Radikal Readings: Jazz

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Again, I chose to put myself in the difficult position of writing about a book by the legendary Toni Morrison. After being taken aback by The Bluest Eye, I decided to tackle Jazz. Set in 1926, the novel “is the story of a triangle of passion, jealousy, murder, and redemption, of sex and spirituality, of slavery and liberation, of country and city, of being male and female, African American, and above all of being human.” Jazz is a about middle-aged Joe Trace, his wife Violet and his teenage lover Dorcas who he also happens to shoot to death.

Jazz is heartbreaking and dazzling, lyrical and poetic. Again, Toni Morrison is an extraordinary writer and storyteller. Her stories are never just black and white, like life there is an exorbitant amount of grey and it’s hard to come to terms with who is “good” and who is “bad”. It’s a dazzling portrayal of human beings, relationships and African American life in a white supremacist capitalist patriarchy – where men are worthy of love and black women are expendable.

Much like The Bluest Eye, Jazz is breathtaking and stays with you long after. Here’s one of my favorite poetic passages, which I hope inspires you to pick this one up if you already haven’t:

“It’s nice when grown people whisper to each other under the covers. Their ecstasy is more leaf-sigh than bray and the body is the vehicle, not the point. They reach, grown people, for something beyond, way beyond and way, way down underneath tissue. They are remembering while they whisper the carnival dolls they won and the Baltimore boats they never sailed on. …Breathing and murmuring under covers both of them have washed and hung out on the line, in a bed they chose together and kept together nevermind one leg was propped on a 1916 dictionary, and the mattress, curved like a preacher’s palm asking for witnesses in His name’s sake, enclosed them each and every night and muffled their whispering, old-time love. They are under the covers because they don’t have to look at themselves anymore.”


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