The Color Purple – Alice Walker
“Set in the deep American South between the wars, it is the tale of Celie, a young black girl born into poverty and segregation. Raped repeatedly by the man she calls ‘father’, she has two children taken away from her, is separated from her beloved sister Nettie and is trapped into an ugly marriage. But then she meets the glamorous Shug Avery, singer and magic-maker – a woman who has taken charge of her own destiny. Gradually Celie discovers the power and joy of her own spirit, freeing her from her past and reuniting her with those she loves.”
Written by Alice Walker, long term friend of Gloria Steinem (See my review on Gloria Steinem’s My Life on the Road here).
The Color Purple follows Celie’s amazing journey from slave and wife, to a young woman who knows her own mind and demands to be treated with respect. It takes place in the 1930’s in rural Georgia, questioning the low position of African-American women at that time.
Where to start with this book, this may be the most heartwarming book I have read in a while. Written in the form of Celie’s diary extracts and a few letters, she builds the world around her. Her writing reflects how she views the world and her simple readings of those around her add to the sometimes naive decisions she makes.
The book is written in Celie’s voice and as such, it took me a few pages to get into the swing of the book, due to the grammar and spelling of the uneducated Celie. However, once I could hear her voice the book flowed extremely well.
As a daughter, wife, mother, sister, and step-mother, Celie interacts with so many people around her. Some of the relationships are slow building, whilst others seem to burst into her life and change everything.
One example of someone who aims to change her life is Shug Avery. A bold character who doesn’t hold back, she enters the book and brings light and colour to Celie’s world. The reaction and how people view Shug is interesting as she is vibrant and independent in a time that couldn’t understand it.
Considering the time period of the book, it plays host to a multiple of strong female characters. Questioning and unashamed of their beliefs, they push back against the norm.
Whilst the book is very much about Celie blossoming into a free thinking lady, it seems to be more about her relationship with God. I found that through questioning the world around her she starts to question God, or rather the notion of God as presented to her.
The book has been repeatedly banned and is number 17 on the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009. Its honest account of violence and sex of the time is often called into question by censors.
I couldn’t put this book down as it is so beautiful, the novel has been adapted into both a film and musical. I will quite likely watch the film and see how it holds up against the book.
Read as part of the Our Shared Shelf bookclub.