introduced to her by Lone that not only symbolized empathy, but allowed her to realize the importance of herself as her own person. Yes, this seeming display of supernatural power from Lone is symbolic of the power of Connie and the rest of the women she takes under her wing to realize their own potential.

These free thinking women are precisely what a threat to the utopia of Ruby is. Women are a threat to this society because they stand in the way of “progress”. Female babies can not carry on the “holy” family names of the town. Female midwifes and child bearers stand between the successful births of healthy baby boys. To the men of the town, this is everything. Without the ability to continue the utopia, the dream dies. Any woman who is able to amass too much power is a clear threat to their authoritarianism. What if she doesn’t want to bear children? What if the 8-rock women gain so much power that they refuse to marry the men of the community, and instead go outside and inter-marry with others?

All their dreams, all their fears, their purpose for living, the very idea of the town of Ruby, the outside threats, the unsubmissive women, the impurity, the non-conformity, the strangeness of the other is all wrapped up in the women who have taken residence with Connie in the Convent. This is why they must be stopped. This is where the idea of purity and a way of life become more important than love and acceptance. This is the culmination of our narrative. The formerly oppressed (the citizens of Ruby) have made the transformation into the oppressors. The woman has become the victim.

It is perhaps no mistake that our story revolves around the Civil Rights era. For it is in this very movement that the fight for equality in the black community became patriarchal. The idea of freedom for the race did not incorporate the equally important drive for women’s rights. That fight would have to come later. It is symbolic and central to Morrison’s novel that the women are left out of “purifying” the town of Ruby. What the men have to say, and how they plan to execute their actions is no place for a woman’s involvement. In this, we can see the warning from Morrison that any fight for equality can become repressive in and of itself.

This idea of “Paradise” therefore involves many different elements to Morrison and our characters. Freedom is one common thread. Self-determination is another. The ability to escape is a third. However, what many of our characters struggle to grasp is the all-consuming love that is so important for Paradise to become a reality. Through the lens of love, everything becomes clear. One’s vision of a Higher Power (yet anther “Paradise” theme) is all about how love is incorporated. Without love our world falls apart. Love and its corollary, equality, is about embracing the differences we see in the other. This can not be accomplished by a dogmatic adherence to principle, purity or structure. It is not done by taking sides. It is searching for the common ground that makes us all human.

In the end, the road to Paradise is narrow. However, it is not a narrow experience or way of thinking. It is simple yet complex much like Morrison’s novel. Love is never easy, but in the end it is all we have. Love is meaning, our very existence, the essence of what we describe as “God”, and the only way to Paradise.
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 2 books5,414 followers
December 19, 2020
This is the most complex book I have read from Toni Morrison. It is the story of a black community called Ruby in rural Oklahoma in the 70s and the reaction to a female commune of sorts called the Convent out on the edge of the town. At issue here is skin-tone, the 8-rock dark black founders and their suspicions towards those with lighter skin. The book starts with describing a massacre and then goes back to paint in the details of the lives of the women and the story of the town. The narration is highly variable and not always easy to follow. I realize how important this book is and recognize the wonderful writing, but dropped a star from the lack of fluidity in the reading of the text and the confusion that this entailed.

The book begins rather violently with one of Toni's most powerful opening sentences:
They shoot the white girl first. With the rest they can take their time. No need to hurry out here. (p. 3)
Morrison discusses her choice of this phrase in the afterward and it definitely leaves an impression on the reader. It sets the expectation of a frenetic pace, although the book does slow down until the last chapter Save-Marie. Each chapter is named after one of the women starting with Ruby, who dies before the story starts and gave her name to the town.

The next chapter Mavis also starts out strong:
The neighbors seemed please when the babies smothered. Probably because the mint green Cadillac in which they died had annoyed them for some time. (p. 21) Mavis' story tragic - spousal abuse and poverty - but she runs away to the Convent to join the handful of women living there where she first meets Connie:
"You all ain't scared out here by yourselves? Don't seem like there's nothing for miles outside."
Connie laughed. "Scary things not always outside. Most scary things is inside."
(p. 39)

The next character we meet is Grace, or Gigi:
Either the pavement was burning or she had sapphires hidden in her shoes. (p. 53) On her way to Ruby, her erstwhile train companion wants some ice and the racist salesman wants to charge him a nickel:
"Listen, you. Give him the ice you weren't going to charge me for, okay?"
"Miss, do I have to call the conductor?"
"If you don't, I will. This is train robbery, all right - trains robbing people."
"It's all right," said the man. "Just a nickel."
"It's the principle," said Gigi.
"A five-cent principle ain't no principle at all. The man needs a nickel. Needs it real bad."
(p. 66) Small but meaningful exchanges such as this abound in Morrison's writing always with a little moral in them - here, the price of a principle.

In the next chapter, Seneca, we learn a bit more about Ruby and the residents of the town, the Oven, the scandal around the motto engraved on the Oven (a central piece of their community symbolizing their flight from Reconstruction to Oklahoma and freedom) - "Furrow of His Brow" - and how it came to be interpreted, re-interpreted in the community. What is striking is the many uses to which Morrison puts language. This passage beautifully uses color as a mixed metaphor:
Even now the verbena scent was clear; even now the summer dresses, the creamy, sunlit skin excited him. If he and Steward had thrown themselves off the railing they would have burst into tears. So, among the vivid details of the journey - the sorrow, the stubbornness, the cunning, the wealth - Deek's image of the nineteen summertime ladies was unlike the photographer's. His remembrance was pastel colored and eternal. (p. 110) Seneca is abandoned by her sister and in turns abandons her deadbeat boyfriend in a prison and winds up at the Convent.

The next chapter, Divine, gives us more back story on Ruby and introduces Pallas who the girls at the Convent decide to name Divine after her mother DiDi. Her story is the most tragic of all, although the story of Billie Delia comes close (I found her story with the horse to be very moving). The chapter, however, starts with a sermon from Father Misner of one of the three competing churches in Ruby:
"Let me tell you about love, that silly word you believe is about whether you like somebody or whether somebody likes you or whether you can put up with somebody in order to get something or someplace you want or you believe it has to do with how your body responds to another body like robins or bison or maybe you believe love is how forces or nature or luck is benign to you in particular not maiming or killing you but if so doing it for your own good.
"Love is none of that. There is nothing in nature like that. Not in robins or bison or in the banging tails of your hunting dogs and not in blossoms or suckling foal. Love is divine only and difficult always. If you think it is easy you are a fool. If you think it is natural than you are blind. It is a learned application without reason or motive except that it is God."
(p. 141)
This sets the tone for how the religious community will respond to the Convent later in the story although Misner will be horrified by it.

The next chapter goes to one of the more central personalities in Ruby, Patricia, who is obsessed with family trees and old stories. I think it was my favorite chapter, perhaps because the narrative shifts were far less violent, but also because the language is perfectly beautiful: as she tries to glean more information about the families, the people of Ruby clam up:
Things got out of hand when she asked to see letters and marriage certificates. The women narrowed their eyes before smiling and offering to refresh her coffee. Invisible doors closed, and the conversation turned to weather. (p. 187) It is also in this chapter that we learn her theory about black on black racism. The original founders of Ruby were a deep black color that she uses the mining term 8-rock (the deepest, darkest level of the mine) for. Trying to keep the purity of their black blood, the founders tended to look down at lighter skin tones. Later, this has catastrophic consequences for the Convent (Remember that first line?) Later, in a conversation with Reverend Misner,
You're wrong, and that's your field you're plowing wet. Slavery is our past. Nothing can change that, certainly not Africa."
"We live in the world, Pat. The whole world. Separating us, isolating us - that's always been their weapon. Isolation kills generations. It has no future."
"You think they don't love their children?"
Misner stroked his upper lip and heaved a long sigh. "I think they love them to death."
(p. 210)

The Convent is run by Consolata, the subject of the next chapter. In the good clean darkness of the cellar, Consolata woke to the wrenching disappointment of not having died the night before. (p. 221). She is the last of the nuns that once populated the Convent. Her wine cave is well-stocked and she serves as a guru and muse to the women that come live at the Convent. She falls in love with one of the community founders (who is married of course) in their respective youth: Speeding toward the unforseeable, sitting next to him, who was darker than the darkness they split, Consolata let the feathers unfold and come unstuck from the walls of a stone-cold womb. Out here where wind was not a help or a threat to sunflowers, nor the moon a language of time, of weather, of sowing or harvesting, but a feature of the original world designed for the two of them." (p. 229). Unfortunately for Consolata, her lover dumps her and returns to his family.

