I had never read it, but now I’ve read it, and I feel different.
It’s pointless to write about a book that has a history and a long list of accolades and a reputation that precedes it. I can’t tell you anything that you don’t already know about it. But I can tell you how my experience with it was.
I feel like I’m in on a secret that everyone actually already knows, but is really good at keeping. I feel like I know way more about heartbreak and pain, even though I’ve never experienced anything close to what Celie and Nettie experienced. I never thought that a fiction book could feel more firsthand than an autobiography, but this one does, and that’s one of the many reasons why it won the Pulitzer. It’s a work of art, in the way that 12 Years A Slave or Schindler’s List is. Out of tragedy comes beauty, somehow.
I wouldn’t trade places with any of the characters in this book, but there are times when I wish I could truly fathom what they went through, or what any tragic hero goes through. The lives of real and fictional heroes are poetic, haunting, phenomenal. They define extraordinary. The story of someone ordinary like Celie living life with her mental burdens – illegitimate children, fucked up marriage, closeted homosexuality, faraway family – is so powerful because of the way she talks about it. This wretched existence is normal to her, so her prayers to God, as letters in the book, feel so grounded and balanced. She never takes herself too seriously, which is maybe her greatest fault and one reason for her general hesitance. Instead of living the truth, she spends much of her life living a lie and desperately clinging to the truth in private. Maybe that’s the definition of suffering.
These passages hit me particularly hard, because of their eloquence and simplicity. Of course, the whole book is a study in those two adjectives, but these stood out.
p. 175 // “She talk and she talk, trying to budge me way from blasphemy. But I blaspheme much as I want to.”
p. 178 // “It ain’t a picture show. It ain’t something you can look at apart from anything else, including yourself. I believe God is everything, say Shug. Everything that is or ever was or ever will be. And when you can feel that, and be happy to feel that, you’ve found it.”
p. 238 // “Here us is, I thought, two old fools left over from love, keeping each other company under the stars.”
Better get on seeing that movie.