Monday, February 27, 2012

Review: The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Reviewed by Ingrid


It's about: This book is made up of letters written by a young black girl named Celie and her sister, Nettie. Celie was sexually abused by her father, had two children by him, then married young to an abusive husband. This novel documents her life over about 40 years. She befriends a woman with whom her husband had a years-long affair and develops an intimate relationship with her that teaches her more about herself and how she can learn to deal with her circumstances. During this time, Celie's sister Nettie joins with a missionary family and travels to Africa. Though Celie and Nettie are apart for most of the book, and most of the letters don't make it through the post, their sisterly bond keeps them going through extremely painful circumstances.  I believe Alice Walker wrote this book as an example of one person's individual journey to come to terms with a racist and sexist world. It's an intellectual feel-good book.

Oprah Winfrey as Sofia, Celie's strong-willed
daughter-in-law in the film adaptation of The Color Purple
I thought: I've had bad experiences with epistolary novels and tend to stay away from them (ahem, Pamela.) But this book was tremendous, and the epistolary form just made it that much better. I loved Celie's unique voice, and how her voice develops and matures through the novel. I love how Celie learns from Shug how to be come a strong independent woman with a voice that matters. I loved how Alice Walker wrote so honestly about how life was for black people in this era. There are White people in this story with realistic lives, with prejudices common and widespread to the time, and sometimes with good intentions, but these people aren't central to the story as they weren't central to Celie and Nettie's lives. There's no White person who comes in to fix racism (ahem .... The Help.) There are strong, mature Black women who learn to help themselves and each other. I loved how Nettie traveled to Africa and developed bonds with Black people from her native continent - and also how Walker realistically portrayed the tensions between African Blacks and American Blacks. I loved Celie's relationship with Shug. And I love, love, love,  loved the beautiful ending to this book. I just felt so dang GOOD when I finished, and not in that cheap, sentimental kind of way, but in that this-world-really-can-be-a-good-place kind of way. 

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf.

Reading Recommendations: If you have yet to read this book, now would be a great time! I've noticed it's been placed on many a display table in bookstores around the country in honor of Black History Month. I suggest you pick yourself up a copy. Also, check out this awesome review of The Color Purple over at Homorazzi (where I found the picture of Alice Walker at the top of this post.) But watch out ... some of their ads and pictures are NSFW, so proceed with caution.

Warnings: Sex, incest, violent physical abuse. (And an inspiring journey to overcome these things.) 

Favorite excerpts:
"Here's the thing, say Shug. The thing I believe. God is inside you and inside everybody else. You come into the world with God. But only them that search for it inside find it. And sometimes it just manifest itself even if you not looking, or don't know what you looking for. Trouble do it for most folks, I think. . . .
     It? I ast.
     Yeah, It. God ain't a he or a she, but a It.
     But what do it look like? I ast.
     Don't look like nothing, she say. It ain't a picture show. It ain't something you can look at apart from anything else, including yourself. I believe God is everything, say Shug. Everything that is or ever was or ever will be. And when you can feel that, and be happy to feel that, you've found It.
     Shug a beautiful something, let me tell you. She frown a little, look out cross the yard, lean back in her chair, look like a big rose."