Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Bluest Eye (a.k.a: L’Oeil le plus bleu) by Toni Morrison

Book Summary (from Goodreads.com)

The Bluest Eye is Toni Morrison's first novel, a book heralded for its richness of language and boldness of vision. Set in the author's girlhood hometown of Lorain, Ohio, it tells the story of black, eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove. Pecola prays for her eyes to turn blue so that she will be as beautiful and beloved as all the blond, blue-eyed children in America. In the autumn of 1941, the year the marigolds in the Breedlove's garden do not bloom, Pecola's life does change--in painful, devastating ways.

With it's vivid evocation of the fear and loneliness at the heart of a child's yearning, and the tragedy of its fulfillment, The Bluest Eye remains one of Toni Morrison's most powerful, unforgettable novels--and a significant work of American fiction.

My Review

This is the first novel I’ve ever read from Toni Morrison. I decided to start form the beginning of her work, as recommended by The Book Lady. I have to say, I loved the book, but it was a hard one. Not because it was in French, the language is not complicated and the story is so beautifully written, that even translated you are transported and you read and read.

The story takes place in 1941; about 20 years before the March on Washington African-Americans were emancipated, but oppression is still there (did it ever leave?). On the other hand, the country is trying to recover from the Great Depression, and the poor are even poorer. A poor neighbourhood, full of worker families is the environment for the whole story’s development.  Claudia and Frieda MacTeer, too young sisters start the telling of the story, as witnesses of events. Pecola, another girl from a broken home, comes to stay with them, while her family recovers from a burning home...incidentally it started burning because her father set it on fire. 

Pecola, as a lot of young girls, doesn’t feel happy with her looks. Add to that the effect that all the “pretty” standards are white, blond girls. See, this was the first time I had to put the book down, fighting tears of rage, remembering how this hasn’t changed much. How the standard of beauty that a lot of girls grow with is just hurtful for them. I remembered my little cousin (by then 4 years old) feeling ugly because her hair was not blond and straight...she has the most beautiful black hair, slightly wavy and green eyes...but no, that’s not how Cinderella looks like is it? Anyway, moving on, this just one of the hard topics in the book, how a tiny girl, reaching puberty is so discontent with her looks, because she is convinced NOBODY will ever love her unless she has blue eyes.

Little by little, we get to know the story behind her drunken father Cholly, why is he in the position he is. Now, this will make you understand his behaviour, but in no way condone it. A child from problematic childhood grows into a man full of grudges, and unfortunately, he takes it on others instead of trying to give a better childhood to his own kids.

Mrs Breedlove (Pauline), Pecola’s mother had a nice childhood, up to a certain point. She fell in love with Cholly and then...well, thing went downhill, and she has been building up bitterness, that again falls over her kids and her household.

Around this family, there’s a gossipy community that will talk about the problems, but sadly won’t help to solve them. Prostitutes with a heart of gold, a con-artist with a conscience, a girl with slightly paler skin that is looked up as “better” than the others because of her looks; all of them secondary characters that little by little takes us to the resolution of the story.

What do I think about the book? It was amazing, you feel every single bit of pain, physical or emotional, and you want to cry quietly for half of the characters. Is NOT a feel good book, but is a powerful one. The way the environment is constructed, as I mentioned, transports you to every house in the community, you feel the scents, the sun or the cold of winter. You want to take Pecola in your arms and tell her that she is a beautiful human being, that nothing happening around her is her fault. You want to slap her fathers and make them snap out of their pain constructed reality.

The book touches different hard subjects. The concept of beauty is just one of them. Morality, injustice all of them aggravated by latent racism and a family that is just not there for a little girl. Because of this, it is not a book to take with you to sleep, trust me; you will feel sometimes so disgusted at situations or at the fact that some of those situations are still common nowadays that you will need time to cool off.  Personally I needed a couple of days to be able to write this, without giving much away, particularly in the parts that made me utterly emotional. 

1 comment:

  1. This book was heartwrenching and hauntingly beautiful... about a year ago we've had a guest lecturer from Radford who was discussing it in great depths with us (as well as Beloved) and she made the reading experience even more special. One of my all time favorite books.