The next to last chapter is about one of the other Ruby residents that has had limited contact with the Convent, Lone. Toni saves the last chapter, Save-Marie, for the massacre scene announced in the opening line and its dreadful consequences. The book ends with several of the women survivors and returns to a metaphor of Piedade which was introduced earlier in the book. I found the closing paragraph quite beautiful: When the ocean heaves sending rhythns of water ashore, Piedade looks to see what has come. Another ship, perhaps, but different, heading to port, crew and passengers, lost and saved, atremble, for they have been disconsolate for some time. Now they will rest before shouldering the endless work they were created to do down here in paradise. (p. 318)

As I said earlier, this is definitely not one of Morrison's easier works, but it is still rewarding and merits several reads to get all the layers that she was laid down here.

Fino's Toni Morrison Reviews:
The Bluest Eye
Sula
Song Of Solomon
Tar Baby
Beloved
Jazz
Paradise
Profile Image for Raul.
270 reviews197 followers
December 14, 2022
"How exquisitely human was the wish for permanent happiness, and how thin human imagination became trying to achieve it."

In the town of Ruby there have been no deaths. No murders, no rape, no excess violence. A town formed from dream; a continuation of a legacy and vision of the descendants of the founders of Haven. Haven was a town established by Black people recently emancipated, having been rejected for their race, dark skin colour, and class, through hard work and sacrifice. Therefore the people of Ruby, just like any society, have their origin story; a set of rules to administer it; and, naturally, their internal conflicts. But being the patriarchal society it is, the set of rules is administered by the male leaders of the town, and just like in all patriarchal societies, these rules are meant–among other things–to control women's bodies, and their sexualities as well.

So when a group of traumatized women seek refuge in the outskirts of the town, in what was a former school for Indian girls ran by nuns, their free lives, uncontrolled and unsupervised by men, draws the attention of the town. They become
both scapegoat and threat for and to the male leaders of Ruby, and eventually violence erupts.

This book was so good, so vast, and so difficult. The complexity of its structure; the many full formed characters that are hard to keep up with; the different ancestry lines explored; this book required effort. It took about halfway through the book for all that had been set to unspool itself, but I had complete trust in Toni Morrison and I can say that the trust and effort were certainly more than rewarded. This book felt similar to Song of Solomon in its language and how myth, the "unnatural", and the mysterious blend so richly into the narrative of the story.
Profile Image for Teresa.
Author 8 books753 followers
March 31, 2021
Reread

I’d already started my reread of this novel, whose opening sentences are They shoot the white girl first. With the rest they can take their time., (of course, the “they” are men) when the March 26 metro-Atlanta killings occurred. I had the thought that I might have chosen an inopportune time to be reading this, but my second thought was when is the murder of women by men with guns (at least in the U.S.) not happening.

When I first read this at its time of publication, I think my focus was more on the backstories of the women who live in the so-called Convent and what led each one of them there. I might not have had the vocabulary then to describe one of its major themes, but I'm sure I intuited it. This time that theme was a focus for me: the denunciation of the aims and motives of the so-called righteousness of a patriarchy.

I have one lingering question, and theory, about Lone’s role near the end of the book that I will put in spoiler tags in the comments section. I haven’t seen it addressed anywhere, so perhaps I am making too much of it.

This is not an easy book, in all senses of that adjective; but with both my readings, I lingered over its last pages. Not because of any difficulty, though there was some, but because of Morrison’s language, which always pulls me through, which is somehow always comforting, even when it leaves me bereft as it overwhelms my heart.
Profile Image for Alisha.
100 reviews
October 18, 2021
I swear, it's the most fulfilling when you read an author and you have ambiguous feelings towards them and their writing. But being an unbiased, fair, desperately enthusiastic reader; you come back to give it a second try and it will be with that second book that you make your definitive judgement towards the author — either you like them or don't. You respect their writing and just can't get down with it or you think their writing is crap.

I thought I didn't like Morrison. I respected her as I could judge from the first book I read by her that she knew what she was talking about. And as far as I could smell, there was no propaganda about her writing in which she wrote for personal gain, not to educate about Afro-American life (I think that claim about another African-American writer and it unsettles me greatly because the writing is good and it sucks to think the intention isn't as well).

But with Morrison's writing, I wasn't sure I was gaining much information or insight into the past. I thought she hid too much of it behind a fantastic plot; more magic than reality.

This second and last time proved to the second and best and proved it definitely won't be the last.

While I really did like and appreciate Beloved — the focus on family and the description of fear turned to desperate measures — I could not really get into the vignettes that depicted the slave life. I didn't discount it... let's just say I felt I could read about it somewhere else and get a stronger bullet-through-the-heart feeling that depictions of slavery leave you with.

I got such a stronger picture of life through Paradise. I have no idea if it was because there were more references to things I had more available knowledge on (such as the civil rights era). But either way I got several lessons out of this book. I'll list them off so this reverie can be over:

1) Not all self-righteous people with a cause are doing it for the right reasons

2) Some African-Americans felt just as privileged and pompous as whites

3) Dark-skinned African-Americans felt hatred towards lighter skinned ones, although this is misdirected anger

4) Fear of integration will only cause unhappiness

5) Don't judge a woman without knowing what in her past caused her to act/behave in xyz way, no matter how vulgar you may find it

6) Don't judge a book by a well-written synopsis or by the first chapter, no matter how confused you are

Of that last lesson: my thoughts on this novel evolved constantly. The first chapter, which begins in medias res, not only confused me — it made me think "this won't be good". Even now after finishing it and loving it and getting a good grip on it's meaning/purpose, I don't know how to classify it. It's a feminist book, a story of how women can embrace, let go, and rise above their horrors and achieve a spirituality that is both not understood and, even more so, feared; it's a story of how you can live a clean life and people will conjure up the dirtiest story against you, taking your life into their hands; it's a story about judgement and justification to feed a personal (and destructive) agenda; it's a story about one's duty as an African-American towards their race; it's a story of a corrupted, delusional people that only destroys itself and hurts it's descendants.

Most importantly: it's a story about us vs. them — young vs old; progressive vs traditional; open-minded vs close-minded; free spirit vs stuck; male vs female. It's about there not being a right way to live, only one's own individual way to live. And that way is only destructive if you're living for the wrong reasons.

(10/18/21) some notes I found:

p. 137-247

Patricia
- 8-R feels seniority over being there the longest but are upset to see light-skinned people reject them. “They knew there was a difference in the minds”

p.194
- Why do you think it’s called Disallowing?
- Scattering
- Technically the “New Fathers” weren’t disallowed — want to duplicate
- But Convent is very helpful and accepting. Convent is most likely all light-skinned girls — and why Ruby hates them.

p. 100-102
- Consolata
- Soane’s “sin”

Turning point.
Profile Image for John Pistelli.
Author 6 books242 followers
November 11, 2017
Paradise was not well received upon its publication in 1997—influential critics like Michiko Kakutani, James Wood, and Zoë Heller disparaged it, and even Oprah's audience, instructed to read it for the talk show host's book club, demurred, prompting Oprah to call Morrison to offer the viewers encouragement. One of the studio audience members protested that, confused by the novel's multiple perspectives and non-linear chronology, she was lost on page 19; Oprah asked Morrison what the poor woman was to do; and Morrison's reply—which I have never forgotten—was, "Read page 20." Unsurpassable advice! Profiling Morrison in 2012, Boris Kachka summarizes the case against Paradise:
Both Philip Roth’s American Pastoral and Don DeLillo’s Underworld came out in 1997, the year Paradise did. Both addressed historical eras and themes, as Morrison does, but both spoke directly to contemporary anxieties in a way that Paradise did not. Roth and DeLillo were nostalgic for an old American consensus and alarmed at its disintegration, and both used voices resonant with modern paranoia and neurosis. In contrast, Morrison still seemed to be in cross-racial dialogue with the same long-dead ­Modernists on whom she’d written her thesis in the fifties.
This is both right and wrong: Morrison does reject any nostalgia for postwar consensus (whether or not Roth and DeLillo express this nostalgia is another matter), but in so doing she very much speaks to "contemporary anxieties"; the problem is simply that many readers did not like either what she said or how she said it. They are entitled to their opinions about the "what," but once you have allowed such opinions to cloud your view of the "how"—for example, none of the above critics show any awareness that Paradise is often supposed to be funny—then you have lost critical control.

Let's get the "what" out of the way right now: Paradise bears an epigraph from a gnostic gospel narrated by a female deity, and it concludes with the theophany of a black madonna. Searching for a term to describe its apparent ideology, I could come up with nothing more neutral than "New Age." It is a novel that, parodying the Bible, at least entertains the notion that our religious sensibilities must expand to include female divinity. While this view would undoubtedly not interest Philip Roth much, it, along with other dissident religious approaches harking back to gnostic and pagan cults, was undoubtedly reflected in much late-twentieth-century Anglo-American culture. Such views are embarrassing to the liberal intelligentsia because said intelligentsia legitimates itself by its appeal to secular knowledge and often materialist or at least spiritually orthodox intellectual methods, and not without reason. This religious reflex, I believe, and not simply snobbism or sexism, accounts for the critical cringe Nick Salvato writes about with respect to Tori Amos, some of whose songs (see "Marys of the Sea," for instance) could furnish a soundtrack to Paradise.

