The Color Purple by Alice Walker
This powerful book begins with a harrowing rape scene, describes an utterly downtrodden life, and then brings us through the slow process of rebirth, reawakening, and empowerment. The domestic violence makes it hard to read at times, but by the end I was very glad I’d stuck it out. It’s gratifying to see Celie’s life gradually getting better as she watches those around her grow, and especially as she’s inspired by her friend and lover Shug Avery. It’s a very compassionate novel: even the characters that seemed horrible are reformed and forgiven by the end. There are some didactic moments, some explicit religious/spiritual teachings that I found inelegant but sensible.
It’s a voice-driven novel with obvious inspiration from Zora Neale Hurston: Celie’s dialect is full of ‘incorrect’ language, but the overwhelming impression is one of forthright honesty. I listened to an audiobook recorded by the author, and it was marvelous. Walker made the dialect seem more natural and intelligible than it might have in my head. This is definitely one of those books that is even better when read aloud.