Paradise by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison’s Paradise is set in 1976 in, Ruby, Oklahoma, “a backward noplace ruled by men whose power to control was out of control and who had the nerve to say who could live and who not and where.”

Refused admission to other all-black communities because of their darker skins and threatened by white supremacists after WWII, a couple dozen families established Ruby 17 miles from the nearest building in which Catholic nuns ran a school for Indian children. Ruby’s settlers called it “the Convent.”

As Paradise opens, the school is closed and the sisters of working age reassigned elsewhere, but the Convent’s central-nowhere location on an East-West highway continues to make it a stopping place for young women running from something. The way they dress, their language, their music, their attitudes shock most of Ruby’s residents.

Before long rumors start to circulate that those strange women are doing evil things at the Convent.

Stephen King would have that into a terrifying tale with an unambiguous message. Instead of a story that readers can understand on one reading, Morrison tangled it into literary fiction suited to discussion by post-menopausal women in monthly book clubs.

Black dust jacket calls attention to author, not the story

Paradise by Toni Morrison
Alfred A. Knopf. ©1998. 318 p.
1998 bestseller #9; my grade: B

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Mamba’s Daughters’ Story Trumps Technical Flaws

In Mamba’s Daughters, Du Bose Heyward takes readers inside America’s black community in the first quarter of the 20th century.

Mamba, a lower class black woman, attaches herself to an impoverished but genteel South Carolina white family, the Wentworths. Through them, she inveigles a job for herself and protection for her daughter and granddaughter.

Mamba terrorizes her brawny, dull-witted, liquor-loving daughter, Hester, into putting granddaughter Lissa’s interests above her own. Through the Wentworth’s son, Mamba gets Hester a job mining phosphate. Both women’s incomes go mainly to a fund for Lissa’s education.

Lissa is raised a “light black” snob but part of her longs for the fun-loving “full black” life. Mamba’s quick thinking and Hester’s muscles rescue Lissa from being raped. They send Lissa off to pursue a singing career in New York City.

As literature, Heyward’s work has plenty of technical flaws. Foremost among them is Heyward’s failure to maintain a consistent point of view. A 360-degree perspective on  black gentrification is more useful for the student of history than for the reader of literature.

Not only does the viewpoint shift, but Hester’s final assertion of her mother’s role shows more mental acumen than she had proven capable of to that point.

However, Heyward puts his tale of the rise of black professionals in a story that rises far above technical failures.

Mamba’s Daughters will knock your socks off.

Mamba’s Daughters
By Du Bose Heyward
Doubleday, Doran,  1929
311 pages
1929 bestseller # 7
My Grade: B+
© 2009 Linda Gorton Aragoni