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Song of Solomon

Cover of Song of Solomon

Song of Solomon

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Milkman Dead was born shortly after a neighborhood eccentric hurled himself off a rooftop in a vain attempt at flight. For the rest of his life he, too, will be trying to fly. With this brilliantly imagined novel, Toni Morrison transfigures the coming-of-age story as audaciously as Saul Bellow or Gabriel García Márquez. As she follows Milkman from his rustbelt city to the place of his family’s origins, Morrison introduces an entire cast of strivers and seeresses, liars and assassins, the inhabitants of a fully realized black world.


From the Trade Paperback edition.
Milkman Dead was born shortly after a neighborhood eccentric hurled himself off a rooftop in a vain attempt at flight. For the rest of his life he, too, will be trying to fly. With this brilliantly imagined novel, Toni Morrison transfigures the coming-of-age story as audaciously as Saul Bellow or Gabriel García Márquez. As she follows Milkman from his rustbelt city to the place of his family’s origins, Morrison introduces an entire cast of strivers and seeresses, liars and assassins, the inhabitants of a fully realized black world.


From the Trade Paperback edition.
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    Chapter 1



    The North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance agent promised to fly from Mercy to the other side of Lake Superior at three o'clock. Two days before the event was to take place he tacked a note on the door of his little yellow house:


    At 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday the 18th of February, 1931, I will take off from Mercy and fly away on my own wings. Please forgive me. I loved you all.
    (signed) Robert Smith,
    Ins. agent


    Mr. Smith didn't draw as big a crowd as Lindbergh had four years earlier--not more than forty or fifty people showed up--because it was already eleven o'clock in the morning, on the very Wednesday he had chosen for his flight, before anybody read the note. At that time of day, during the middle of the week, word-of-mouth news just lumbered along. Children were in school; men were at work; and most of the women were fastening their corsets and getting ready to go see what tails or entrails the butcher might be giving away. Only the unemployed, the self-employed, and the very young were available--deliberately available because they'd heard about it, or accidentally available because they happened to be walking at that exact moment in the shore end of Not Doctor Street, a name the post office did not recognize. Town maps registered the street as Mains Avenue, but the only colored doctor in the city had lived and died on that street, and when he moved there in 1896 his patients took to calling the street, which none of them lived in or near, Doctor Street. Later, when other Negroes moved there, and when the postal service became a popular means of transferring messages among them, envelopes from Louisiana, Virginia, Alabama, and Georgia began to arrive addressed to people at house numbers on Doctor Street. The post office workers returned these envelopes or passed them on to the Dead Letter Office. Then in 1918, when colored men were being drafted, a few gave their address at the recruitment office as Doctor Street. In that way, the name acquired a quasi-official status. But not for long. Some of the city legislators, whose concern for appropriate names and the maintenance of the city's landmarks was the principal part of their political life, saw to it that "Doctor Street" was never used in any official capacity. And since they knew that only Southside residents kept it up, they had notices posted in the stores, barbershops, and restaurants in that part of the city saying that the avenue running northerly and southerly from Shore Road fronting the lake to the junction of routes 6 and 2 leading to Pennsylvania, and also running parallel to and between Rutherford Avenue and Broadway, had always been and would always be known as Mains Avenue and not Doctor Street.

    It was a genuinely clarifying public notice because it gave Southside residents a way to keep their memories alive and please the city legislators as well. They called it Not Doctor Street, and were inclined to call the charity hospital at its northern end No Mercy Hospital since it was 1931, on the day following Mr. Smith's leap from its cupola, before the first colored expectant mother was allowed to give birth inside its wards and not on its steps. The reason for the hospital's generosity to that particular woman was not the fact that she was the only child of this Negro doctor, for during his entire professional life he had never been granted hospital privileges and only two of his patients were ever admitted to Mercy, both white. Besides, the doctor had been dead a long time by 1931. It must have been Mr. Smith's leap from the roof over their heads that made them admit her. In any case, whether or not the little insurance agent's conviction that...

Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine There's nothing like hearing the voice of a fine author reading her own work. Toni Morrison certainly doesn't disappoint in this recording. Besides the riveting story of three generations of the Dead family, Morrison delivers to listeners each handcrafted character with precision and heartfelt enthusiasm. Periodically interwoven with Morrison's voice is another narrator's, presumably to fill in the discontinuities that occurred during editing for abridgment. This sort of tag-team narration hardly detracts from the strength of the production as a whole. SONG OF SOLOMON is a superbly crafted novel, which is only improved by Morrison's touching performance. R.A.P. (c)AudioFile, Portland, Maine
  • The New York Times Book Review "A rich, full novel. . . . It lifts us up [and] impresses itself upon us like a love affair."
  • The New Yorker "A rhapsodic work. . . . Intricate and inventive."
  • Anne Tyler, The Washington Post "Stunningly beautiful. . . . Full of magnificent people. . . . They are still haunting my house. I suspect they will be with me forever."
  • John Leonard, The New York Times Book Review "If Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man went underground, Toni Morrison's Milkman flies."
  • The Washington Post "It places Toni Morrison in the front rank of contemporary American writers. She has written a novel that will endure."
  • The Atlantic Monthly "Lovely. . . . A delight, full of lyrical variety and allusiveness. . . . [An] exceptionally diverse novel."
  • Newsday "Morrison is a terrific storyteller. . . . Her writing evokes the joyful richness of life."
  • The Nation "Morrison dazzles. . . . She creates a black community strangely unto itself yet never out of touch with the white world. . . . With an ear as sharp as glass she has listened to the music of black talk and uses it as a palette knife to create black lives and to provide some of the best fictional dialogue around today."
  • Cleveland Plain Dealer "A marvelous novel, the most moving I have read in ten years of reviewing."
  • The Philadelphia Inquirer "Toni Morrison has created a fanciful world here. . . . She has an impeccable sense of emotional detail. She's the most sensible lyrical writer around today."
  • The Hudson Review "A fine novel exuberantly constructed. . . . So rich in its use of common speech, so sophisticated in its use of literary traditions and language from the Bible to Faulkner . . . it is also extremely funny."
  • The Village Voice "Toni Morrison is an extraordinarily good writer. Two pages into anything she writes one feels the power of her language and the emotional authority behind that language. . . . One closes the book warmed through by the richness of its sympathy, and by its breathtaking feel for the nature of sexual sorrow."
  • The New Yorker "Morrison moves easily in and out of the lives and thoughts of her characters, luxuriating in the diversity of circumstances and personality, and revelling in the sound of their voices and of her own, which echoes and elaborates theirs."
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