But I did write above that Paradise "entertains" its religious thesis rather than straightforwardly promoting it. As Boris Kachka notes, Morrison remains faithful to modernism. If modernist writers from Eliot to Woolf shared one thing in common, it was a commitment to putting forth their spiritual intuitions in obsessively fragmented and recursive literary forms, to remind readers to take no single narrative on faith, especially not narratives about faith. This brings us back to Oprah's audience and their problem with Paradise: the novel has no single viewpoint, no clear chronology, no central character, and no reliable perspective. The most basic facts of the narrative remain in doubt by its conclusion. Even the miraculous resurrections with which it seems to end could be explained by a mixture of lucky escape and hallucination. Condemning religious orthodoxy and political ethno-nationalism for their shared demand of unthinking assent, Morrison leaves her readers free to differ with her suggestion that they worship the goddess.

"They shoot the white girl first," the novel famously begins. Its opening chapter is really its penultimate one, narrating the story's climax: in July 1976, nine leading male citizens of the all-black town of Ruby, OK, murder five women who are living in a former convent near the town. This first chapter is maddeningly indirect, as none of the men or women is named; moreover, we see through the men's POV so that the perspective is unreliable from the start ("They are nine, over twice the number of the women" they are seeking, the second paragraph begins; but, as Ron David long ago pointed out, nine is not "over twice" five; these little word problems occur throughout the text, making it impossible to read passively). The opposite of a mystery novel—though something of a mystery play—Paradise tells us who committed the murder in the first chapter and then spends the rest of the book seeking an explanation.

The next eight chapters, each bearing a woman's name, tell the story of how four women on the run assembled in the late 1960s and early 1970s in an embezzler's mansion that became a Catholic convent and Indian boarding school before falling into disuse. In the stories of these women—Mavis, Gigi, Seneca, and Pallas—Morrison enumerates the threats faced by the poor, the young, or the female, such as poverty, state violence, domestic violence, and sexual predation from the "mundane" (Mavis's marital rape at the hands of her husband) to the more outlandish (the Eyes Wide Shut scenario to which Seneca is subjected by a wealthy woman named Norma Keene Fox). Animal imagery abounds in the women's stories, from aforementioned predator "Keene Fox" to the name of Mavis's mother (Birdie Goodroe), as does classical and mythical allusion (Pallas, Seneca), to signal that this novel asks to be read skeptically as a work of exaggeration, as fable and myth rather than strict social realism. In fact, Morrison parodies realism with aplomb in the Mavis chapter, throwing brand names and other "dirty realist" paraphernalia onto the page with witty abandon—this to trick us into thinking that Mavis is "the white girl" of the first sentence by writing about her in the literary idiom associated with the white lower class.* Realism too, Morrison here tells us, is a fable, one whose moral we might distrust. As in her oft-misunderstood statement about Bill Clinton as the first black president, Morrison is making the point that "tropes of blackness" are often simply tropes of poverty, the latter fact deliberately obscured by the powers-that-be to divide the poor.

Those eight chapters also interleave the women's stories with the story of the founding of Ruby, "the one all-black town worth the pain." Summarizing this straightforwardly is no easy feat since the narrative comes piecemeal and from partial perspectives. The basic story is this: a group of very dark-skinned black people who had lived near Louisiana since the mid-eighteenth-century found themselves, at the end of Reconstruction, dismissed or oppressed not only by whites but also by lighter-skinned blacks. This led them to found their own town called Haven in 1890 in Oklahoma, when many all-black towns were created due to the federal government's encouragement of homesteading. When Haven fell into poverty and disrepair in the mid-twentieth-century, the grandchildren of Haven's founders set out again and founded a new town called Ruby.

In the 1960s and '70s, however, Ruby is torn by the social conflicts tearing apart the rest of the country—between men and women, old and young, conservative and radical. These conflicts center on the town's symbolic center, a brick oven that bears the words "the furrow of his brow." The contending ideological forces in the town differ over how this message is the be completed: "Beware the Furrow of His Brow," as the conservative town elders insist, or, in the preferred message of the young radicals, echoing the gnosticism that Morrison evokes with her epigraph, "Be the Furrow of His Brow"? Or even, as one of the town's female citizens thinks, "Be the Furrow of Her Brow." Eventually, the town elders come to see the convent women as the source of their troubles—"not a convent but a coven"—and go on a witch hunt.

Just before they are hunted down, the women consolidate themselves into a quasi-religious order. The old woman Consolata, who was kidnapped from a Rio slum by the nuns and who has lived in the convent ever since, becomes the "new revised Reverend Mother" for a kind of mystery cult wherein the women shave their heads and heal themselves with "loud dreaming" and artistic expression. These scenes provoked a not entirely unpersuasive objection from Zoë Heller in the London Review of Books ("the narrative itself dissolves into Adrienne Rich-ish poetry"), but just as Morrison is unsparing in her portrayal of the racism and colorism that led the men of Ruby to their extremes of intolerance, so her tongue never quite leaves her cheek in her depiction of this New Age religion, which makes the women too otherworldly to function: "Gradually they lost the days." Warned by a female citizen of Ruby that they are about to be attacked, the women "yawned and smiled," a small detail but a crucial one: Morrison, who once rather hair-raisingly wrote that it is "wildly irresponsible" not to inquire about women's complicity in their own rape or abuse, places supreme importance on personal autonomy and the material means of self-reliance. In the last glimpse we get of the convent women, after they have either come back from the dead or are appearing as ghosts to their loved ones, they are on the road and they are armed.

"Come back from the dead": yes, however hedged by modernist technique, Paradise entertains a spiritual notion. It does not entirely dismiss Christianity; Ruby's newest clergyman, Rev. Misner, is sympathetic to the young radicals in the town and muses with eloquence and authority on liberation theology:
See? The execution of this one solitary black man propped up on these two intersecting lines to which he was attached in a parody of human embrace, fastened to two big sticks that were so convenient, so recognizable, so embedded in consciousness as consciousness, being both ordinary and sublime. See? His woolly head alternately rising on his neck and falling toward his chest, the glow of his midnight skin dimmed by dust, streaked by gall, fouled by spit and urine, gone pewter in the hot, dry wind and, finally, as the sun dimmed in shame, as his flesh matched the odd lessening of afternoon light as though it were evening, always sudden in that climate, swallowing him and the other death row felons, and the silhouette of this original sign merged with a false night sky. See how this official murder out of hundreds marked the difference; moved the relationship between God and man from CEO and supplicant to one on one? The cross he held was abstract; the absent body was real, but both combined to pull humans from backstage to the spotlight, from muttering in the wings to the principal role in the story of their lives.
All the same, the definition and defense of female divinity comes into view as the novel's theme. To the men of Ruby, the women they hunt are "[b]odacious black Eves, unredeemed by Mary." But Consolata tells us that "Eve is Mary's mother," and the novel ends, very beautifully, with Consolata in the arms of black madonna, presumably like that worshipped in her native Brazil:
In ocean hush a woman black as firewood is singing. Next to her is a younger woman whose head rests on the singing woman’s lap. Ruined fingers troll the tea brown hair. All the colors of seashells—wheat, roses, pearl—fuse in the younger woman’s face. Her emerald eyes adore the black face framed in cerulean blue. Around them on the beach, sea trash gleams. Discarded bottle caps sparkle near a broken sandal. A small dead radio plays the quiet surf.

There is nothing to beat this solace which is what Piedade’s song is about, although the words evoke memories neither one has ever had: of reaching age in the company of the other; of speech shared and divided bread smoking from the fire; the unambivalent bliss of going home to be at home—the ease of coming back to love begun.

When the ocean heaves sending rhythms of water ashore, Piedade looks to see what has come. Another ship, perhaps, but different, heading to port, crew and passengers, lost and saved, atremble, for they have been disconsolate for some time. Now they will rest before shouldering the endless work they were created to do down here in paradise.
In other words, don't divide Eve from Mary, whore from madonna, but adopt a holistic spiritual view capable of embracing flesh and spirit, capable of leading us away from domination based on or justified by difference.

Do not miss, as the early critics did, the ending's emphasis on "endless work" (nor the admission that "down here" is all the paradise we're likely to get). What is the "endless work"? The work of interpretation. Midway through the novel, Ruby's resident writer Patricia, who has been assembling a genealogy, discovers that the men of the town have been maintaining their racial purity through incest in a parody of white racism ("They think they have outfoxed the whiteman when in fact they imitate him"). Upon finding this out, she burns her family trees—this to suggest that any attempt at purification is to be rejected as an arbitrary imposition. Ruby's elderly midwife, Lone, takes a view of God that is more in keeping with the novel's narrative mode:
Playing blind was to avoid the language God spoke in. He did not thunder instructions or whisper messages into ears. Oh no. He was a liberating God. A teacher who taught you how to learn, to see for yourself. His signs were clear, abundantly so, if you stopped steeping in vanity's sour juice and paid attention to His world.
Read the clues, try to assemble the narrative, but accept in advance your defeat even as you press forward in trying to understand. I accept—there is so much more to say about Paradise. About characters and their names ("His grandfather had named his twins Deacon and Steward for a reason"), about twins and doubles. I have merely alluded to Morrison's parody of the Biblical Exodus and its American re-creation by the Puritan settlers, and I have not even mentioned how the novel emphasizes that both Ruby and the convent exist only because the land was cleared by the state of its prior Native American inhabitants. I have not mentioned the novel's love of nature, its endless invention, its food (the hot peppers that grow only at the convent).

