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Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Review: Recitatif by Toni Morrison

by Toni Morrison
Narrated by Bahni Turpin
Intro Narrated by Zadie Smith

Thanks to PRH Audio for this gifted audiobook.

Publisher: Random House Audio
Publish Date: February 1, 2022 (first published 1983)
1 hour 53 minutes
Genres: Short Stories, Literary Fiction

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.

My Review:

Let me just start by kicking myself for never reading Morrison before now. I know, I KNOW!  Zadie Smith narrates the introduction to this short story and her voice is butter - I could listen to her ALL DAY LONG.  So very soothing.  Which led to how it was a little jarring when Bahni's voice came over my ear buds because I felt like I was almost in a trance from listening to Zadie!  Both are amazing narrators though (and yes, I still need to read Zadie too!). Anyhow.....

There's so much to be said about this short story.  You know there are two girls who meet at the age of 8.  You know one is Black and the other is White.  But you never know which one is which.  Roberta and Twyla.  At odds with each other from the very beginning and yet someone strongly bonded to each other. As a reader, did I find myself trying to figure out who was who?  I surely did but I wonder had I not read the synopsis or listened to Zadie's essay, would I have?  Probably... but can't say that 100%.  However, I find myself still marveling at how genius Morrison was in writing a short story in a way that leads you wondering.  It's a testament in how incredibly talented she is but also shows us, the reader, that while we all have our differences, at the core we are all just human.

If you haven't already read this, take a moment to do so.  I need to run and pick up some Toni and Zadie reads now - any recommendations?


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