A beautiful, arresting short story by Toni Morrison—the only one she ever wrote—about race and the relationships that shape us through life, with an introduction by Zadie Smith.
Twyla and Roberta have known each other since they were eight years old and spent four months together as roommates in the St. Bonaventure shelter. Inseparable at the time, they lose touch as they grow older, only to find each other later at a diner, then at a grocery store, and again at a protest. Seemingly at opposite ends of every problem, and in disagreement each time they meet, the two women still cannot deny the deep bond their shared experience has forged between them.
Written in 1980 and anthologized in a number of collections, this is the first time Recitatif is being published as a stand-alone hardcover. In the story, Twyla’s and Roberta’s races remain ambiguous. We know that one is white and one is black, but which is which? And who is right about the race of the woman the girls tormented at the orphanage?
Morrison herself described this story as “an experiment in the removal of all racial codes from a narrative about two characters of different races for whom racial identity is crucial.” Recitatif is a remarkable look into what keeps us together and what keeps us apart, and about how perceptions are made tangible by reality.
Recitatif: A Story by Toni Morrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This was perceptive. Those looking for a self-reflective book about race relations in society in comparison to what I would say is a timeless example of characterization throughout humanity will appreciate this one. Would make an excellent book club pick. Plus at less than 100 pages, will be one to add as supplement or gracious, yet rich story for anyone’s busy reading period.
I should say that with the prologue by Zadie Smith, in my version, which took up 1/2 of the book, I’d highly recommend waiting to read it after you’ve finished the story. Typically I don’t mind if the prologue has a bit of insight to offer as I begin the book. Can usually discern for my own thoughts and set others aside, but the commentary in this one was just too much going into it.
I wanted to have my own experience and usually can separate mine out unadulterated, read with fresh mind and offer up my own insight, but Smith deconstructed it so much that it was less conducive to the reading experience I wanted to have.
The commentary itself is fine, would be one I’d love to discuss further. Just inserts itself so much into what I think would be much better served in an epilogue.
It takes a deep look into the lives of two girls, growing up in both parallel yet separate circumstances and follows them through adulthood. Questions themselves and others ask as related to race identity, whether singular race, even the thought of mixed race and mixed experiences, where the human experiences become multifactorial in such a way that the ambiguity leaves the reader to view circumstances through both a broad and narrow lens.
Challenges the commitment to one thought or the other which is the beauty in this one.
I love Toni Morrison’s writing style. It reads so fresh and honest. Not always polished in rules and formal quality, but purposeful and rich in principle, conversation, experience, emotion, and allure.