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Tuesday, May 14

Paradise by Toni Morrison

To a certain extent, reading a new book is like enjoying good chocolate for the first time; it is a thorough process that requires you to be patient and open to the unexpected. Not every book might be to your liking, as it is the case with chocolate flavours, but if you are fortunate enough, you will find an idea, a character, a description, a style, a story that will remain imprinted on your mind and soul forever. So that when you close the book or put away the wrapping of the chocolate, that special feeling still lingers on. Toni Morrison is a writer that will not fail your expectations and her books are bound to enrich your emotions and unfold unforeseen worlds to your mind eyes.
This is one of her most appreciated books, since winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993 that focuses on some of her recurring themes: past versus present, old against young, men against women, conformity versus rebellion. The one thing that I liked most about this fresh book is the idea of forgiveness and redemption; holding a grudge or loathing someone gives that person strength over you and you will not find your peace by constantly holding on to the past, but by letting go of all hate and bad blood. But how can you overlook rape, murder and broken heart?

One morning, the men of Ruby decide to take care of the handful of women residing in a former convent outside the small Oklahoma town and leading a life of sexual freedom, independence and boldness. One by one, the women are killed in defence of "the one all-black town worth the pain," bearing the blame for all the malicious, unjustified actions and happenings that seized the life of Ruby's inhabitants. Then the novel goes back on the women of the Convent, drawing a vivid portrayal of each of them and the way their lives interweave with those of the men and women of Ruby. Connie is brought to the Convent as child by Reverend Mother Mary Magna and starts drinking heavily after Mary Magna's death. Then, there is Mavis, a housewife who runs away after accidentally killing her young twins. She is constantly fighting Gigi, an independent, attractive woman who has an affair with K.D. that ends badly. Seneca is abandoned in her childhood and after living in several foster homes, ends up at the convent, sharing a room with Gigi and secretly cutting herself. Pallas (Divine) Truelove comes from a rich family and runs away with her boyfriend who, later on, leaves her.

The few important families in Ruby -The Morgans, The Catos, The Fleetwoods- go way back to the first settlement of the town, throughout the changes that both people and place underwent from the birth of Haven to New Haven and finally to Ruby. Their transitions and loss of identity have thrown people of Ruby off the scent and the elders oppose the change and the new ways of the young. Their confined world where only those with the blood of the original fifteen families are allowed to mate and live is far from the paradise they have been trying to recreate. To them, the killing of the women living in the convent is an attempt to trigger the change they desire. However, it is their subsequent regret, blame and fear that bring the change but the price they have to pay is losing their beloved paradise.  
The book has a rather complicated structure, with flashbacks and alternative voices, but its rich elegant style uncovers the mystery of Morrison's exquisite writing. It is a work of magic realism, where reality melts in a magical and mysterious realm. The Convent is a timeless place, where life follows other rules, where redemption soothes the lost souls of the women and where there is no racism, misogynism or prejudices. It is a place similar to Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Macondo, the village hidden in the deep jungle, where time stands still or gallops by, where magic is the very air the people breathe and the very law by which they live. This place of refuge empowers the women living there and it is scary to the proud men of Ruby who crave and fear the savage creatures. They cannot tame them so they try to defeat them and steal away their heaven; but the women's bodies are never found and their apparitions to the people of Ruby are a symbol of their never-ending search for fulfilment.

For novices who want to get familiar to reading magical realism books and to the art of chocolate eating, visit http://www.oprah.com/oprahsbookclub/Magical-Realism-How-to-Read-It and one of my favourite blogs http://chocolateandzucchini.com/archives/2010/03/chocolate_tasting_how_to_taste_chocolate.php

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