BOOK REVIEW: The Color Purple by Alice Walker (4 stars)

Verdict: Simple, enlightening and moving. Purple deserves to be read.

I’m sorry to say that, at 26 years old, I had never before read The Color Purple. I was well aware of its classic status but, as my head is easily turned by shiny fantasy books and new authors, ‘classics’ tend to fall by the wayside at times.

I should have read The Color Purple earlier, simply because it deserves to be read.

Filled with emotion and a beauty all of its own, it follows the story of Celie, a black woman trapped into an unhappy marriage, after surviving years of abuse from the man she thought  of as her father. All of that, you can find out from the blurb. What you can’t find out is how wonderful Celie is, how frustrating she can be, and how heartbreaking her life is. When I read the first line of the final chapter, I cried because (without spoilers) here was the culmination of all that Celie had shared with you, and it was real.

From a technical perspective, I found the colloquial narrative style enjoyable and easy to read. I felt it added more to the character of Celie (and Nettie), because everything they write, and the different way in which they write it, is purely ‘them’.

I started The Color Purple as a way to pass the time on the train, but quickly found myself reading at lunchtimes and  in the evenings because I had to know what was going to happen.

One interesting aspect of the story was Celie’s relationship with Shug. Both women, they embark on a romantic and physical relationship, yet the only comment made by other characters (except Mr _______ ) seems to be about their happiness. There is no real accusation of sin, or similar expression of dismay or disgust about the fact they are both female. I found this to be so refreshing, especially in a book that was so concerned about the beauty of God and living a ‘good’ life.

This theme of celebrating female relationships can be found throughout the book. Celie’s sisterly love for Nettie, of course, is the main vein of Purple. They provide each other with strength and protection in different ways, and the question of the novel is if they will finally be reunited after all they’ve been through. Whilst Nettie is in Africa, she mentions the curious relationship between the multiple wives of any tribesman: they are friends and they seem to treat each other as equal, and their husband as a child, or someone to be petted. This kinship can be seen in the relationships Celie forges in Nettie’s absence: not only Shug, but Squeak and Sofia too. They unite against their troubles and draw strength from each other; the one time Celie betrays another – Sofia – she finds she cannot sleep until she puts it right, therefore raising it in importance above everything else she has experienced.

The issues raised and covered in The Color Purple are numerous and disturbing in a strangely quiet way. This is due to the often calm way Celie speaks of domestic abuse, sexual abuse and racism, and the brief, almost clinical way Nettie mentions female genital mutilation. In the latter’s case, I almost missed the reference to it because it was so brief and vague.

Despite their initial quietness, these issue gather speed and sound the more the reader is exposed to them, but the characters are never vessels for lecture or criticism. Instead, each character retains their own point of view on each of these subjects and it is left to the reader to be horrified by what people – in this book and certain in reality – have endured, and enduring and no doubt will endure in the future.

The Color Purple is a book that makes you think, makes you feel, and makes you want to read it again for the experience. Highly recommended to all.

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