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Toni Morrison's new 'Home'

Haunted house

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Home By Toni Morrison Chatto and Windus, 160 pages Best Price: Rs 425 ( 15% off) at shopping. indiatimes. com

Truth be told, I did not want to enter Toni Morrison's Home. There is a sort of terror that a writer like Morrison holds. To begin with there is the growl of the language that is hypnotic in its power to pull you into the vortex of memory. Her dark rich storyteller's voice seems to stir within her. They release stories that arise from a place that appears so far distant, with its memories of men hunting each other, white against black, black rising against the white, animals, children, homesteads, but most persistently women destroyed in the madness, that you want to say, "But what do I have to do with the Deep South and its problems with White America?"

By that time however, she has caught you in her spell. You know that it's not just the cotton pickers of Alabama, or Georgia, or as is the case here the black American war veteran, Frank Money, who is fresh out of Korea in the early 1940s searching for redemption for his terrifying past, but all of humanity that she is writing about.

She sets the scene with all the visual power of an old-fashioned film director like John Ford perhaps with a fragment of memory as two children crawl through the grass under a fence where two stallions are fighting each other: "They rose up like men. We saw them. Like men they stood. " It could be an incantation, or a spell that she prepares as we too creep on our bellies in that farmland outside of a small town called Lotus in Georgia and watch the fight. "The reward was worth the harm the grass juice and clouds of gnats did to our eyes, because right there in front of us, about fifty yards off, they stood like men. Their raised hooves crashing and striking, their manes tossing back from wild white eyes. "

The stallions fighting each other are a distraction to what the children are about to witness, the hurried burial of a man who is barely dead. There is, however, exhilaration in that wild scene that recalls the images of earlier writers like Zane Grey talking about how outlaws and bounty hunters rode across the vast expanse of the American landscape trying to tame it. That is to say that despite all her social zeal to tell the stories of the black people, Morrison is also a romantic. It's also how Frank and his sister, with the spiky name Xcidra, or Americanized into Cee, have to claw and fight to find their way into a place that they can call home.

Home is more a novella rather than an epic like Beloved. There are, however, many of the same devices that she uses. For instance, towards the end when Cee realizes, that her body that has been used, as a live laboratory by a Mengelian type of Doctor called Dr Beauregard can never have a child, she is haunted by a girl child wanting to be born. Then again, Frank connects the spectral child to a Korean girl whom he caught foraging for food amidst the garbage left by his men.

You realize that Morrison is a quilt-maker like the women in her story. Like them, she pieces the different bits into a marvellous pattern that can hold the whole of humanity within it.

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