Jul 8, 2007

Beloved by Toni Morrison

You protected yourself and loved small. Picked the tiniest stars out of the sky to own; lay down with head twisted in order to see the rim of the trench before you slept. Stole shy glances at her between the trees at chain-up. Grass blades, salamanders, spiders, woodpeckers, beetles, a kingdom of ants. Anything bigger wouldn’t do. A woman, a child, a brother – a big love like that would split you wide open in Alfred, Georgia.
Toni Morrison’s Beloved takes place some years after the end of the American Civil War, and it follows the lives of mainly two ex-slaves, Sethe and Paul D., who escaped from a plantation named Sweet Home.

This book is based on the true story of the slave Margaret Garner, and I don’t recommend doing what I did, which is looking the story up before reading the novel. While this knowledge will help one make sense of things at first, it also spoils one of the best things about this novel, which is the way in which things are slowly revealed.

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that slavery was terrible. And yet “slavery was terrible” can easily become a cold, abstract fact. The horrors that are described in this novel force us to break down that fact until it no longer is cold or abstract. We need books like this to go from knowing to understanding just how terrible slavery was.

The things the characters in this book go through are beyond horrific. They are beyond most of our worse nightmares. The way Toni Morrison describes these horrors, however, is not always by giving us the straight facts. The picture she paints is diffuse, and it comes into focus gradually. We often get a character’s emotional reaction to the facts before we get the facts themselves. There is a dream-like, blurry quality to Morrison’s writing.

Beloved is a historical novel and a ghost story at the same time. It’s also one of the heaviest books I’ve read in my life. The things we gradually learn throughout the book – who Beloved is, what Sethe did, how and why – are unimaginable, and yet Toni Morrison enables us to imagine the sort of despair that could be behind something like that.

This is an uncomfortable book to read, but, exactly for that reason, a necessary book. We need books like this to keep history from becoming cold and abstract.

Other Blog Reviews:
Rhinoa's Ramblings
The Inside Cover
Desert Rose Booklogue
Rebecca Reads


  1. Great review, Nymeth! I recently acquired a copy of this one after finishing Morrison's Sula. Your review makes me even more sure Beloved is a must read.

    On a side note, I awarded you the Rockin' Girl Blogger award. You don't have to tag anyone for it if you don't want to, but I at least wanted to share your wonderful blog with others. :-)

  2. I've heard often that Morrison can be difficult to read, as her prose is a little "stylistic" - did you feel that way?

    It's about time I make time for Toni Morrison.

    Thanks for posting this review.

  3. That's a wonderful review of a beautiful, and powerfully emotional book. It's one that will haunt you for a long time.

  4. I am really looking forward to reading this (it is very near the top of my pile!). I have found reading uncomfortable books to be very worth while (Lolita, 1984, Lord of the Flies) although unsettling. Will be interesting to compare our thoughts.

  5. Literary Feline: Thank you! I really think this one is a must-read. I will be reading Sula as my next Toni Morrison because of your review. And thank you again for the award :)

    Dark Orpheus: I can see why people say that, but, even though it was... blurry at times, I didn't find her writing difficult to read. She's definitely not a straight-to-the-point kind of author, but she's not one of those that give you a headache either.

    Robin: Thank you. I definitely think it will haunt me.

    Rhinoa: It was unsettling, but definitely worth it. You have reminded me that I have yet to read Lolita and Lord of the Flies!

  6. You really should try and fit them in Nymeth. I read both of them for the first time this year and they are both fantastic. Lolita was possibly the best written book I have ever read.

  7. I'll try by best to fit them in. Lolita in particular I've wanted to read for years, and even more-so now after your recommendation.

  8. I agree with your last sentence.

  9. It has been a while since I read anything by Toni Morrison, but Beloved is a book that remains deeply imprinted on my memory.

    Literary Feline mentions Sula - that was a favourite of mine for a long time.

  10. I struggled a little with this book, but it kept me gripped. Great review.

  11. I linked to your review :)

    here is mine

  12. I just read this one myself and found your review through DeSeRt RoSe. I agree that it is an uncomfortable but necessary read. I found her writing style hard to follow, but she made up for it in depth. :)

  13. First, can I say I lvoe that cover?! If I could find that cover, I'd go out and buy it. And I never buy books.

    Oh, why do I love this book so much? I tihnk you captured it: the slowly unfolding story. It's incredibly painful, but it's so real, and like you say, I think that is why it is necessary. "Slavery" didn't just end with the Civil War. The "ghosts" kept on haunting the people and the generations that "survived."


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.