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On Sale: May 08, 2012
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

The latest novel from Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison.

An angry and self-loathing veteran of the Korean War, Frank Money finds himself back in racist America after enduring trauma on the front lines that left him with more than just physical scars. His home--and himself in it--may no longer be as he remembers it, but Frank is shocked out of his crippling apathy by the need to rescue his medically abused younger sister and take her back to the small Georgia town they come from, which he's hated all his life. As Frank revisits the memories from childhood and the war that leave him questioning his sense of self, he discovers a profound courage he thought he could never possess again. A deeply moving novel about an apparently defeated man finding his manhood--and his home.

This eBook edition includes a Reading Group Guide.

Excerpt

ONE

They rose up like men. We saw them. Like men they stood.

We shouldn’t have been anywhere near that place. Like most farmland outside Lotus, Georgia, this here one had plenty scary warning signs. The threats hung from wire mesh fences with wooden stakes every fifty or so feet. But when we saw a crawl space that some animal had dug—a coyote maybe, or a coon dog—we couldn’t resist. Just kids we were. The grass was shoulder high for her and waist high for me so, looking out for snakes, we crawled through it on our bellies. The reward was worth the harm grass juice and clouds of gnats did to our eyes, because there right 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. They bit each other like dogs but when they stood, reared up on their hind legs, their forelegs around the withers of the other, we held our breath in wonder. One was rust-colored, the other deep black, both sunny with sweat. The neighs were not as frightening as the silence following a kick of hind legs into the lifted lips of the opponent. Nearby, colts and mares, indifferent, nibbled grass or looked away. Then it stopped. The rust-colored one dropped his head and pawed the ground while the winner loped off in an arc, nudging the mares before him.

As we elbowed back through the grass looking for the dug-out place, avoiding the line of parked trucks beyond, we lost our way. Although it took forever to re-sight the fence, neither of us panicked until we heard voices, urgent but low. I grabbed her arm and put a finger to my lips. Never lifting our heads, just peeping through the grass, we saw them pull a body from a wheelbarrow and throw it into a hole already waiting. One foot stuck up over the edge and quivered, as though it could get out, as though with a little effort it could break through the dirt being shoveled in. We could not see the faces of the men doing the burying, only their trousers; but we saw the edge of a spade drive the jerking foot down to join the rest of itself. When she saw that black foot with its creamy pink and mud-streaked sole being whacked into the grave, her whole body began to shake. I hugged her shoulders tight and tried to pull her trembling into my own bones because, as a brother four years older, I thought I could handle it. The men were long gone and the moon was a cantaloupe by the time we felt safe enough to disturb even one blade of grass and move on our stomachs, searching for the scooped-out part under the fence. When we got home we expected to be whipped or at least scolded for staying out so late, but the grown-ups did not notice us. Some disturbance had their attention.

Since you’re set on telling my story, whatever you think and whatever you write down, know this: I really forgot about the burial. I only remembered the horses. They were so beautiful. So brutal. And they stood like men.
Toni Morrison

About Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison - Home

Photo © Michael Lionstar

Toni Morrison is the author of ten novels, from The Bluest Eye (1970) to Home (2012). She has received the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize. In 1993 she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Praise

Praise

"Haunting . . . [Morrison] maps the day-to-day lives of her characters with lyrical precision. . . . Home encapsulates all the themes that have fueled her fiction, from the early novels Sula and The Bluest Eye, through her dazzling masterwork, Beloved." —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"Gorgeous and intense, brutal yet heartwarming. . . . Accessible, tightly composed and visceral as anything Morrison has yet written. . . . [A] devastating, deeply humane--and ever-relevant--book." —Heller McAlpin, NPR

"Luminescent. . . . There is no novelist alive who has captured the beauty and democracy of the American vernacular so well." —The Boston Globe

"Powerful. . . . Jaw-dropping in its beauty and audacity. . . . Brims with affection and optimism." —San Francisco Chronicle

“This scarily quiet tale packs all the thundering themes Morrison has explored before. She’s never been more concise, though, and that restraint demonstrates the full range of her power. . . . A daringly hopeful story about the possibility of healing — or at least surviving in a shadow of peace.” —Ron Charles, The Washington Post
 
