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Paradise

Cover of Paradise

Paradise

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"Rumors had been whispered for more than a year. Outrages that had been accumulating all along took shape as evidence. A mother was knocked down the stairs by her cold-eyed daughter. Four damaged...More
"Rumors had been whispered for more than a year. Outrages that had been accumulating all along took shape as evidence. A mother was knocked down the stairs by her cold-eyed daughter. Four damaged...More
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Description-
  • "Rumors had been whispered for more than a year. Outrages that had been accumulating all along took shape as evidence. A mother was knocked down the stairs by her cold-eyed daughter. Four damaged infants were born in one family. Daughters refused to get out of bed. Brides disappeared on their honeymoons. Two brothers shot each other on New Year's Day. Trips to Demby for VD shots common. And what went on at the Oven these days was not to be believed . . . The proof they had been collecting since the terrible discovery in the spring could not be denied: the one thing that connected all these catastrophes was in the Convent. And in the Convent were those women."

    In Paradise--her first novel since she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature--Toni Morrison gives us a bravura performance. As the book begins deep in Oklahoma early one morning in 1976, nine men from Ruby (pop. 360), in defense of "the one all-black town worth the pain," assault the nearby Convent and the women in it. From the town's ancestral origins in 1890 to the fateful day of the assault, Paradise tells the story of a people ever mindful of the relationship between their spectacular history and a void "Out There . . . where random and organized evil erupted when and where it chose." Richly imagined and elegantly composed, Paradise weaves a powerful mystery.

    From the Hardcover edition.
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    Excerpted from the ForewordFOREWORD

    The story goes like this. My grandfather attended school for one day in order to tell the teacher he wouldn't be back because he had to work. His older sister, he said, would teach him to read. It was one of those details that surface in family lore but it wasn't long before I wondered where was this "school"? He was born in 1864, a year after the Emancipation Proclamation. Where would a school be in the mid-nineteenth century in rural Alabama? In a church basement? Beneath trees out in the woods? Who was this daring, revolutionary teacher? The location would have to be hidden because black people's access to education in general and reading specifically was violently discouraged and, in most of the South, teaching African Americans to read had been illegal. Virginia law, in 1831, is instructive and representative. "Any white person assembling to instruct free Negroes to read or write shall be fined not over $50.00 also be imprisoned not exceeding two months." "It is further enacted that if any white person for pay shall assemble with slaves for the purpose of teaching them to read or write he shall for each offense be fined at the discretion of the justice . . ." ten to one hundred dollars. In short, there would be no teaching, paid or unpaid, of free Negroes or slaves without penalty. Any teacher would have to be aware of the risk he or she was taking.

    Nevertheless, my grandfather's sister was successful because against all odds, he did become literate. The next question was how would he use that skill? What was there for him to read? Books on that poor little farm in Greenville, Alabama? Unlikely. Library? Certainly not. But there was one book available: the Bible. Which is why, I suppose, that among his legendary accomplishments was his boast that he had read the King James Version of the Bible cover to cover five times.

    Reading and script writing were prized in my family not only for information and pleasure but also as a defiant political act since historically so much effort had been used to keep us from learning. My mother joined the Literary Guild in the 1940s.We subscribed to newspapers devoted exclusively to African American news and opinions. Issues of The Pittsburgh Courier and the Cleveland Call and Post were worn to shreds with multiple readings and readers. Like other ethnic newspapers ours elicited passionate commentary, questions, argument. We poured over J. A. Rogers' work, Du Bois' Souls of Black Folk and whatever we could find that encouraged and informed us about being black in America.

    It was inevitable, therefore, that when I edited The Black Book, a complex record of African American life that I solicited from collectors, the earliest newspapers would fascinate me, especially the "colored" ones. There, in photographs and print so much African American history-- sad, ironic, resistant, tragic, proud, and triumphant-- was on display. Of particular interest were those printed in the nineteenth century when my grandfather spent his few minutes at school. I learned there were some fifty black newspapers produced in the Southwest following Emancipation and the violent displacement of Native Americans from Oklahoma Territory. The opportunity to establish black towns was as feverish as the rush for whites to occupy the land. The "colored" newspapers encouraged the rush and promised a kind of paradise to the newcomers: land, their own government, safety-- there were even sustained movements to establish their own state.

    One theme in particular in those papers intrigued me. Prominent in their headlines and articles was a clear admonition: Come Prepared or Not at...

About the Author-
  • Toni Morrison is Robert F. Goheen Professor at Princeton University. She has written six previous novels, and has received the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize. She won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993.


    From the Trade Paperback edition.
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    Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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