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Extended Audio Sample Tar Baby, by Toni Morrison Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (8,073 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Toni Morrison Narrator: Alfre Woodard Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Abridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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The author of Song of Solomon now sets her extraordinary novelistic powers on a striking new course. Tar Baby, audacious and hypnotic, is masterful in its mingling of tones--of longing and alarm, of urbanity and a primal, mythic force in which the landscape itself becomes animate, alive with a wild, dark complicity in the fates of the people whose drama unfolds. It is a novel suffused with a tense and passionate inquiry, revealing a whole spectrum of emotions underlying the relationships between black men and women, white men and women, and black and white people.

The place is a Caribbean island. In their mansion overlooking the sea, the cultivated millionaire Valerian Street, now retired, and his pretty, younger wife, Margaret, go through rituals of living, as if in a trance. It is the black servant couple, who have been with the Streets for years--the fastidious butler, Sydney, and his strong yet remote wife--who have arranged every detail of existence to create a surface calm broken only by sudden bursts of verbal sparring between Valerian and his wife. And there is a visitor among them--a beautiful young black woman, Jadine, who is not only the servant's dazzling niece, but the protegée and friend of the Streets themselves; Jadine, who has been educated at the Sorbonne at Valerian's expense and is home now for a respite from her Paris world of fashion, film and art.

Through a season of untroubled ease, the lives of these five move with a ritualized grace until, one night, a ragged, starving black American street man breaks into the house. And, in a single moment, with Valerian's perverse decision not to call for help but instead to invite the man to sit with them and eat, everything changes. Valerian moves toward a larger abdication. Margaret's delicate and enduring deception is shattered. The butler and his wife are forced into acknowledging their illusions. And Jadine, who at first is repelled by the intruder, finds herself moving inexorably toward him--he calls himself Son; he is a kind of black man she has dreaded since childhood; uneducated, violent, contemptuous of her privilege. 

As Jadine and Son come together in the loving collision they have both welcomed and feared, the novel moves outward--to the Florida backwater town Son was raised in, fled from, yet cherishes; to her sleek New York; then back to the island people and their protective and entangling legends. As the lovers strive to hold and understand each other, as they experience the awful weight of the separate worlds that have formed them--she perceiving his vision of reality and of love as inimical to her freedom, he perceiving her as the classic lure, the tar baby set out to entrap him--all the mysterious elements, all the highly charged threads of the story converge. Everything that is at risk is made clear: how the conflicts and dramas wrought by social and cultural circumstances must ultimately be played out in the realm of the heart.

Once again, Toni Morrison has given us a novel of daring, fascination, and power.

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Quotes & Awards

  • Tar Baby is stupendous. Morrison is a writer of amazing skill. Roanoke Times & World
  • “Reminds us again that Toni Morrison is one of the finest writers in America today. Louisville Courier-Journal
  • “Powerful. . . . A stunning performance. . . . Morrison is one of the most exciting living American writers. Kansas City Star
  • “It takes one to the sheer edge of human relationships. Vogue
  • “Hypnotic, stunningly alive. The San Diego Union-Tribune
  • “That rare commodity, a truly public novel. . . . Morrison’s genius lies in her uncanny ability to immerse you totally in the world she creates. Newsweek
  • Deeply perceptive. . . . Return[s] risk and mischief to the contemporary American novel. John Irving, The New York Times Book Review
  • “Toni Morrison has made herself into the D. H. Lawrence of the black psyche, transforming individuals into forces, idiosyncrasy into inevitability. New York
  • “Arresting images, fierce intelligence, poetic language . . . One becomes entranced by Toni Morrison’s story. The Washington Post
  • “Wrenchingly good. A terrific book. The Philadelphia Inquirer
  • “Its scope is grand and the interplay complex. But Morrison has the control of a skilled choreographer, with a careful eye pinned on pacing, suspense, grace, and frenzy. . . . She has an awesome lyric flair. The Charlotte Observer
  • “Wise, beautiful, astonishing, absolutely breathtaking. St. Louis Globe-Democrat

Listener Opinions

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by Mark | 2/19/2014

    " An extremely well-written book. This reminds me of Faulkner at his best, and Cormac McCarthy at his best, but of course she has her unique style that stands alone. I was awed by this book, and now I plan to read the rest of her novels. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Amelia | 2/17/2014

    " Morrison takes the reader very skillfully through issues of post-colonialism and two different views of race relations in the US without ever really coming to an answer-- but she definitely gives the reader a lot to think about. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Valerie | 2/4/2014

    " To write this off as a romance novel does not do justice to Morrison's intricate study of the complex and delicate relationships between and among people. In this tale, Morrison deftly and inextricably weaves emotion into landscape - the point of view flows seamlessly from person to place to animal to create the space in which all three interact, dream, yearn, and ultimately fail to understand one another. Ghosts lurk in the corners of rooms and minds and islands; history weighs heavily on conscience, hand, and mind. In all this is a painfully human and real depiction of relationships, yet beautiful and touching in its loss and sadness, and in its acknowledgement that conflict between people is rarely ever as simple as black or white. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Vern | 1/28/2014

    " Toni captured love, race, and class all in one novel. "

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