“A fertile narrative imbued with and embellished by Morrison’s visionary scope and poetic majesty.” —Elle
 
“A bona fide literary event . . . an emotional powerhouse. . . . Told in the stark, economical tone of a short story, with all the philosophical heft of a novel.” —Entertainment Weekly
 
“A short, swift, and luminescent book. . . . A remarkable thing: proof that Toni Morrison is at once America’s most deliberate and flexible writer. She has almost entirely retooled her style to tell a story that demands speed, brevity, the treat of a looming curtain call. . . . There is no novelist alive who has captured the beauty and democracy of the American vernacular so well.” —The Boston Globe
 
“Profound . . . Morrison's portrayal of Frank is vivid and intimate, her portraits of the women in his life equally masterful. Its brevity, stark prose, and small cast of characters notwithstanding, this story of a man struggling to reclaim his roots and his manhood is enormously powerful." —O, The Oprah Magazine
 
“Perhaps Morrison’s most lyrical performance to date. . . . Home has a sparer, faster pace than earlier Morrison novels like Beloved or Jazz, as though a drumbeat is steadily intensifying in the background and the storyteller has to keep up.” —The New York Review of Books
 
“In a mere 145 pages, Morrison has created a richly textured, deeply felt novel. “Home” has a sense of the real with a touch of magic. After 10 novels and a Nobel prize, Toni Morrison certainly isn’t resting on her laurels.” —Louisville Courier-Journal
 
“Her themes—identity, community, the resoluteness of both good and evil—are epic, and her language uniquely her own. . . . Taut and muscular, Home wastes not a word. . . . In sentences balanced like proverbs, the Nobel Prize winner conjures up the community of country women Frank asks to help save Cee.” —The Plain Dealer
 
“In this slim, scathing novel, Morrison brings us another quintessentially American character struggling through another shameful moment in our nation’s history. . . . Home is as much prose poem as long-form fiction—a triumph for a beloved literary icon who proves that her talents remain in full flower. Four stars.” —People
 
“A short, urgent novel, polished to the essential themes that the Nobel Prize-winning author has explored for decades.” —The Columbus Dispatch
 
“Beautifully wrought . . . [Home] packs considerable power, because the Nobel Prize-winning author is still writing unflinchingly about the most painful human experiences. There’s nothing small about the story she’s told with such grace in these pages.” —The Oregonian

Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Book

The introduction, discussion questions, and suggested further reading that follow are designed to enliven your group’s discussion of Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison’s searing new novel, Home.

About the Guide

Frank Money and his sister Cee are profoundly lost, divided from each other and from themselves as they search for direction and hope in 1950s America. Frank joined the army to escape his too-small world, leaving behind his cherished and fragile sister. When he returns to the United States after the war, he is haunted by memories of his childhood and the horrors he witnessed abroad; it is only when he hears that Cee is in danger that his life regains the sense of purpose he had lost.

As the novel begins, Frank finds himself in a mental institution, where he has been drugged and strapped to a bed. He has no idea how or why he got there, only that he must escape. After he frees himself, he takes refuge with a minister who helps him begin his journey back to Georgia, where he has been summoned to help save his gravely ill sister.

Cee had taken a job “assisting” Dr. Beauregard Scott, an unrepentant Confederate. In fact, she has become the subject of his experiments in eugenics, which have made her infertile and endangered her life.

As Frank travels back to Georgia, we learn about his story and his history: the terrors of combat in Korea and the traumas of a childhood in the Deep South. Cee and Frank grew up in the small town of Lotus, where they were raised in the house of their coldhearted grandmother, Lenore. As a black man in Georgia, Frank endured daily injustices, and he and Cee are shattered by buried secrets and horrible visions of racial violence.

Home follows the classic structure of the hero’s journey. Frank, a modern Odysseus, leaves home, undergoes horrific trials that test his moral strength, and then returns home a chastened and changed man. He is filled with regrets about friends he could not save on the battlefield, but when he learns that Cee is endangered he is given the chance to rescue his sister.

