BELOVED| Toni Morrison
06.08.04 (First published 09.1987) | Vintage
Rating: 5/5 stars
Sethe was born a slave. Born into a life where her own mother did not nurse her. Born into a life she knew one day she would need to escape. Eighteen years have passed since the day she decided to run away from Sweet Home to a life of freedom in Ohio. Despite no longer being held captive, she cannot escape the memories, actions, and decisions she has had to make over the years to give her children the chance at a better life. Living in a home haunted by the spirit of a daughter she had to sacrifice, Sethe cannot avoid her troubles. When a girl shows up on her doorstep calling herself Beloved, Sethe thinks she has finally found the path to leaving behind a terrible secret she has held close.
I first read BELOVED in college during a class that focused on the African diaspora. I was blown away then and years later I find myself swept into the emotional glimpse into Sethe’s life. This is truly an unforgettable book that remains with the reader long after they turn the last page.
Morrison chooses to tell the story of BELOVED through a limited cast of narrators. The reader is led through the story beside Sethe, her daughter Denver, and Paul D., who was a slave at Sweet Home with Sethe. Each narration demonstrates for the reader the various impacts slavery has had on the Black community and their ancestors. The detrimental and lasting effects of being treated so inhumanely radiates off of the pages in each personal reaction and those that are passed down generationally.
BELOVED is written using a stream of consciousness style, which allows the reader to truly feel transported into the minds of our narrators. Lack of punctuation at points and different formatting methods will likely be off-putting to some readers. I think it’s important to walk into this book knowing that this book is not written in a cut and dry manner, but in a way that mimics how people process emotions and information internally.
Another formatting nuance I think it’s important to talk about is that time is treated as a fluid concept throughout BELOVED. These days readers are used to time shifts being spelled out for us in the use of chapter or page breaks. Morrison does not follow this style. Often the story weaves back and forth between a character’s life similar to how someone tells a story and fluctuates back and forth as they remember events linked to the story from the past. It takes a bit of time to get used to, but I think that it’s incredibly important for the reader to connect with the characters.
The content of BELOVED is dark and there are many traumatic and sometimes violent events discussed throughout the text. It’s important to embrace that these are examples of some of the very real crimes that happened to slaves. This text is incredibly important and despite being a work of fiction, the message is very much a reflection on real events from America’s past. Take this one slowly and embrace everything that Morrison has to offer within these pages.
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