Books: Paradise Found

The Nobel Prize changed Toni Morrison's life but not her art, as her new novel proves

After finishing her sixth novel, Jazz, published in 1992, Toni Morrison began casting about for the subject of her next book. Constant reading, a habit and passion she developed as a little girl, eventually led her to an obscure chapter in 19th century U.S. history, shortly after the Civil War: the westward emigration of former slaves into the sparsely settled territories of Oklahoma and beyond. Some found the promise of a new life in wide-open spaces, touted in numerous newspaper advertisements in the 1870s, irresistible, and a challenge besides. Morrison was struck by a caveat that often appeared in those ads:...

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