Toni Morrison Jazz

ISBN 13: 9780452269651

Jazz

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Set in Harlem in the 1920s, this novel chronicles a bittersweet triangle involving a middle-aged door-to-door salesman, his mentally unstable wife, and his eighteen-year-old girlfriend. By the author of Beloved. Reprint. 150,000 first printing.

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Review:

Jazz embraces the vibrant music and lifestyle of 1920s Harlem, an urban renaissance of opportunity and glamour. A novel of murder, hard lives, and broken dreams, Jazz sways with a lyric medley of voices and human consciousness.

Narrated by the author, Toni Morrison, this is an intense but gratifying three hours of tape. Background jazz music enhances the feel of '20s Harlem, a city that attracted thousands of black southerners hoping for better lives. Joe Trace and his wife Violet were part of this migration; madly in love with each other and the idea of this urban mecca, they "traindanced into the city." But like so many of the marriages in Morrison's novels, this union crumbles, and the dreams for a better life fade away. Joe finds another, a love "that made him so sad and happy he shot her just to keep the feeling going."

In Jazz, time ebbs and flows like human memory, traversing between recollections of the past and expectations for the future; likewise, jazz music is often wild and chaotic. Here Morrison once again exemplifies herself as both a superb writer and a masterful storyteller.

From the Inside Flap:

In the afterglow of a clean triumph--her widely celebrated, Pulitzer Prize-winning best-seller, Beloved--Toni Morrison moves to even higher ground. This, her eagerly awaited new novel, Jazz, is spellbinding for the haunting passion of its profound love story, and for the bittersweet lyricism and refined sensuality of its powerful and elegant style.

It is winter, barely three days into 1926, seven years after Armistice; we are in the scintillating City, around Lenox Avenue, "when all the wars are over and there will never be another one...At last, at last, everything's ahead...Here comes the new. Look out. There goes the sad stuff. The bad stuff. The things-nobody-could-help stuff." But amid the euphoric decisiveness, a tragedy ensues among people who had train-danced into the City, from points south and west, in search of promise.

Joe Trace--in his fifties, door-to-door salesman of Cleopatra beauty products, erstwhile devoted husband--shoots to death his lover of three months, impetuous, eighteen-year-old Dorcas ("Everything was like a picture show to her"). At the funeral, his determined, hard-working wife, Violet, herself a hairdresser--who is given to stumbling into dark mental cracks, and who talks mostly to birds--tries with a knife to disfigure the corpse.

In a dazzling act of jazz-like improvisation, moving seamlessly in and out of past, present, and future, a mysterious voice--whose identity is a matter of each reader's imagination--weaves this brilliant fiction, at the same time showing how its blues are informed by the brutal exigencies of slavery. Richly combining history, legend, reminiscence, this voice captures as never before the ineffable mood, the complex humanity, of black urban life at a moment in our century we assumed we understood.

Jazz is an unprecedented and astonishing invention, a landmark on the American literary landscape--a novel unforgettable and for all time.

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Toni Morrison
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