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Tar Baby  By  cover art

Tar Baby

By: Toni Morrison
Narrated by: Alfre Woodard
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Publisher's summary

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.

©1981 Toni Morrison (P)2003 Random House, Inc. Random House Audio, a division of Random House, Inc.

Critic reviews

“Deeply perceptive. . . . Return[s] risk and mischief to the contemporary American novel.” —John Irving, The New York Times Book Review 

“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

Featured Article: 85+ Toni Morrison Quotes on Life, Love, Freedom, and Hardships


The first African American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, Toni Morrison, who passed away on August 5, 2019, left behind a legacy of wisdom in her novels and essays. Her work explores topics like human nature, happiness, love, and enduring hardships, but also delves into the subject of freedom and what that has meant for African Americans. These quotes will get you through tough times, inspire you to look at yourself, and much more.

What listeners say about Tar Baby

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Son Finding

Mysterious. One of the most hidden agenda’s In Morrison’s works. Racism, reverse misogyny, romance, physical abuse and the kitchen sink. My kind of story. Afro centric! Who else says lickity split?

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Hard to Read...Great to Hear!

I've owned a hard copy of this book for years and have tried to read it several times to no avail. I found Ms. Morrison's writing style difficult to follow and the vernacular of the characters was nearly impossible to follow. I finally purchased this audio book and I'm super glad I did! What a fantastic story!! Ms. Woodard was the perfect narrator and she, as well as the subject matter, kept me mesmerized to the very end. I've recommended this title to several friends just so we could revel in the experience together when they were done and debate the ending. Very happy with this purchase...thanks, Audible.

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Disappointing

I'm an avid admirer of Toni Morrison's work and have absolutely loved all of the previous books by her that I have read. This book was absolutely boring. It took months to force myself to listen to it. Some of the subplots were very undeveloped and led nowhere, just hanging there like untied threads. Basically, everyone just seemed underdeveloped and the book as a whole lacked the depth and character I have come to expect from Ms. Morrison.

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I love Toni’s books!

Another great listen! I’m making my way through all Toni Morrison’s books and I’m glad to have listened to this one.

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Love

Love - Miss Toni & Miss Alfre are dear friends of mine in the higher intelligence of my mind.

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Great Book!

Would you listen to Tar Baby again? Why?

Yes. To get a better understanding of the characters of the book

What other book might you compare Tar Baby to and why?

The Darkest Child by Delores Philips. Though the stories are different a couple of the characters from each books remind me of each other.

What about Alfre Woodard’s performance did you like?

Her portrayal of each character, how she changes her voice for each one. She never missed a beat the story continued to flow and you knew who the character was by the change of her voice. Great Performance by her, Ms Woodard was the reason I purchased the audio book, one of my favorite actors.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

The secret the cook had kept about the lady of the house.

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Classic

This was a good listen, slightly difficult to follow at times, however overall it is a classic.

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Not sure how I feel about this one...

I really like Toni Morrison’s works, but this one felt a little hollow, like it wasn’t fully flushed out. There wasn’t the same sweeping poetry of her other works or the complexity of characters. Alfie Woodard, as the narrator, was an absolute wonder but Tar Baby left me wanting so much more.

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