Friday, January 2, 2015

Book Review: "The Color Purple" (Alice Walker)

Most high school students don't graduate without having read through a predetermined list of books deemed "classic" or "literary" or "meaningful" in some way, in their English classes. Some of the books are commendable for a number of reasons; some of the books are passable.

The Color Purple, by Alice Walker, despite its having won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, is a passable novel.

Two sisters, separated when young, take two entirely different trajectories with their lives that, somehow, come back around to connect at the end in more unexpected ways than I could detail without giving away the conclusion.

Celie, whose voice is the main one throughout the novel, is raped as a child. Her two children are taken from her and put up for adoption, and she's forced into a marriage of convenience (of sorts) to a despicable man. Finally, her life starts to improve when Shug Avery, a talented singer and her husband's mistress, moves in with them.

Meanwhile, Celie's sister Nettie travels to Africa with a missionary couple whose two children are Celie's biological children. Celie and Nettie exchange a series of letters over their thirty-year separation, documenting loss, anger, love, and hardship on one side and the other of the Atlantic Ocean.

In favor of the novel, it tackles (with admirable restraint in an era of gratuity) an assortment of challenging topics, from rape to forced marriage to homosexuality and lesbianism, with Celie's growing romantic and sexual interest in Shug.

Celie's voice is authentic, unique, irreverent, and determined, and she's a sympathetic character: the very act of writing letters (first to God, and then to Nettie) shows that she refuses to be cowed by her circumstances.

Further, the decision to tell the story through letters is an innovative one coming back into vogue. The communique style gives the novel an extra dimension, an unexpected intimacy, and a depth that an ordinary chronological narrative wouldn't achieve.

I enjoyed the story for what it was worth, despite its convoluted story line and cast of odd characters, but I wouldn't read it again, and I'm thankful I missed analyzing it to death in a high school class (after which I'm sure I would have hated it thoroughly).

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Title: The Color Purple
Author: Alice Walker
ISBN: 978-0-15-119154-3
Purchase here:

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are my own.

1 comment:

  1. I agree some of the elements of the plot are overly contrived, but the story is a very human one, about overcoming and accepting circumstances to find one's own life, and for that alone, I loved it. Unfortunately I did have to analyse it to death at Uni, but that didn't kill it for me, it made me see things I might otherwise have missed. Great review!


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