why am I reading this?
I did not want to read this book. I have known about this book for years and come to know its meaning and reputation. I have also come to know its opening pages, the words rolling on the tongue. Child abuse. Molestation. Exploitation. Incest. I know it happens and it should be talked about to remove the stigma around it, but I cannot say that I enjoyed reading the fragmented grammar of a 14 year old asking God to explain what is happening to her. I was angry, I was frustrated and I wanted to throw the book against the wall.
But then there was this amazing story that needed to be told. There were words that communicated complex emotions in simple terms and raw images that were boldly put in black and white. This is one the books where I was not counting pages until the end or that I had to actively make time for. This one stood proudly, uncompromisingly, not caring if someone read it or not. Because essentially it is not meant to be read. An epistolary novel is a form that I very much enjoy because it’s like getting to read someone’s diary without them knowing. I keep a diary – on and off – and it feels very natural to me to write when I feel emotional and need to have an outlet. As mentioned several times in the novel, there is not always a direct recipient to your text but that is not the point. It is about lifting weight from your shoulders. Obviously time is weird in this kind of writing. There are gaps and time is never stated and you have to work to fill the picture with the pieces you are given. The fragmented image may even prove to be more interesting than the clean, whole image you were after.
different ways to live
Shug and Sofia are women I wish I could be like. They find a way to live their lives in their way without sacrificing parts of themselves. Sofia will not take Harpo’s abuse even though everything around her announces that she should. Sofia’s story is a story of fighting to live with dignity in a world that will not allow you to do that. With the domestic violence, the jail time, her children calling someone else ‘mama’, there is no room for weakness. Her inner strenght and realisation that this is who I am and I want to live my life this way are qualities I wish I had and that I admire in her. The depiction of a woman in that time who will not take abuse from her husband and will actually, physically fight back – because she has no other option – is crucial because it shows how strong women have always been, not matter what history books may sometimes say.
Shug lives in between the traditional roles of men and women and challenges the idea of monogamy. She is the ‘bad woman’ in many ways but she lives with so much respect for herself and other people around her that the public opinion ceases to matter. It is interesting how she hops between relationships and gender roles so effortlessly. She makes the whole process throughout the book seem so easy that it is almost questionable. Is it her looks? Is it her sexiness? What is it in her that allows this difference in behaviour and makes it okay for her to live the way she does? Mr. ___ listens to her and even tries on her dress (totally made my day!) because he loves her. Relationships in general in the novel are not so traditional and marriage is not always monogamous union of two people. People have to find ways to live the life they want to in a situation that will not allow certain freedoms: women have to marry and have children, yet they are also people with dreams and goals and those have to be met as well.
the life that you have lived has shown me how to survive. You don’t wallow. You don’t overthink the past. You stay alive.
You have shown me that love can be found in the most unlikely places and unexpected times. You have taught me about letting go; letting the past stay in the past and to accept changes as they come.
I have marked the place in the book where you finally voice your decision to leave with Shug. You finally make a stand – a visible one – and start taking control of your own life. Your life becomes more than just surviving, you actually start living. You start making pants – beautiful symbolism there by the way – and one pair after another you create the new pattern of your life.
I am glad you had Shug. It is impossible to survive without love and with your history it only makes sense that you would find love in an unconventional way. It is not so much about Shug being a woman but more about the fact that you finally got to choose for yourself. You found a person who encourages, respects and listens to you. That is more important than gender.
Thank you for letting me read your story.
– Jatta –