The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 288 pages
Celie is a poor black woman whose letters tell the story of 20 years of her life, beginning at age 14 when she is being abused and raped by her father and attempting to protect her sister from the same fate, and continuing over the course of her marriage to “Mister,” a brutal man who terrorizes her. Celie eventually learns that her abusive husband has been keeping her sister’s letters from her and the rage she feels, combined with an example of love and independence provided by her close friend Shug, pushes her finally toward an awakening of her creative and loving self.
Normally, I wouldn’t read a book like The Color Purple, because it’s not my usual genre. Not that I don’t read literary fiction books, but the themes of abuse and rape and all those things kind of make me squirm and feel general discomfort. I treat books as an escape from real life, so reading a book with several injustices isn’t really my priority.
But don’t get me wrong — every now and then, I read these kinds of books, too. When I do read them, I have to admit that I try to find an excuse to do so. Alice Walker’s The Color Purple was included in the list of books that we were voting for our July book discussion, and it was the one I voted for only because of the title and the other cover with the huge sunflower on it (which I really wanted for my copy, but I couldn’t find one). The book didn’t win, but we had a book buddy discussion on this (which I totally sucked at because I hardly left a comment on the thread). I ended up reading this book while I was at the beach — it felt totally inappropriate, but in a way, it’s also not. I’ll explain that in a bit.
The Color Purple is a collection of letters from a black woman named Celie to God and eventually to her sister, Nettie, covering 20 years of her life from 14 when she was being sexually and physically abused by her father, and eventually marrying an equally abusive husband she calls “Mister”. We learn of her new family, of her missing her sister and her friendship with a singer named Shug, who reveals to Celie that Mister is keeping her sister’s letters to her in an attempt to keep here where she is. The Color Purple is the story of Celie’s journey from being a victim to a survivor, from hate to love, and of family and friends and faith.
So, reading The Color Purple while I was in Boracay was interesting. Being surrounded by so much beauty and pleasure and luxury makes it hard to concentrate on what Celie was experiencing, but it was also eye-opening because somehow, reading this while on vacation kept me a bit grounded in the fact that life for other people isn’t a vacation. There’s so much pain and suffering in the first few pages of this book that it almost feels like it’s going to be a hard book to read, but Celie’s resilient personality shone through. Her letters were heartfelt and honest, and I felt myself rooting for her as the letters came.
I read in one of my friend’s reviews that it was implied in this novel that God was Celie’s most attentive listener — and I realized that I can relate to that! Every morning (or whatever time I wake up when I am on night shift), one of the first things I do is go to my room, open my Bible and pray. I used to pray only in my mind but I always end up falling asleep when I do just that, so I learned to write my prayers down in my journals. Ever since then I have filled so many journals with my prayers, and thinking back, I never felt that God had been inattentive to me in any of my entries. Though Celie somehow lost hold of her faith somewhere in the middle of the novel, there was still that lingering faith there, about how God listens and how the God she knows answered her prayer in the end. Looking back at all my entries, I realized the same was true for me — and if I read some of them there, I find that the God I know has answered my prayers. It’s not always the same way I expected, but they were answered in the best way and they were for my good.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker is a pretty powerful novel, if you don’t let the coarseness of the language and the format get to you. It had the same feel as A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly and The Nickel Plated Beauty by Patricia Beatty, only it’s more adult and possibly more touching. While it’s not the perfect beach read, it was a pretty good reminder that there is a life outside beaches and iPhones that take an unexpected bath in saltwater.
My copy: paperback, bought from Fully Booked