[Click the cover below to check it out! If you don’t see a book cover below it’s probably ad-blocker settings]
[Apparently Morrison preferred to keep most of her book covers vague on purpose, which honestly I can appreciate]
“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 plantation where so many hideous things happened. And Sethe’s new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved. “
I’ve been continuing reading anti-racist books, as well as reading highly suggested books by black authors. [Unfortunately the anti-racist book club I was apart of predictably went silent after things ‘calmed down’ in 2020, but I was warned by my friends that are BIPOC individuals that would probably happen once white people got bored of something that doesn’t threaten them every day]
I’ve wanted to read Toni Morrison’s stuff for a long time, but when I was reading multiple suggestions for fiction books by black authors, a friend of mine noticed the lists I was looking at and immediately told me that ‘Beloved’ should be required reading for most people, but also she thought I’d especially appreciate it. So at that, I went and got myself a copy. However, she warned: ‘It’s beautiful, but one of the heaviest books you’ll ever read’ and hoo boy she wasn’t kidding.
As with a lot of my books, I both have a physical copy that I read, as well as listen to the audiobook when I’m wanting to read and get other things done at the same time. First and foremost, I love Toni’s voice. I honestly could listen to her talk all day. There’s a sad heaviness but bass musical quality to it, with a tinge of gravel at times. Highkey suggest to listen to the audiobook if audio formats are your thing.
Before proceeding, this is a CW for this book; it contains depictions of the atrocities of slavery in many of it’s forms, including torture, murder, rape, animal abuse, and child abuse.
It took me awhile to get through this book, because it is indeed heavy. That being said, it’s also one of the most beautifully written books I’ve read in a long time.
Additionally, after reading the synopsis, I thought that it was a metaphorical story of a woman haunted by the ghost of her dead baby, but quickly realized that it’s not metaphorical. This book is an actual ghost/haunting story. In fact, when I looked up to see about the movie made about it [I have yet to watch it, but I plan to] I saw a lot of discussions about how it’s often categorized within the horror genre, both because of the haunting aspect as well as gore and the brutal descriptions of the terrible abuse that many of the characters experienced while being enslaved.
I want to discuss the book in it’s entirety, spill my heart out about all of it’s plot points and characters, but at the same time I also don’t want to spoil anything about it because I think this book needs to be experienced fully by the reader. I think everyone should completely submerge themselves into this book, and go in with minimum information.
This book is raw.
It’s also been awhile since I’ve read a book that had a part in it that caused an actual physical reaction to me. As it’s slowly revealed about the situation around how Sethe’s baby girl [unnamed, but called Beloved on her headstone] and why she died, when you finally get the full truth: it’s soul-crushingly awful and sad. Each peeled layer is just worse and worse in it’s inhumanity. I had to actually close the book, set it down, and stare at it awhile as I processed the full revelation.
That’s also not to say that this book is misery porn. It may feel like that sometimes, but honestly? It doesn’t even scratch the surface of the real-life horrors it’s based on – but it’s not all about pain. Sethe and her living family do try to move on from their past abuses, but Beloved [sidenote: she isn’t just a baby the entire time] won’t have any of that and forces herself back into Sethe’s life to try and take back what was taken from her, and experience what she never got to – by any means or sacrifices necessary.
The book also explores the culture of recently-freed slaves, and how their original cultures were taken away from them. Many of the characters have fading memories of their mothers and grandmothers having a language that they no longer understand, and practices that they weren’t allowed to learn from them, as they had to completely adapt to what was taught or expected of them from their white masters. A lot of it is how they had to adapt, and how much of it was just sort of shooting in the dark of what to do after they were either freed or ran away to states where they could no longer be owned.
Related to this, there is no holding back about white people in this book. There’s only one truly ‘good’ white person in the entire book, and she’s quite the enigma and is even questionable if she actually existed or if she was a hallucination. Even some of the ‘farm owners’ that ’employed’ Sethe and her friends and family are still plantation owners, and still expect servitude while also still owning people, even if they don’t hurt the people who work for them and treat them better than most. Despite this as well, when one of them dies and the other falls ill, they bring in a horrific family member that is the ‘usual’ slave owner type, and nothing is done to stop him from whipping/hurting the people on the farm, killing, raping, forcing freed slaves back into slavery and making sure they’re sold back to states where slavery was still legal, etc. There is nothing good to be said about white people in this book, including that there are also multiple mentions of native american/indigenous american people often helping runaway slaves find their way to freedom because they too, have been terribly treated by white people. And honestly? It’s needed in this book. The atrocities are also not held back, why should their causes be given a break?
One dislike I will touch on though, is that there’s multiple mentions of bestiality in this book. All of them describing that slaves and farmhands would have sex with cows and other farm animals because they weren’t allowed to have sex with each other unless an approved pairing by their Masters, at the threat of death if they were caught with a woman. I guess it was more shocking than anything. I’m not surprised if that happened in those times, but it’s just brought up so nonchalantly that I had to re-read some parts to make sure I understand I was reading those parts correctly.
Again, there’s so much I want to say about this book. It definitely has had me thinking on it for a long time, even looking up the research that was done in it’s writing to get it as accurate to the real-life horror stories told by enslaved people as possible.
However, I want others to experience this, so I don’t want to give away a lot of plot points. As for it being ‘horror’ I can agree with it, but I wouldn’t ever call it ‘scary’ but instead horrific. I’ll also say that I personally think it’s an excellent representation of grief.
Go read it. Even if the ending of the book ends with the sentence ‘this is not a story to pass on’ – I’ll twist the meaning and say that you shouldn’t pass on it. Just… prepare your feels.
I give Beloved 5/5 Chokecherry Tree Scars
“He smelled skin, skin and hot blood. The skin was one thing, but human blood cooked in a lynch fire was a whole other thing. The stench stank. Stank up off the pages of the newspaper, out of the mouths of witnesses, etched in crooked handwriting in letters delivered by hand. Detailed in documents and petitions full of whereas and presented to any legal body that would read it. It stank.”
“Nobody loved her, and she wouldn’t have liked it if they had; for she considered love a serious disability.”
“A face too still for comfort; irises the same color as her skin, which, in that still face, used to make him think of a mask with mercifully punched out eyes. The one with the iron eyes and backbone to match. Even in the tiny shack, leaning so close to the fire you could smell the heat in her dress, her eyes did not pick up a flicker of light. They were like two wells into which he had trouble gazing. Even punched out like they needed to be covered, lidded, marked with some sign to warn folks of what that emptiness held. But what was done to her punched the glittering iron out of Sethe’s eyes, leaving two open wells that did not reflect firelight.”
“Mistaking her, upbraiding her, owing her, now he needed to let her know he knew, and to get right with her and her kin. So, in spite of his exhausted marrow, he kept on through the voices and tried once more to knock at the door. This time, although he couldn’t cipher but one word, he believed he knew who spoke them. The people of the broken necks, of fire-cooked blood and black girls who had lost their ribbons. What a roaring.”