“Lotus, Georgia, is the worst place in the world, worse than any battlefield. At least on the field there is a goal, excitement, daring, and some chance of winning along with many chances of losing. Death is a sure thing but life is just as certain. Problem is you can’t know in advance.” – Toni Morrison, Home
The above are the words of an African-American Korean War vet, Frank Money. This novel is about Frank’s journey ‘home’ to Lotus, GA, a place he swore he would never go to again, to rescue his ailing sister, Ycidra.
This story brought to mind James McBride’s book ‘Miracle at St. Anna’s’, a novel about African-American soldiers in WW2 Italy. Like McBride, Morrison gives a voice to those people history textbooks gloss over or completely ignore. The question, the same one that is present in McBride’s book, is why African-American soldiers fight for their country, yet are treated like second class citizens:
“An integrated army is integrated misery. You all go fight, come back, they treat you like dogs. Change that. They treat dogs better.”
I’m always surprised by readers who complain about the racial issues in Morrison’s books. You can’t write a story about the black experience without bringing up race, that’s just how it is. And the fact that Morrison does so with so much boldness is one of the reasons I love her writing. Her portrayals of race and racism are realistic, and the atrocities she portrays are not isolated incidents either. Morrison writes about the comradeship within the black community, she illustrates the poverty, the racism, the fear of the KKK, the police brutality… She could very well be writing about present-day America. Reading this and other Morrison books shows the multifaceted nature of racism; there are always new aspects of it shown that we haven’t considered. James McBride writes about a segregated army in Italy during WW2 which opened my eyes to the fact that black men were fighting for a country that despised them, Morrison’s book showed how these same soldiers would be treated when they returned to the States; Jim Crow laws, no respect, no gratitude for their sacrifices, PTSD symptoms but little help.
This is a story with several shocking details. Shocking is an understatement. You think you’ve heard it all but the brutality of humans is sometimes difficult to guess. Yet, despite the visceral details, there were pages of beautiful, poetic writing:
“Passing through freezing, poorly washed scenery, Frank tried to redecorate it, mind-painting giant slashes of purple and X’s of gold on hills, dripping yellow and green on barren wheat fields. Hours of trying and failing to recolor the western landscape agitated him, but by the time he stepped off the train he was calm enough.”