Nor have I mentioned Paradise's flaws: it really is too short and feels thinner than it should as a result, with poetic prose often doing duty for narrative and characterization (James Wood was not wrong in this complaint). A novel of this spiritual and political ambition should be as long as The Brothers Karamazov, and I am convinced that Morrison would not bore us at that length.

Well, every narrative is flawed, including that of Paradise, as Paradise itself tells us. Even so, after twenty years we can say that its first critics judged it too hastily or too ideologically. It sits on the shelf without embarrassment next to the most ambitious fictions of its time. Don't take my word for it. Read it and "see for yourself."
_______________________________________

* It is often said that Morrison does not reveal who "the white girl" is, but this is false; readers are told her identity—indirectly but decisively—on the penultimate page of the eighth chapter. Her identity is crucial to the novel's theme of race as class, for the convent's lone white girl is also its lone rich girl.
Profile Image for Fereshteh.
250 reviews568 followers
September 23, 2016

قبل از این کتاب سه اثر دیگه از موریسون خونده بودم و تقریبا با روال روایتیش اشنا بودم . اتفاق بزرگ پایانی بی این که خواننده شخصیت ها رو بشناسه یا از ماجرا خبر داشته باشه تو همون فصل اول تعریف میشه. بعد کم کم تو هر فصل شخصیت ها معرفی میشن و تیکه های پازل ماجرا کنار هم چیده میشن تا به اون اتفاق برسیم. به خاطر همین ترتیبه که هیجان و جذابیت داستان های موریسون بالاست. به خاطر روایت غیرخطیش ، خوندن داستان هاش کار چندان آسونی نیست ولی این پیچیدگی توی بهشت به اوج خودش رسید. هم تعداد شخصیت ها خیلی زیاد بود و هم ماجرایی که ازش صحبت می شد خیلی گسترده بود. خوندن بهشت با وجود همه هیجان و جذابیتش، کار بسیار بسیار سختی بود و جا داره که یک یا حتی دو بار دیگه بخونمش تا با اطمینان و دقت بیشتری تیکه های پازل داستانی رو کنار هم بچینم و شخصیت ها رو از هم تفکیک کنم

موریسون به روال همیشه سراغ سیاهپوستا رفته و از تاریخ خیالی گروهی از سیاهپوستا حرف میزنه که بعد از رانده شدن از جانب سفیدپوستا به نقطه ی دیگه ای مهاجرت کردند و شهری مخصوص خودشون بنا کردند. نسل خانواده ی سازنده ی شهر جایگاه بالایی بین مردم کسب می کنه و قرار بر این میشه تا هیچ سفیدپوستی به شهر راه نداشته باشه، ازدواج ها همه بین خودیا باشه، پاکی حرف اول رو بزنه. با گذر سال ها و تغییر نسل، ارزش ها تغییر کردند و شکاف عمیقی بین تفکرات نسل دوم و سوم ایجاد شده و مدینه ی فاضله ای که قرار بود جاودانه باشه با زوال آرمان های ابتداییش مواجه میشه. از طرفی کمی دورتر از این شهر ساختمان یک صومعه ی قدیمی هست که پناهگاه تعدادی زن بی پناه شده، زنانی که ازادی عملشون به مذاق مردان شهر خوش نمیاد و اون ها رو تهدیدی برای شهر شون - بهشتشون- می بینن و ادامه ی ماجرا

تعداد زیادی از ساکنان شهر نقش اصلی در پیشبرد قصه دارند و از طرفی هر یک از زنان ساکن صومعه هم برای خودشون گذشته ای دارن که اونها رو راهی این نقطه ی ناآشنای دوردست کرده، نقطه ای که فقط در ظاهر بهشت امنی برای اونهاست پس تعداد شخصیت ها و قصه های تکمیلی خیلی زیاده و روایت پیچیده و مبهم و غیرخطی موریسون هم فهم قصه رو سخت تر می کنه. یعنی برای شناخت یه شخصیت یا آگاهی از تک تک ماجراها گاهی باید تا اواخر کتاب صبوری کرد. موریسون ضمن روایتی که از حال و گذشته ی کاراکترها میده فلاش بک هایی هم به گذشته ی خیلی دور می زنه و تاریخچه ی بنای شهر رابی رو تعریف می کنه. با این که جامعه ای که موریسون تصویر می کنه هنوز درگیر جنگ برای حقوق اولیه و مبارزه علیه نژادپرستیه ولی موریسون به نقش زنان توجه ویژه ای داشته. تا اونجا که غیر از فصل اول که همنام با شهر "رابی" ه بقیه فصول به نام یکی از زنان صومعه یا شهره. زنان این داستان بیچاره اند، در جستجوی "عشق" هستند ، نه حقی دارند و نه حتی فکرش رو می کنند که می تونند حقی داشته باشند.

بهشت بعد از "دلبند" و" جاز" قسمت سوم از یک تریلوژی به قلم موریسونه که خوندنش هرچند سخت اما بسیار شیرینه . مفاهیمی که موریسون با این داستان نمادین به سراغشون رفته ارزش چند بار خونده شدن و تعمق رو داره

پ.ن: دنبال دختر سفیدپوستی که اول از همه تو حادثه ی تیراندازی کشته میشه نگردین. هیچ کس نمی دونه بین کانی ، سنه کا، پالاس ، ماویس و جیجی اون کیه
Profile Image for Lorna.
630 reviews338 followers
April 8, 2021
Paradise, the third book in the Beloved trilogy by Toni Morrison was a searing exploration into the lives of black people after the abolishment of slavery in the antebellum south. Ms. Morrison, winner of both the Pulitzer and the Nobel Prizes for Literature, states she was eager to manipulate and control metaphoric language. In her words:

"Exclusivity, however is still an attractive, even compelling feature of paradise because so many people--the unworthy--are not there. Boundaries are secure, watchdogs, security systems, and gates are there to verify the legitimacy of the inhabitants. Such enclaves separate from crowded urban areas of proliferate. Thus it does not seem possible or desirable for a city to be envisioned let alone built in which poor people can be accommodated. Exclusivity is not just a realized dream for the wealthy; it is a popular yearning of the middle class."

"Other than outwitting evil, waging war against the unworthy, there seems to be nothing for the inhabitants of paradise to do. An open, borderless, come-one-come-all paradise, without dread, minus a nemesis is no paradise at all."


This novel draws from the rich history of all-black towns in Oklahoma subsequent to the Civil War and black Americans receiving the right to vote and other rights of citizenship such as property ownership. It is during this time that the novel explores the founding of an all-black town in Oklahoma named "Haven" that thrived until the aftermath and struggles of two world wars. At this point it was decided to move on and found a new all-black town named "Ruby," after a black woman who had lost her life during childbirth, in part due to the refusal of medical care because she was black.

The novel finds its heart in the attempts by various groups to find a paradise as they seek an isolated and self-sufficient idyllic existence away from the racism of the outside world. However, the Convent now a haven for lost women at the edge of Ruby, becomes an issue for the founding families of Ruby as they see it and what it represents as a threat to their community. The book is divided into nine chapters, each telling the background of various women in the convent as well as the many connections to the people of Ruby. As with all Toni Morrison's writing, you just have to give yourself up to her talented, beautiful and sometimes haunting prose. As we witness more of the women's stories, one becomes aware that all may not be as well as the town's leaders portray. There is a always a powerful message in her books, Paradise being no exception.
Profile Image for Annie.
891 reviews300 followers
December 1, 2018
They shoot the white girl first. With the rest they can take their time.

So, famously, begins Toni Morrison's Paradise.

But we never learn who the white girl is. Apparently, Morrison said she started with race, and then erased it by never identifying who the white one is. Does that bother you? she seems to ask implicitly. Does it unsettle you? Do you feel like you can't understand these characters unless you know which ones are white and which ones are black? Are you not sure which ones you're supposed to or allowed to identify with until you know their race?

In an interview, Morrison said of her decision to not identify the white girl, "Does it interfere with the story? Does it make you uncomfortable? Or do I succeed in making the characters so clear, their interior lives so distinctive, that you realize (a) it doesn't matter, and (b), more important, that when you know their race, it's the least amount of information to know about a person."

