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May 15, 2012
In late April, the White House announced this year's recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor the United States government can bestow upon civilians. The 13 men and women recognized by President Barack Obama for their "especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors" include America's only living winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Toni Morrison.
The timing of the award is auspicious: Morrison has just published a new short novel, Home, that delivers an emotionally gripping story in the space that some bigger books take just to get started. Morrison writes about Frank Money, an African-American veteran of the Korean War suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as he makes his way from Seattle back home to Georgia, where his younger sister, abandoned by a callous husband, has fallen into life-threatening danger. The scenes describing Frank's journey across 1950s America, a black man traveling alone, relying upon the goodness of strangers, are especially powerful, laying out an entire society in just a few encounters.
But so are the passages in which Frank wrests control of his story from the author, challenging the characterization of his emotions and ultimately forcing Home into some of its most uncomfortable places. "You can keep on writing," Frank tells the narrator, "but I think you ought to know what's true." You'll probably be able to read this book in an hour or so--but its Character Approved message of the possibility of recovery, even from the worst life has to offer, will resonate for much longer.
[Image: Michael Lionstar]