Saturday, May 10, 2014

Book review : The Colour Purple
                  - Alice Walker

Note: This is my favourite book, and hence this review is extremely biased. The book has off-stream themes, bad English and explicit stuff. This post may or may not answer the question of whether you will like it, but I certainly did like the book. You could look at this post as a recommendation.

            I didn’t know about this book at all before having seen the film adaptation, of which I first watched only a part, and that too grudgingly, only because mother and sister were stubborn and wouldn’t let me change the channel. Later I was glad they didn’t. If a movie has Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey and is directed by Steven Spielberg, as I discovered later, it was bound to be quite a nice watch. This post, however, is not about the movie.        

Written by Alice Walker, the Color Purple is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel set somewhere around the 1930s in rural Georgia, which is deep in the South. Often subject to a lot of controversy, especially for its pretty explicit violence, it has been a pretty heavy read to go through for a lot of people, although the book itself is pretty small in size (around 300 pages).

This book sets itself apart from expectations, and that is what I like about it. It is about people of colour, but not about slavery. There are some side-stories about discrimination, which was rampant back then, but interaction with white people isn’t a major theme. It is a feminist novel about women, but not necessarily all strong and independent for the most part. It is about strength which builds up, strength which breaks, and strength which softens. The story ends on a happy note (Yay!), but it does so not just for the protagonist, but also the antagonist, at least with respect to character development.  There’s also plenty of stereotype-breaking, which makes stories interesting for me.

Another quirky thing about the book is its format, for this is an epistolary novel. That means that the book is written in the form of notes, memos, or as in this case, letters. But the epistolary format isn’t just a mute carrier of the story, but reveals the personal development of the protagonist, Celie. The language, grammar (please do not complain about the horrible spelling and grammar in the letters. It is supposed to be that way!), and tone of the letters provide a deep insight into her mind.

Speaking of protagonists, the basic story is pretty straightforward. Celie is a girl who is abused by her father, is married to an abusive husband whose family is also a bit abusive, and the only person she really cares about, her sister, has to run away, but promises Celie that she will always write letters. Then she discovers her husband’s mistress- initially rude but later very friendly, and also my favourite character- and mistress and other characters help Celie become strong and independent (‘strong and independent’ almost seems like a cliché by now).

That up there was a pretty vapid description of the story. I feel like I’d be spoiling it if I write too much about the storyline, but there’s not much to spoil. Anyway, the abuse part is pretty big and pretty explicit in this book, and that’s what puts off a lot of people. That part may not be something you’d enjoy reading, but go through it, for it’s worth it.

A friend of mine who just read the book says that the book “just changes you”. I wouldn’t go that far, but sharing deep sorrows and high joys with an unrelated person does refresh you.

- Mihir Bhosale