Oct 5, 2015

Beloved

by Toni Morrison

Beloved is the story of a family that escaped from slavery, crossing state lines to get away from a situation of horrible abuse. The main character, Sethe, goes through some awful things to reach freedom, and ends up in a lonely house- loosing nearly everyone she cares about- her youngest child dead, her older sons run away, her husband is missing, and the local community shuns her. I thought at first this was because her house is haunted, but it turns out there is something horrific in her past and for this all the faces turn away from her. She is only left with her daughter Denver, who was born while she was fleeing the old plantation. This daughter grew up in isolation with her in the haunted house, until two people appear on their doorstep- one Paul D, a former slave from the same plantation as Sethe, and a strange young woman who is silent about her past and where she came from. Sethe takes her in regardless, and the relationship between these four is rocky, especially because the adults are suffering through the memories of their past, struggling to find new identity as free people- how do you decide what to do, what to become, when all you've ever known is what other people forced you to be...

This book is raw, powerful, and convoluted. I had a hard time with it. Not just because the content is often difficult to read about- the characters suffer through things no one should have to endure and they don't fall down and quit but just keep on going- also because it's told in such a circular style. Constantly turning on itself, as characters remember and relive and re-explain their past, to themselves and to one another. First from one viewpoint, then another, then someone else retelling the story as it was told them by a third. I was baffled, at first, not always sure whether I was reading about the present or the past, until I saw certain events cropping up again, and realized the narrative was looping around. Each time a little more is revealed until you reach the final revelation of what it is Sethe has done, why she is so haunted, why the community avoids her. It's heartbreaking. I can't stop thinking about it.

Such a vivid narrative, and yet at the end I don't think I liked it much. Partly because I'm just not into ghost stories, but I made myself finish this one. Also there are certain things I would just rather not know. I had to shut the book for a day my insides clenched shock brain reacting: how could people do that to each other?! and this happens several times. I hope the author is exaggerating what bad situations were like for slaves in the late 1800's, but she's probably not, which is all the more terrible. Years ago I tried reading The Bluest Eye and just could not get through it. I think of two other books I read not so long ago about a similar time period and events- Cold Mountain and The Book of Negroes- they remind me of each other and they were a lot easier to read. But even though I don't personally like this book, the writing is good and I can't fault her skill. The stories she tells need to be told, but sometimes I'm not sure I want to read them.

Rating: 3/5     273 pages, 1987

more opinions:
Things Mean a Lot
I'm Lost in Books
Estellas Revenge
The Literary Omnivore
Leeswammes' Blog

3 comments:

bermudaonion said...

I'm glad to see your review because most people have raved over this book and I struggled with it too.

Trish said...

Tough reading for sure. I read this one when the movie came out (was it right after the book was published?) so I was probably 18? It was HARD. I've actually planned to listen to the book again this month for Diversiverse but I forgot how convoluted the narrative is and wonder if I can keep track of everything on audio rather than paper.

Jenny @ Reading the End said...

I agree with your feelings about this book exactly. I'm so glad Morrison wrote this book and I'm glad it exists, but reading it makes me sick to my stomach. I want to know this history of our country, and I just do better when I consume it in nonfiction form. (for whatever reason.)