Official Synopsis from Goodreads: Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby.
Sethe was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. Her new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.
Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement by Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison.
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Magical Realism, Classic
Setting: 1873-1874 Ohio (a bit outside of Cincinnati)
My Copy Came From: I purchased a used paperback from a local library book sale.
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Review: Stunning, painful, and heart wrenching. Beloved is a true classic, one that inspires conversation and feeling.
I got a tree on my back and a haint in my house, and nothing in between but the daughter I am holding in my arms. No more running—from nothing. I will never run from another thing on this earth. I took one journey and I paid for the ticket, but let me tell you something, Paul D Garner: it cost too much! Do you hear me? It cost too much. Now sit down and eat with us or leave us be.
Telling the story of Sethe, a former slave who escaped to Ohio, Beloved is an intense tale of love, survival, and strength. Set after the Civil War, Sethe is living in a house that she feels is haunted by the ghost of Beloved, her baby daughter who died. A little ways into the book, a woman calling herself Beloved appears, and Sethe comes to believe that this woman is her child all grown up. There are many meanings here, as Beloved appears when Sethe finally decides to let her teenage daughter, Denver, go out of the house, and Sethe begins to feel a small bit of romantic happiness with an old friend, Paul D.
Sethe, if I’m here with you, with Denver, you can go anywhere you want. Jump, if you want to, ‘cause I’ll catch you, girl. I’ll catch you ‘fore you fall. Go as far inside as you need to, I’ll hold your ankles. Make sure you get back out. I’m not saying this because I need a place to stay. That’s the last thing I need. I told you, I’m a walking man, but I been heading in this direction for seven years. Walking all around this place. Upstate, downstate, east, west; I been in territory ain’t got no name, never staying nowhere long. But when I got here and sat out there on the porch, waiting for you, well, I knew it wasn’t the place I was heading toward; it was you. We can make a life, girl. A life.
Is Beloved a real person, or just a figment of Sethe’s imagination? Has Sethe finally gone “crazy” as she so desperately wants? I never figured out for sure if Beloved was a real person or an apparition, but I tend to lean towards her being an apparition, due to the nature of the story, the ending, and the timing of Beloved’s appearance.
I can’t talk about Beloved without talking about the elegance and sheer perfection of the writing. Toni Morrison is sparse, but detailed, as she puts just enough on the page to let one’s imagination roam. The subject matter is intense and graphic, and I had to set the book aside many times, as it was so intense. The pain and injustice of slavery, the agony of the characters, and the anguish is prevalent throughout. This is an exceedingly disturbing book, and it’s the reality of the book’s message that makes it so disturbing. There is real pain and sadness here that goes beyond the book.
Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another.
In terms of the characters, Sethe was a fascinating character full of turmoil and strength. I instantly felt her pain when I started to read. Her daughter, Denver, who has been kept inside for years, was frustrating for me to read. I wanted to like her, and I did end up liking her more at the end of the book. Paul D, a man from Sethe’s past who arrives, was a character I also liked. His story is harrowing and raw, and while he made some aggravating decisions here, he also had some very nice moments. I love characters that make me feel more than “oh they were just fine”, and ones that change throughout the course of a novel. I think Morrison’s characterization was excellent here, and the characters are now forever in my head they are so memorable. Sethe especially.
I couldn’t lay down nowhere in peace, back then. Now I can. I can sleep like the drowned, have mercy. She come back to me, my daughter, and she is mine.
Beloved is a book not to be missed, as it is truly a work of art, and while Beloved may make people uncomfortable, and it may not be a book that everyone can stomach, it is an important read about the trauma of slavery. Beloved is truly a must read.
Bottom Line: Well deserving of every award and the title of a modern classic.
LINKS ***the Amazon link is an affiliate link which means I receive a small commission if you click the link and make a purchase***