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2012
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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. Excerpted from Home by Toni Morrison All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.
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  New York Times Review

Point of Return HOME By Toni Morrison. 145 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $24. "Whose house is this?" The first four words of Toni Morrison's new book greet - or assail - us before the story even begins. They're from the epigraph, which quotes a song cycle written by the author some 20 years ago and therefore, it seems safe to say, not originally intended for this book, but an indication, perhaps, of how long its themes have been haunting her. And "haunting" is a fitting word for the lyric itself, in which a speaker professes to lack both recognition of and accountability for the strange, shadowy, dissembling domicile in which he finds himself. The atmosphere of alienation makes the song's final line even more uncanny: "Say, tell me, why does its lock fit my key?" Thus the stage is set for "Home": on the basis of its publisher's description a novel, on the basis of its length a novella, and on the basis of its stripped-down, symbol-laden plot something of an allegory. It tells the story of Frank Money, a 24-year-old Korean War veteran, as he embarks on a reluctant journey home. But where - and what - is home? Frank is already back from the fighting when we meet him, a year after being discharged from an integrated Army into a segregated homeland. Since then, he has wandered the streets of Seattle, "not totally homeless, but close." He has gambled his Army pay and lost it, worked odd jobs and lost them, lived with a girlfriend and lost her, and all the while struggled, none too successfully, against the prospect of losing his mind. The action begins with Frank literally out of action: wearing restraints in a hospital bed, faking sleep in order to avoid yet another deadening shot of morphine. Confined to the "nuthouse" by the police for an infraction he can't remember, he plans and quickly executes his escape: first through the fire exit, thence to Zion - the A.M.E. Zion church, that is, whose sign he spotted earlier from the squad car. There he's given shelter by Reverend Locke (the first in a succession of "locks" that, one way or another, fit Frank's key), who helps him on his way. His destination is Lotus, Ga., which he's been avoiding because it harbors hated childhood memories - and because he dreads facing the families of the two hometown friends whose deaths in Korea plague his dreams. What draws him back now is a letter informing him that his younger sister, Cee, is in trouble. "Come fast. She be dead if you tarry." But the very notion of home is bedeviled for Frank, as is the bitter running joke of his family name. Home has never offered much solace, and the Moneys have never had much dough. At age 4, Frank was forced on foot out of his first home in Bandera County, Tex., an exodus made with 14 other families under threat by men "both hooded and not" to leave within 24 hours or die. The Moneys wound up in Lotus, "the worst place in the world, worse than any battlefield," according to Frank, to whom it appears, like its Greek counterpart, devoid of aspiration, cramped by suffocating indifference. There his parents worked 16-hour days picking cotton and planting crops, leaving Frank to protect Cee as best he could while subsisting on a daily brew of their grandparents' cruelty and neglect. There his parents died young, one of lung disease, the other of a stroke. And there, it emerges, is where Frank must return, must deliver his ailing sister, "his original caring-for," in hopes not only of saving her, but of saving himself: "Down deep inside her lived my secret picture of myself - a strong good me." What kind of selfhood is it possible to possess when we come from a spiritually impoverished home, one that fails to concede, let alone nourish, each inhabitant's worth? This is the question Morrison asks, and while exploring it through the specific circumstances of Frank Money, she raises it in a broader sense. Threaded through the story are reminders of our country's vicious inhospitality toward some of its own. On his way south, Frank makes use of a "Green Book," part of the essential series of travelers' guides for African-Americans during a more overtly racist era. On a train, he encounters fellow passengers who've been beaten and bloodied simply for trying to buy coffee from a white establishment. He meets a boy who, out playing with a cap gun, was shot by a policeman and lost the use of one arm. Frank is himself subjected to a random stop-and-frisk outside a shoe store. Even his lapses in sanity - what today we'd call symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder - are presented within the metaphor of race. He has frightening episodes of colorblindness, in which "the world became a black-and-white movie screen." Questions about Frank's mental stability emerge at every level of the narrative. His ex-girlfriend thinks of him as a "tilted man." We hear his own voice in short italicized chapters occasionally advising, correcting and rebuking the omniscient narrator. Are these signs that he's regaining psychic integrity, a sense of self-authorship, or are they evidence of his further disintegration? Even as he begins to shed his hallucinations and shoulder responsibility, he worries that he may yet be rendered helpless, "imprisoned in his own strivings." When self-preservation demands renouncing dreams, acting on behalf of one's desire is inherently dangerous. AND then there's that guy in the zoot suit. Small in stature, clad in pale blue balloon trousers, widebrimmed hat, pointy shoes - the whole shebang - this silent fellow first turns up, to Frank's amusement, sitting next to him on the train. Later, less amusingly, he appears at Frank's bedside, then vanishes before his eyes. We assume he's a manifestation of Frank's precarious mental state, a symbol of his shaky grip on his own sense of manhood, as though Frank is compensating for his feelings of degradation by inventing a model of exaggerated visibility. We operate on this belief until the final pages, when the blue-clad man reappears with a twist I won't give away, except to say that it recasts our assumptions and deftly underscores the book's most powerful proposition: that there is no such thing as individual pathology. At times, "Home" displays its meanings with all the subtlety of a zoot-suiter. We are told that Frank and Cee's grandmother "was the wicked witch" to their "Hansel and Gretel." Frank witnessed much carnage in Korea and, we learn, "It changed him." The women who nurse Cee with root medicine, common sense and blackberry jam "took responsibility for their lives, and for whatever, whoever else needed them." After Cee gains a measure of self-respect, her relationship with her brother changes: "She didn't need him as she had before." Such revelations read like in-text SparkNotes. The book doesn't need them. Part of Morrison's longstanding greatness resides in her ability to animate specific stories about the black experience and simultaneously speak to all experience. It's precisely by committing unreservedly to the first that she's able to transcend the circumscribed audience it might imply. This work's accomplishment lies in its considerable capacity to make us feel that we are each not only resident but coowner of, and collectively accountable for, this land we call home. A soldier who has come back from the Korean War fears being 'imprisoned in his own strivings.' Leah Hager Cohen is the author of four novels, including most recently "The Grief of Others," and four books of nonfiction.

  Publishers Weekly Review

Set in the 1950s American South, Morrison's latest follows Frank Money, a troubled, African-American veteran as he tries to rebuild his life after the Korean War, overcome rampant racism, and care for his ailing sister in the hometown he tried to leave behind. Morrison's sparkling narration has a musical quality-her sonorous voice capturing the essence of her characters-and conveys a wide range of emotions, often within a single sentence. Although Morrison doesn't create accents or particularly distinct voices for all the characters, her reading is compelling and will make listeners care deeply about her characters and their fragile futures. A Knopf hardcover. (May) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Summary
<p>America's most celebrated novelist, Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison extends her profound take on our history with this twentieth-century tale of redemption: a taut and tortured story about one man's desperate search for himself in a world disfigured by war.<br> Frank Money is an angry, self-loathing veteran of the Korean War who, after traumatic experiences on the front lines, finds himself back in racist America with more than just physical scars. His home may seem alien to him, but he 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 and that he's hated all his life. As Frank revisits his memories from childhood and the war that have left him questioning his sense of self, he discovers a profound courage he had thought he could never possess again.<br> A deeply moving novel about an apparently defeated man finding his manhood--and his home.</p>
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