Home is not only about one man finding his manhood and his home. It is also about the healing power of women—of Miss Ethel Fordham and her friends in Lotus, who nurse Cee back to health and nurture her in her time of need. Fierce, unflinching, deeply compassionate—and rooted in traditional healing practices—their methods are sharply contrasted with the self-serving, aggressive techniques of a patriarchal medical industry.

In Home, Morrison vividly evokes—through the trials of a brother and sister—the particular brand of racism that prevailed just before the end of Jim Crow and the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. In dramatizing the abuses of the medical system, the devastating effects of war on those who fight it, and the meaning of both leaving and coming home, she holds a mirror up to our own time as well.

About the Author

Toni Morrison is the Robert F. Goheen Professor of Humanities, Emerita, at Princeton University. She has received the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize. In 1993 she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Discussion Guides

1. Why has Toni Morrison chosen Home for her title? In what ways is the novel about both leaving home and coming home? What does home mean for Frank, for Cee, for Lenore, for Lily?

2. The race of the characters is not specified in the novel. How does Morrison make clear which characters are black and which are white? Why might she have chosen not to identify characters explicitly by their race?

3. What is the effect of alternating between Frank’s first-person (italicized) narration and the third-person omniscient narration through which most of the story is told? What is the implied relationship between Frank and the narrator?

4. Talking about the horrors of war in Korea, Frank tells the reader: “You can’t imagine it because you weren’t there” (p. 93). Does the reader succeed in imagining it even though he or she was not there? How close to another’s experience, even those radically unlike our own, can imagination take us?

5. How has Frank’s war experience affected him? What symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder does he exhibit? In what ways does he suffer from survivor guilt?

6. In what sense can Home be understood as Frank’s confession?

7. In what very concrete ways does Cee’s lack of education hurt her? How might she have been saved from infertility had she understood the implication of the books about eugenics in Dr. Beau’s office?

8. Why do the women who heal Cee have such contempt for “the medical industry”? [p. 122]. In what ways are Frank and Cee both victims of a medical system that puts its own aims above the heath of its patients? Does Home offer an implicit critique of our own health-care system?

9. What methods do Miss Ethel Fordham and the other women use to nurse Cee back to health? Why do they feel Frank’s male energy might hinder the healing process? What larger point is Morrison making about the difference between feminine and masculine, or earth-based and industrial, ways of treating illness?

10. Frank doesn’t know “what took place during those weeks at Miss Ethel’s house surrounded by those women with seen-it-all eyes,” only that they “delivered unto him a Cee who would never again need his hand over her eyes or his arms to stop her murmuring bones” (p. 128). In what ways is Cee transformed by the treatment, and the wise counsel, that Miss Ethel gives her?

11. Both Frank and Cee were eager to leave Lotus, Georgia, and never return. Why do they find it so comforting when they do go back? What is it about the place and people that feels to Frank “both fresh and ancient, safe and demanding” (p. 132) and makes Cee declare that this is where she belongs?

12. How have Miss Ethel and the other women in her community learned not just to live with but to rise above the limitations imposed on them? What moral code do they live by?

13. Why does Frank decide to give a proper burial to the man killed for sport—and whose undignified burial Frank and Cee witnessed as children—at the end of the novel? Why would this act be emotionally important for him? Why has Morrison structured the novel so that the end mirrors the beginning?

14. The flowering lotus is a plant of extraordinary beauty, but it is rooted in the muck at the bottom of ponds. In what ways is the fictional town of lotus, Georgia, like a lotus plant?

15. Why is it important that Frank does not resort to violence against Dr. Beau? In what ways has Frank been changed by the experiences he undergoes in the novel?

16. Much has been written about racism in America. What does Home add to our understanding of the suffering blacks endured during the late 1940s and early ‘50s? What is most surprising, and distressing, about the story Morrison tells?

Suggested Readings

James Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountain; Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man; Zadie Smith, White Teeth; Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration; Richard Wright, Black Boy; Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God; Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, Beloved, Jazz, Paradise, Love, A Mercy.

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