It's like Morrison is holding up a mirror and demanding you l0ok into it, and examine how important race is to you. It's more than a novel; it's a psychoanalysis of the reader.

I think I know who it might be, based on one line a character says to her, but I'm not going to say who it is, or look for more details. I think that defeats the whole point.

***

The writing in this book is nothing less than beautiful. Check this out: The venom is manageable now. Shooting the first woman (the white one) has clarified it like butter: the pure oil of hatred on top, its hardness stabilized below. Outside, the mist is waist high. It will turn silver soon and make grass rainbows low enough for children's play before the sun burns it off, exposing acres of bluestem and maybe witch tracks as well.

***

It's not magical realism in the overt way of, say, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. There's not explicitly magical, and there are arguably practical explanations for everything. But there's an element that everything is not all it seems, and that these somewhat plausible explanations aren't actually the answer.

It's often a little difficult to follow, intentionally so. Things are kept vague: one character, for instance, is described only as "him" and you're supposed to guess from context clues which character he is that you've already met. He happens to be an identical twin, one of the two leaders of the all-black community known as Ruby located a few miles from a haven for women known as the Convent (used to be nuns "saving" Native American girls and forcing them to be Christians, but now is just a place where a handful or two of women live together).

Point of view can be disorienting, too. There are chapters titled with names of women, either the ones in the Convent or in Ruby (i.e. Consolata, Pat, Seneca, Divine aka Pallas, Gigi) but that doesn't mean that character will be the primary point of view for that chapter.

I found Pat (a resident of Ruby) to be the most interesting character. She was the most challenging to those around her. She refused to hop on board the us/them mentality of the Ruby residents (for instance, light-skinned black residents of Ruby were discriminated against and considered racially impure--despite the fact that Ruby was founded to escape racism).

