The Ways of Love


According to the Wiki, Jazz, by Toni Morrison, is a tale of purgatory and jazz. I say it is a tale of love that moves to a jazz beat. Listen to Morrison describe a world in which love makes itself known to be a necessary thing:

It is terrible when there is absolutely nothing to do or worth doing except to lie down and hope when you are naked she won’t laugh at you. Or that he, holding your breasts, won’t wish they were some other way. Terrible but worth the risk, because there is no other thing to do, although, being seventeen, you do it. Study, work, memorize. Bite into food and the reputations of your friends. Laugh at the things that are right side up and those that are upside-down—it doesn’t matter because you are not doing the thing worth doing which is lying down somewhere in a dimly lit place enclosed in arms, and supported by the core of the world.

There is a murder and a touch of revenge, an abandoned child, a feral mother, and two women who find a reluctant reconciliation. And in the language is the thrum of bare feet in the cotton fields and the snaky invitation of a saxophone Harlem night.

The narrator’s voice is that of an anonymous observer, an interested spectator, someone who watches from a window or the lamp post on the corner, speculating on her neighbors, and writing down the history she imagines for them.

But in the end, she confesses:

I believed I saw everything important they did, and based on what I saw I could imagine what I didn’t; how exotic they were, how driven. Like dangerous children. That’s what I wanted to believe. It never occurred to me that they were thinking other thoughts, feeling other feelings, putting their lives together in ways I never dreamed of.

This is what a novelist does, and what a novelist (and a reader) must always realize. We never know the whole story, even of characters we think we make up. Who knows what else they’re thinking.

My reading of Jazz is that every character, no matter how lonely, is completely in love, in one way or another. And love is what redeems them. Of course.


Again, the Wiki insists that Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid, is a novel about emigration and refugee problems, and it is, but it is also a love story. Love of country. Love of family. Love, because with love comes a longing to connect.

Yes, there are those mysterious doors through which one can “Exit West.” No one in this book need fear death by drowning in overfilled boats. Yes, there is bombing and people, even loved ones, are killed. And yes, there is resentment on the other side of those magical doors. But what keeps this little novel together is love.

Here is main character Saeed, for whom praying becomes more important on the other side of the door than it ever was at home.

…he prayed fundamentally as a gesture of love for what had gone and would go and could be loved in no other way. When he prayed he touched his parents, who could not otherwise be touched, and he touched a feeling that we are all children who lose our parents, all of us, every man and woman and boy and girl, and we too will all be lost by those who come after us and love us, and this loss unites humanity, unites every human being, the temporary nature of our being-ness, and our shared sorrow, the heartache we each carry and yet too often refuse to acknowledge in one another, and out of this Saeed felt it might be possible, in the face of death, to believe in humanity’s potential for building a better world …

Exit West is, in some ways, more poem than novel. Two people traveling through a world not of their making learning to love along the way.