by Alice Walker
ISBN 978 1 7802 2871 6, first published in Great Britain in 1983, buy it on Amazon.
I read The Color Purple (1983) in two days. I cannot remember the last time I managed to read a book in that short amount of time. When I say read I mean really read the book. I read every sentence and took it all in, every little detail; the characters, the scenery, everything. I loved everything about it and here’s why:
Instantly you begin reading fourteen year old Celie’s letters to God in which she wants to know ‘what is happening’ to her. Quickly you realise that young Celie is pregnant, for the second time, having been raped by the man she calls ‘Pa’ and her first born being taken away from her. Celie, who writes in African American Vernacular English (AAVE), documents her life as she is taken away from home by Mr.—, loses contact with her younger sister Nettie and later has to care for her husband’s mistress, Shug Avery.
Quickly you’re introduced to your main character and you learn that she has a hard life.
Immediately you want to know what is going to happen next.
The novel can be split into two Celies. The first Celie is dominated, she is quiet, she does not stand up for herself and she silently cares for her husband’s children who dislike her.
Then, Shug Avery bursts into Celie’s world and there is a shift. Shug is smart, talented and flouts social conventions. She introduces Celie to an entirely new world and everyone, especially Celie, changes.
The characters absolutely make this book. The way they drive the narrative is extraordinary – it is through their actions that things happen. Events don’t happen to them; they make things happen. Each one of them is special and relevant, and none of it feels like filler.
Another aspect that I liked was Celie’s exploration of her sexuality. Decidedly against men and stating that they all look like ‘frogs’ her encounters with Shug are refreshing. Shug teaches Celie to love herself and through that Celie too falls in love. Admittedly I was surprised, I did not expect to be reading about such explicit things but it was a good kind of shock, just unexpected.
From what I can gather the book ends when Celie is in her sixties, maybe seventies, and a lot has changed for her – you’ll just have to read it to find out what exactly.
“I’m pore, I’m black, I may be ugly and can’t cook … but I’m here.” – Celie
I realise that this is a short review. If I had the chance to write down everything that I want to say I would give away far too much of the plot, so I am keeping it simple.
You should definitely read this book.
Recommended for: African-American literature lovers, people seeking love stories that come in all its shapes and sizes, and those looking to read about the inter-war American South.
Note: The Color Purple is set during the inter-war period, in the American South – clearly the racial dynamics are present throughout the novel and I am choosing not to comment on them – there is a lot of literature that has already discussed this.