***

It's the women who make this book. The men manufacture divisions and hierarchies, and the women resist them and create communities. In this book, women are connecting with and supporting one another, in spite of themselves, in spite of all the reasons they have not to. Wives and mistresses, black and white, light-skinned and dark-skinned, outsider and insider. All of them defiant.



~~~~~~BOOK RIOT'S READ HARDER CHALLENGE~~~~~~

#13: An Oprah Book Club selection
Profile Image for Zanna.
676 reviews929 followers
November 10, 2016
Paradise is one of my favourite words… I believe it came first from an ancient word in Farsi that means only a park, which says something about the Iranian idea of a park, perhaps. I think paradise is a place of welcome and peace and love, and in this book, I think that is what the founders of the town Ruby wanted to create, at a safe distance from racism and related violence vertical and horizontal…

But the folks in power are too rigid in defining and seeking to enforce their idea of paradise. They create a closed society where some can live fully and well, and others are harmed, are rejected entirely, or feel desperate enough to walk for miles down the freezing road out, going nowhere but away. At the furthest margin of the town, some of the outcasts find shelter in each other, work through trauma, care for each other almost without judgement (or in any case, give care along with judgement and try to keep the hard verdicts to themselves) and tentatively explore creative impulses. The convent is full of pain, but its anarchy is loving, and healing happens there. Yet the powerful men of Ruby cannot tolerate the outcasts even on their borders, and move to destroy them.

Here, by the way, is a minister in Ruby chastising a couple at their wedding:
Love is divine only and difficult always. If you think it is easy you are a fool. If you think it is natural you are blind. It is a learned application without reason or motive except that it is God. You do not deserve love regardless of the suffering you have endured. You do not deserve love because somebody did you wrong. You do not deserve love just because you want it. You can only earn – by practice and careful contemplation – the right to express it and you have to learn how to accept it […] if you are a good and dilligent student you may secure the right to show love. Love is not a gift. It is a diploma… conferring certain privileges: th[at] of expressing love and [that] of receiving it.
Could any speech be more carefully designed to terrorise people for and out of their feelings?

In this novel I recognise, I think, much of the cultural critique as well as appreciation articulated in the work of bell hooks and Audre Lorde. The patriarchal and authoritarian flaws of Ruby emerge unevenly in contrast to, I think, what Audre Lorde calls the erotic, including but not at all limited to sensory and sexual pleasures. Not only the traumatised exiles are subject to the violence of prejudice and narrowness inside it, but also many of those who stay. Yet the town is in a state of change, examining and reworking its relationship to memory, to god, to the world outside. Maybe the future will open with some intervention from the exiles, who are witches in the town’s imagination, and thus absorb and refigure a potentially powerful patriarchal mythology.
Billie Delia was perhaps the only one in town who was not puzzled by where the women were or concerned about how they disappeared. She had another question: When will they return? When will they reappear, with blazing eyes, war paint and huge hands to rip up and stomp down this prison calling itself a town? A town that had tried to ruin her grandfather, succeeded in swallowing her mother and almost broken her own self. A backward noplace ruled by men whose power to control was out of control and who had the nerve to say who could live and who not and where; who had seen in the lively, free, unarmed females the mutiny of the mares and so got rid of them. She hoped with all her heart that the women were out there, darkly burnished, biding their time, brass-metaling their nails, filing their incisors.
But the novel doesn’t end with this… I think its answer to Ruby’s violence is that paradise is in us & between us in all the ways of love (which is easy and natural and a gift). It’s heartening that one of the perpetrators, one of twins, realised he was in the wrong, and found the will to change. Here is work to be done…



Profile Image for Ron Charles.
1,017 reviews48.2k followers
December 6, 2013
Reading a novel by Toni Morrison is an act of faith. She demands much from her language and her readers, but when that faith is rewarded, the effect is stunning.

In "Paradise," her first novel since winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993, she has produced a story sure to generate volumes of feminist appraisal. This novel doesn't reach the emotional spikes of her best early work, but in a way it is more articulate than her rich, exhausting "Beloved" (1987). Oprah Winfrey has already tapped it as the next selection for her TV book club.

Reminiscent of Zora Neale Hurston's "Their Eyes Were Watching God" (1937), "Paradise" examines the residual effects of racism on the relationships among blacks, rather than between blacks and whites. The book bursts open with the first shot of a grisly assault on a women's commune by the leading citizens of the isolated town of Ruby, Okla.

Between that attack, set in 1976, and the book's conclusion just a few weeks later, Morrison stirs the long history of this mythical all-black community like a witch's brew. Racism serves as the fluid in which all the events take place, warping values and stirring the paranoia that eventually encourages conflicted men to murder the women they believe responsible for their town's decay.

In a series of swirling chapters, each named for a different woman, the author conflates the beautiful and the horrible, the past and the present. Forged in the fires of white racism and black rejection, the founders of Ruby constructed a paradise of stability and safety entirely detached from the rest of the world in 1949.

They built their homes and lives around a giant stone oven "that both nourished them and monumentalized what they had done." Inevitably the oven cools and this monument of their grandfathers' accomplishment grows irrelevant.

Some citizens find the possibility of change exciting, but the town leaders have identities and fortunes riding on the status quo. For them, Ruby is in a state of moral and physical decay, which only a radical rededication to its founding discipline can cure.

Tragically the drive to rid themselves of impurity slowly demonizes the odd group of women living outside the town in an abandoned convent.

Much of the novel tells the sad, sometimes shocking ordeals these young women endured in a misogynist world before finally stumbling upon this room of their own.

If Alice Walker's "The Color Purple" (1982) romanticized the harmonious culture of women in opposition to the contentious world of men, "Paradise" emphasizes that theme in bold italics. But Morrison is less intent on condemning the brutal, self-centered men in her novel than examining the way a history of instability has made these men fear the creative, unorthodox power of women.

At the center of the abandoned convent is the matriarchal Connie, whose doctrine of universal acceptance and unqualified compassion provides solace to women. With a strange mixture of mysticism, witchcraft, and Christianity, Connie serves as a radical alternative to the town fathers' confirmed xenophobia.

The number of characters spun through the desperate history of Ruby poses significant practical and emotional challenges for the reader. The entwined genealogy of the nine founding patriarchs produces a family tree as daunting as a street map of Los Angeles. Though it's sometimes difficult to feel attached to the individuals in this swirl of names, the effect is bewildering, bewitching, and stunning.

http://www.csmonitor.com/1998/0129/01...
Profile Image for Cheryl.
464 reviews580 followers
December 2, 2016
Why did I read this book before reading Beloved and Jazz when it is supposed to complete the trilogy? I'm bummed by that. I couldn't help it, I found the book on my shelf and decided to read it along with The Bluest Eye. Then there I was, reading it and thinking, why was this book not titled, “Beware the Furrow of His Brow,” or “Furrow of His brow,” or, “The Oven?” I won’t spoil it, you will have to read it to see why I say that and you'll probably agree with me (I did hear though, that Toni Morrison wanted to call it, “War” but her editors disagreed).


1,541 reviews80 followers
August 27, 2020
There are few authors that can make me feel as stupid as Morrison makes me feel time and time again. This novel centers on a small community in rural Oklahoma founded as a safe place for black families that had faced prejudice and a former convent nearly 20 miles away that has become a refuge for broken women. The stories of these women intertwine with the people of the town of Ruby. As the women slowly heal their psychological wounds, the town slowly experiences fractures and tension. Finally, the leading men of the town decide that these women, who do not need men, who flaunt their sexuality and possibly practice witchcraft, is the cause of the town’s problems. Although they manage to destroy the community of women, it is not clear if they destroy the individual women. Of course, this violent act does nothing to heal the town. In this novel, Morrison explores racial hierarchies, the tension between patriarchal systems and feminism, and group cohesion and the fear of the outsider. I found this novel very difficult to follow. Stories wove in and out of one another, the focal point changing without any signal. I know I missed 75% of what was really going on in this book.
Profile Image for Jamie.
321 reviews238 followers
November 25, 2010
I'll confess that, though I'm an adoring Morrison fan, I've avoided three novels (this one, Jazz, Tar Baby) because of the less-than-stellar things I've heard about them. (Not to mention I found Love tedious.) Well, I went in as a skeptic and I came out a believer.

The first sentence, quoted again and again here on GR, really deserves another show: "They shot the white girl first." It's so perfect, so emblematic of Morrison's ability to write both elegant, haunting, ornate sentences, and--just as skillfully--these jarring, monstrous and clipped phrases that seem so easily comprehensible, but end up being so much more. Not only is it a fantastic opening to a fantastic opening chapter (the scene, revisited at the end of the novel, is horrifying and thrilling at once), it also forces the reader into an uncomfortable whodunnit exercise of trying to figure out which one is the "white" one for the rest of the novel (an ultimately futile exercise, which makes it worthwhile rather than trite, and very fitting for Morrison's oeuvre). The writing, of course, is on the whole impeccable. I suppose I was more engrossed with certain "parts" of the novel than others (Ruby, Mavis, Lone, Consolata), but Morrison really only has a bad sentence once in a blue moon.

Everything that Morrison does well is here: trauma, gendered violence, faith, genealogy, (critiques of) history, racism, racialization (and how we map it onto bodies--this really peaks in the Patricia section), &co&co. Unlike Love, though, this didn't strike me as a novel that sounded like some hack trying to write a Morrison novel. It genuinely worked through these nuanced topics in ways that I don't think her other novels have (not for better or worse, just differently). I'm frankly still a bit stunned by it. I think I'll have to return to this review. It's no Beloved or Sula, but then--what is? Just a phenomenal story, an experimental way of handling it, and a beautiful way of telling behind it all.
Profile Image for Joy D.
1,684 reviews203 followers
March 10, 2022
The story opens in 1976. A group of men is converging upon the Convent, a repurposed mansion at the edge of the town of Ruby, Oklahoma. They intend harm to the women living there. The narrative then shifts to follow various unrelated characters. These individual stories, when combined, provide a unified whole. We learn of the founding of the all-black town, and the building of the Oven, a central place to prepare food (which serves as an important symbol). We learn the backstories of the women in the Convent, how they arrived, and why they stayed. The patriarchy blames these “wayward” women for misleading town’s younger generation.

Though it is technically part of a trilogy, including Beloved and Jazz, it can be read as a standalone. A short summary can hardly do it justice. As in many of Morrison’s novels, it explores themes related to women’s issues, racial conflict, social structure, and psychology. It comments on the gender discrimination that occurred within black communities during the Civil Rights Movement. There are many interwoven threads, critiques of American history, and spiritual references. It is well-crafted, complex, and thought-provoking.
Profile Image for ☕Laura.
489 reviews133 followers
February 18, 2016
I really, really loved this book. I have never read Morrison before and now I'm wondering what took me so long. I think her writing is just exquisite. This was not an easy book to read, and I am left pondering many things, but where ambiguity usually leaves me feeling dissatisfied, with this book it somehow feels "right", like I am meant to be thinking about this book long after I have finished it.
Profile Image for Abbie | ab_reads.
603 reviews453 followers
July 3, 2019
Another Morrison read and as ever I’m in awe of her rich prose, nuanced characters and multilayered narrative. It’s the 1970s, and follows many characters during their time in the fictional, all-black town of Ruby as well as their lives before, and is a beautiful blend of classic storytelling and magic. I loved that aspect of Beloved and Morrison wields her subtle use of magical realism and mysticism just as artfully in Paradise.
