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Short Story Review: Recitatif by Toni Morrison


Title: Recitatif
Author: Toni Morrison
Year published: 1983
Category: Adult fiction (short story)
Pages: 90 pages
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location: (my 2024 Google Reading map): USA

SummaryIn this 1983 short story—the only short story Morrison ever wrote—we meet Twyla and Roberta, who have known each other since they were eight years old and spent four months together as roommates in St. Bonaventure shelter. Inseparable then, they lose touch as they grow older, only later to find each other again at a diner, a grocery store, and again at a protest. Seemingly at opposite ends of every problem, and at each other's throats each time they meet, the two women still cannot deny the deep bond their shared experience has forged between them.

Another work of genius by this masterly writer, Recitatif keeps Twyla's and Roberta's races ambiguous throughout the story. Morrison herself described Recitatif, a story which will keep readers thinking and discussing for years to come, 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." 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?

A remarkable look into what keeps us together and what keeps us apart, and how perceptions are made tangible by reality, Recitatif is a gift to readers in these changing times.

Review: I haven't read a Toni Morrison book in such a long time so when I saw this on another blogger's blog (forgive me for not remembering whose), I knew I wanted to read it. In the US, race is such an issue that to read a story about race that doesn't reveal race was too much to ignore. And wow. Morrison is just so good.

I liked that there was an essay/forward written by Zadie Smith as it gave me a lot of background on the story and things to think about while I read about Twyla and Roberta. I wonder what it would have been like to read it without Smith's thoughts in my head.

Beyond the issue of race and which girl is black and which is white (and why does it matter?), this is a story of friendship, motherhood, and shared memories. How do we remember traumatic times in our lives, how do they affect us later in life, and what happens if someone tells us something that doesn't fit with our memory?

There is a lot to think about with this short story.

Challenges for which this counts: 
  • Decolonize--short story by a BIPOC author

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