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The opening line is so powerful, setting up the shocking events to unfold later on, and you spend much of the book on edge, waiting for the inevitable violence to erupt as the utopian town takes a dark turn. As usual, heavy themes are deftly tackled such as the fear of integration and change, tension between older and younger generations, and hierarchies within an all-black town, where the lighter skinned ‘mixed’ residents are looked down upon by the original, ‘8-rock’ families.
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There are a LOT of characters in this novel, all of which have a variety of different nicknames, so it gets a bit confusing at times (I learned the hard way, it’s not really a book to pick up and put down on a commute), but if you stick with it, the pay off is worth it. A few family trees might have been useful though! But even with so many characters to keep track of, each one is as layered as the next and I could have read full-sized novels on many of them.
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The women in this book are particularly compelling, as is the almost character-esque house, The Convent, which holds a dark glamour over the rest of the town, sitting way out into the country, attracting the women of the town like moths to flame...
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One of those books that just screams for a reread further down the line to catch all those things you didn’t on your first run.
Profile Image for Matt.
752 reviews511 followers
August 26, 2014
This is one of those books that is probably a masterpiece, but to which I could not find the right access.
They shoot the white girl first. With the rest they can take their time.
These first two sentences are - I think - a strong entry into a novel. Together with the blurb they have convinced me to buy the book. The crime is described in the first chapter, and the rest deals not so much with the question who committed it, but why. Why did the nine men from the small town of Ruby decide to savage those women in the out-of-town convent? What are their motives?

To answer these questions Toni Morrison takes a big swing. Too big for my taste. The life history of both the victims, and, above all, the history of the nine founding families is rolled up; families to which the perpetrators belong. Many, very many, too many, characters populate the pages of this book. I had to re-read some parts several times, and tried to keep a record of the family trees but had to give up at some point. In the end I concentrated on only a few people that I liked for one reason or another. The rest I simply took for granted.

Self-righteousness and bigotry are probably central themes of this story. That those two non-virtues are so prevalent in the small town of Ruby in rural Oklahoma, is, in my opinion, not surprising, considering the facts that this town neither has a gas station, nor bus traffic to other towns, but three churches. Outsiders are not welcomed at all. One would think this must be a town of "White Trash" people who decided to eliminate some of those outsiders. It's not. Ruby is an all-black town. My take on this? Hatred knows no distinctions of race, creed or color. There are as many white devils in the world as there are black angels and vice versa. I just wish this book had been 100 pages shorter with only half as many people to think about.

2⅔ of 5 stars.

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Profile Image for Robert Sheard.
Author 2 books297 followers
November 20, 2020
It seems sacrilegious not to like something by Toni Morrison, one of the big names of the 20th century in American lit. But I will remember nothing of this book in six months.

It's praised for its lyricism, its almost poetic quality. It's a meditation on a number of subjects.

Unfortunately, that rips the idea of story right out of the book and what we get is a whole lot of "telling" and philosophizing and precious little "showing," or story.

There are so many characters in the book, none of whom are fully realized, that it's all but impossible to make sense of the town's web of connections.

I love Morrison's early novels. I think The Bluest Eye is genius. But this one just doesn't work for me. One reviewer said it feels like jumping from James Joyce's Dubliners straight into Finnegan's Wake. That's a pretty accurate reflection of my reaction to reading this one.
Profile Image for Ginny_1807.
375 reviews137 followers
June 3, 2017
Basta, mi arrendo. Troppi personaggi che entrano in scena senza introduzione; troppi fatti accennati senza venire debitamente sviluppati; troppi riferimenti storici (principalmente riguardanti la comunità di colore) che richiederebbero una conoscenza della storia americana che io purtroppo non possiedo.
Peccato, perché la scrittura è sontuosa, ma questa indubbiamente non è una lettura estiva e richiederebbe un lavoro di applicazione e documentazione che al momento non mi sento di intraprendere.
Riprenderò il romanzo in un periodo più opportuno.
Forse.
Profile Image for Book-Bosomed  blog.
516 reviews225 followers
June 17, 2019
While my first attempt at reviewing this title, a task I’m not sure anyone can do justice to, this is not my first reading of the novel. That was many moons ago back in graduate school. Fast forward two decades later and I’m now teaching it to my oldest. I’ve been looking forward to days like this—introducing a deeply layered, complex, literary juicy piece and letting those critical thinking, analytical wheels in the mind begin to turn. If you’ve also never read this, then hopefully I’ll inspire more than one.

In full honesty, I didn’t fall in love with it on my first read. I was sure then that Song of Solomon was my favorite by Morrison, and Paradise hadn’t replaced it. Now, I’m not so sure. It’s different from her previous novels, and doesn’t necessarily wow you at first glance. It takes some digging to dust off murky surface impressions before the luster emerges. So that said, I believe this is one of those books that you have to read more than once. Notice I didn’t say simply twice.



This might be one of those limitless reads because you’ll continue to pick up more pieces of the 10,000 count puzzle that Morrison sort of tosses out on the living room floor, some pieces turned upside down and maybe even an edge or two hiding under the couch, with each read. Given the way that math plays out in the storytelling, it’s likely that a few of the 10,000 pieces are missing and there’s only 9,999 or maybe there’s really 10,005. Regardless, this story is a challenge, one that even some literary scholars and book critics can’t fully put together. A few might even have jammed some wrong pieces. And who knows, possibly only Morrison has the box with the uncut, non disjointed image. But once you start getting enough connections to get some semblance of a picture, the jem that this is will begin to shine through even if like many truths it’s still enshrined in the earth.



If you haven’t guessed, there isn’t a neat little linear plot. It’s not meant to be skimmed. If you read this book in that manner, you surely won’t get it. Nor is it meant to be read simply for surface value or for the story (stories) alone. You can try that and you might still enjoy it, but it’s a tale about what’s underneath the surface….what’s really going on with not just the five displaced women (Mavis, Gigi, Seneca, Pallas, and Connie) who don’t need men or God, who break the mold of acceptable society and decorum to find wholeness, but also the men and the community they offend. In fact, be prepared to get an eclectic, and at times disjointed, history of the town and its residents as it’s interwoven with the arrivals of the women at the Convent—a building that’s sorta a former house of worship, school, and playboy mansion. (Yep, you read that right.)

While the premise (depicted here on Goodreads and on the book’s cover) sets an accurate tone of the tale, imagine it playing out on screen as the lovechild of The Wild Bunch and Lost in an all black Peyton Place.



And then every now and again Morrison throws out some doozy of a moniker or backstory tidbit and it might even feel a little bit like Soap!



Ruby is a second chance town—literally and figuratively, though it’s debatable if some people ever got a first. It was founded by nine families, only seven of which are represented in the children’s Nativity play that’s an amalgamation of town and biblical history after their first safe haven stopped prospering. On what seems to be a daily basis, the town’s elders wax nostalgic about, well, anything and everything that’s not happening in the present. That is except for everyone’s interest in the only spare Morgan heir, manwhore K.D. A marriage to Arnette Fleetwood, who K.D. got pregnant four years before, would appease his twin uncles who are ready for him to settle down; but he really wants Gigi who showed up in town looking for an obscene rock and has never left. Arnette’s best friend, Billie Delia, can’t stand K.D. but she is in love with two brothers, and despite the town’s certainly that she’s hot for a ménage, Billie Delia is purer than Arnette. Billie Delia’s mother is one of only two women in town who the handsome new minister might consider courting, but widow Pat Best is more interested in her town genealogy project filled with convoluted (and in some places incestuous) family trees alongside ‘quiet as its kept’ tidbits about the branches. What’s not quiet is the old reverend who can deliver a fire and brimstone sermon at a wedding sure to make any young couple want to elope, if the youngsters in town weren’t more concerned with hanging out at the Oven that’s only flaming a fire over its faded inscription rather than cooking any meals. Meanwhile, out at the Convent, Connie was blinded by the light, and annoyed with her roommates, has an awakening where art supplies and yoga poses make what has to be some interesting chalk outlines, foreshadowing the carnage that’s to come while at the same time freeing the girls from the pasts that haunts them. When the town men let the seven deadly sins (or definitely five of them) get the best of them, they grab their guns, gum, and sunglasses and let their testosterone take over. It goes down as history usually does. Or does it?



Lost? You might be, but I don’t believe Morrison wrote any of it for shock value. There’s a message and plenty of social commentary littered throughout all that happens, at times almost poetic and lyrical, at times comical. There’s also enough misfortune, heartbreak, and injustice to make you cry from the tragedy of it all, flinch at the ignorance and baseness in people, and seethe when you consider or simply realize that while this story is fiction, it’s also the story of generations and generations of a not so pretty history of not just America but also mankind. There’s enough intrinsic commentary on religion, race, misogyny, gender relations, myth-making, memory, history, hypocrisy, and so much more to make the whole puzzle of it all worth it without hitting you over the head with the heavy themes. While some are blatant like the opening line, others are subtle, and if you fly through the pages too fast you might miss them.

It’s not a book to get hung up on spoilers. After all, Morrison starts the story with the climax. She tells you right off the bat, “They shoot the white girl first. With the rest they take their time.” Who is the white girl?


You never know.
And if another reader tries to tell you they are certain which one it is, they are as unreliable as the narrator of this story.

I’m guilty myself of trying to solve the opening line mystery as well as a few other intriguing ambiguities. Knowing there’s no definite answers maybe even makes me appreciate it all the more. I still look for clues like millions who flock to religion in search of answers even more unattainable. Ah, look what Morrison did there?



But mostly this is about the journey in the pages in between. While the novel starts with the men’s arrival at the Convent for the last time and builds to the how and why their quest for purity and peace becomes tainted, bigoted, and bloodied, this is just as much, if not more, about how the women got where they are, were made what they were, the obstacles that stood in their way, and the ties that bound and the shackles they broke. Even when they are 17 miles from the town, separate from the community and “unequal” they are central to the world around them. And so perhaps it’s about how all women, marginalized and vilified, got where they are and still struggle to ascend in a world where witness testimony, histories, and religious scripture has been twisted to suit those in control much like the Ruby mens’ public proclamations for the slaughter are nothing but smoke screens, pathetic and thinly veiled excuses for the real selfish motivations that drive them to their patriarchal insanity.

“the women are not hiding. They are loose” (287).

For my romance reading friends— If you’re looking for a break from that formulaic but smutastic genre, for something that delivers more substance, this is one to crack open and take a whirl at.

Safety wise….


Well, it’s probably irrelevant because while the book is about love to the extreme, there’s no romance here. Nor is anything romanticized, which is really key. Arguably, there’s also no heroes or heroines. You could ponder through the entire book whether there is a protagonist. Or are there five of them? At least nine are antagonists. Are we getting into Morrison math again? It’s all as head-scratching as who the white girl is. I couldn’t even pass verdict on whether there’s an HEA. It’s like there isn’t…or is there?



There may be no right or wrong answers to the questions your mind will turn over when you start trying to connect the pieces of the intellectual puzzle that is this book. Morrison herself said in an article back in 1998 that she’d rather have readers “grapple with her work than merely revere it.”



And in the vast sea of corruption that has plagued the contemporary romance world, that’s refreshing. It’s also a good reason to give the story a chance. Feel free to hit me up to chat if you do.

*I own a paperback copy of this book. All reviews written by Book-Bosomed Book Blog are honest opinions.
Profile Image for Tanya.
466 reviews261 followers
December 14, 2021
I picked this up after Morrison's recent passing—it seemed appropriate to bid her farewell in my own way by finishing her Dantesque trilogy: After Beloved 's Hell and Jazz 's Purgatory, we reach the conclusion in Paradise. Taking place in Ruby, a self-reliant, neighborly, all-black farming community in Oklahoma, you might quickly draw the conclusion that the title refers to the town itself... but if you're familiar with Morrison's work, you should know better than to to take the title at face value. Alas, paradise is not easily attained. If you were holding out hope anyway, the opening paragraph will quickly dash it:

"They shoot the white girl first. With the rest they can take their time. No need to hurry out here. They are seventeen miles from a town which has ninety miles between it and any other. Hiding places will be plentiful in the Convent, but there is time and the day has just begun. They are nine, over twice the number of the women they are obliged to stampede or kill and they have the paraphernalia for either requirement: Rope, a palm leaf cross, handcuffs, mace, and sunglasses, along with clean, handsome guns."


As we soon find out, beneath the pious surface, the isolated community is struggling with old feuds, the clashing of generations, and the infiltration of political brewing following the Civil Rights Movement and MLK's assassination. With peace thus disturbed, a scapegoat must be found to restore it, and the readily available one is an abandoned mansion outside of town—a haven for women who've experienced hardships and need to get away from the world for a while, or forever (so maybe the titular paradise doesn't refer to what the town of Ruby was supposed to be, but what the Convent became for these women?). It's currently occupied by four unconventional and independent women, which makes them the perfect target of patriarchal blame (and aggression). And so the men of Ruby take up arms to cleanse the town of these heifers, and bring back their peaceable kingdom.

I don't know if all of Morrison's fiction is like this or whether this is a stylistic choice for this "trilogy" (the stories aren't connected at all, they are more of an exploration of the African American experience after the trauma of slavery), but I love the way she constructs her novels—the narrative is never linear, but painstakingly built from all angles and perspectives, circling back to the same events over and over, fleshing them out and giving them context. It's like looking at gorgeous little mosaic pieces in turn, appreciating their respective beauty... and then stepping back and suddenly seeing the larger picture they make up when considered together. All of this, with a dash of magical realism on top, which often comes out a bit of left field and feels all the more wondrous because of it. The women living at the Convent are the centerpieces of the novel, and their lives and relationships are laid down so intimately, they feel real enough to touch. Real enough to love.

"Love is divine only and difficult always. If you think it is easy you are a fool. If you think it is natural you are blind. (...) You do not deserve love regardless of the suffering you have endured. You do not deserve love because somebody did you wrong. You do not deserve love just because you want it. You can only earn—by practice and careful contemplations—the right to express it and you have to learn how to accept it."


I can appreciate the absolute mastery with which she weaves her stories, but am not ashamed to admit that while I loved this novel just as much as (if not more than) Beloved, it was harder to follow, not least because of the huge cast of characters and shifting perspectives, and I'm certain that I'll glean more from it upon re-reading it in the future. Morrison's work isn't light reading; it's not something to simply pass the time. It's a jagged, harsh, often ugly and brutal truth rendered in rich, beautiful words, and it commands your complete attention. I am not a believer, but Morrison makes me wish I was; there is a saintliness about her work, like you're being allowed to catch a glimpse of something Divine, and because of this, I find that the words to describe her stories always flee from me when I try to set them down.

—————

My other reviews of Morrison's Dantesque trilogy:

01: Beloved · ★★★★★
02: Jazz · ★★★★
03: Paradise · ★★★★★
Profile Image for Neal Adolph.
142 reviews83 followers
February 9, 2017
I started reading this book because it is Black History Month and I thought it was appropriate to finally, after years of good intention, mark it in some way with my reading. Conveniently, I've been wanting to read something by Toni Morrison, and have often lifted her books from my shelf, examined the cover and read the back, but they've always been put back. I was never brave enough. The weight of reputation around her persona - and around some of her books - is heavy. I went with Paradise for no good reason. The name seemed interesting. And it wasn't Beloved. Beloved frightens me.

It retrospect, Paradise likely should have frightened me just as much. I knew nothing about it aside from what the back told me. I looked at Kirkus Reviews and saw that it was one of the few Morrison books which did not receive a starred review. I didn’t read anything more, butI assumed this book was lighter and simpler than some of her other work, and so I - a mere fan of good fiction and nothing more - might be able to enjoy it.

I finished the book a couple days ago. I haven't yet been able to think about how to write about it all that much. Kind of. I have, actually. The bigger challenge is putting words to those thoughts.

One word is exceptional. This book is exceptional.

Daring. Intelligent. Brilliant. This book is all of these things. It is tender. It is malicious. It is rich and complex. It glides through your mind slowly, and then shifts to a rapid pacing, and then slowly it glides. It is not merely a book but a meal. The best meal of the year - the kind where you savour it because you think that this could be your last meal. It is surprising.

This book is all of these things.

Perhaps it is worth talking about what I was expecting from this novel.

I was expecting to learn something about the African American experience when I read this book. I’m quite certain I did that. It is impossible to read this novel and not recognize how it is deeply centered in the African American experience. Slavery and white-man violence loom heavy over this story. But Morrison is better than that - more intelligent than that. She doesn’t want to essentialize the African American experience - she wants to talk about something much more important. She wants to talk about Race.

I wasn’t expecting to learn something about feminism while I was reading this book. My assumption was that Morrison was a one-trick pony - what a silly assumption, really. No, Morrison is better than a one-trick pony. She is a magician of many years of experience and she has wisdom to impart. And so I learned a great deal about the women’s experience, the need for liberation from patriarchy, the constant threat of violence, the unending disregard by men who wish only to use them.

I wasn’t expecting to learn about religion and its corrupting power. But Morrison seems to understand this quite well. In particular, she shows how religion can encourage schisms and produce conflict and hate. She also understands how it can redeem and inspire greatness, inspire a desire to not be broken off from the rest of the world. Morrison is neither generous nor cruel in her estimation of religion, but she is honest. And that is wonderful.

I wasn’t expecting to learn about the experience of history as a community grows aware of itself. Goodness me, I hope that makes sense. But I’m a historian by trade, and I have studied a great deal of history - a lot of local and cultural histories at that. And I have always thought that the individual stories that produce the collective experience are the screws which lock people together and the bars that keep others out. But Morrison understands the depth of history much better than I do.

I wasn’t expecting to learn about goodness, or wisdom, or evil, though I suppose it is the battle between good and bad that is at the centre of most books and so I shouldn’t be surprised I guess. But Morrison shows that goodness is rare, but to be cherished. And badness is really just the benign development of goodness. Badness is rarely intentional until it becomes rationalized. I think, anyways. We often become bad when we are working to defend ourselves from those things that we think will infect our goodness. I think, anyways.

I think that might be something like what Morrison thinks too.

Anyways. This is a rich, wonderful, elegant book. Beautiful. It comes with my highest recommendation.
Profile Image for Ify.
163 reviews180 followers
December 3, 2020
Yeah, this is one of the best books I ever read. I will say that I was in awe of the level of craftsmanship and mastery displayed in this novel. Intellectually, I was absolutely engaged and inspired. Emotionally, not as much. Hence, the 4.5 stars.
Profile Image for Jan.
757 reviews47 followers
December 25, 2017
From very, very many perspectives, Toni Morrison in her novel ‘Paradise’ makes a sort of reconstruction of the social motives and religious drives of inhabitants of Ruby which have led to an act of violence described at the start of the novel. She does that eloquently, and somewhat mysterious en poetical. She demands quite some concentration from her readers, and she doesn’t support the reader very much in seeking the connections between the fragmented narrative. And the reader needs a ‘wide span of control’, meaning that there are very, very many characters, who play their more or less significant role, while the main ‘character’ is not a person, in my opinion not even Ruby (the small place in Oklahoma, where the story takes place), but let me guess: the abstraction behind the tension that is caused by female independence outside the frame of a patriarchal society.
Many thing could be said about the motives in the novel, like the matter of being free from white legislation: can a small society survive when it comes to enforceing their own values; and what if one can easily think differently about moral values … - to mention just one.
So I had a hard time grasping the depth, yet recognizing a certain message and literary quality. JM
PS
It has taken me over two months to finish this novel. That was only partly due to the novel. Partly because some other, easier, reads seduced me (a Biggles adventure; a short novella; a Danish thriller; a novel by Pamuk). And partly because my mother needed more time and attention than before – he has dementia; ten days ago professionals have taken over most of the direct attention my mother needs in her mental state, she is far more at ease now.
Daily more then a dozen telephone calls during the last couple of months have not been a good combination with (concentrated) reading. And I have a brother and two sisters who helped me daily in reassuring our mother that everything is ok.
Hence the relatively low number of books I’ve read in 2017.
Profile Image for Areeb Ahmad (Bankrupt_Bookworm).
650 reviews193 followers
September 16, 2021
"But there was no pity here. Here, when the men spoke of the ruination that was upon them—how Ruby was changing in intolerable ways—they did not think to fix it by extending a hand in fellowship or love. They mapped defense instead and honed evidence for its need, till each piece fit an already polished groove."



One can perhaps encapsulate Paradise in a single sentence as "Everything that worries them must come from women." The novel's built upon conflicting binaries: men and women, tradition and modernity, past and future, limits and freedom. Biblical allusions abound. The first exodus out of Oklahoma to Haven to set up a new all-Black community in 1890, after getting shut out of opportunities and progress, rejected by prosperous towns & the lighter Blacks. The second exodus to Ruby in 1949, named for a woman who dies due to Jim Crow, after Haven fails. The Moses like figure of Big Daddy.

There is obsession over purity. Fifteen founding families but only nine of note, then eight, then seven. An obsession with colour, 8-rock Black, and censure for everyone who strays. Collective but hollow myth-making. It all comes back to the wayward women of the convent: "Not women locked safely away from men; but worse, women who chose themselves for company, which is to say not a convent but a coven." A few prominent men of Ruby don't like that, wherein lies the trouble. The novel has a very interesting structure, and the town is a character of its own. The last 50 pages or so are absolutely brilliant, just recast the rest of it so astoundingly.
Profile Image for Shayla.
270 reviews4 followers
August 12, 2007
It's funny, I've tried to get many of my friends to read this book and they all start and then stop, while I've read it twice (I rarely read books more than once, even if I really like them).

I just loved the complexity of this non-linear book. Each chapter is devoted to the main women in the novel, including the town itself, Ruby. Ruby is an all-black town in OK, founded by freed slaves. This is a town that prides itself on its history and on its racial purity among other things. It is these beliefs that head the town toward the path of destruction when some women, who are not like the citizens of Ruby, move in to the convent on the outskirts of town.

I'll admit, the first few chapters left me wondering what was going on...how did it all connect. But I have found all of Morrison's novels to be difficult in the beginning, but I felt thoroughly rewarded by the end.
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