Beloved by Toni Morrison

BelovedFinished 7-18-12, rating 5/5, literature, 324 pages, pub. 1987

In Ohio seasons are theatrical.  Each one enters like a prima donna, convinced its performance is the reason the world has people in it. (p.136)

This is my fifth stop on my summer Ohio tour.  Toni Morrison was born in Ohio and this Pulitzer Prize winning novel takes place in Cincinnati.    I chose to read this because it was on my shelf, it was an Ohio book, and I could participate in Molly’s The Classic Bribe 2012.  Molly over at Quirky Girls Read is hosting this challenge to read a classic this summer.  If you do you can enter to win a $35 Amazon gift card.  Since I loved this book this challenge was a win-win for me.

This is the story of Sethe and the many people in her life.  Raised as a slave, she escaped with her children to Cincinnati where her mother-in-law was waiting and they all waited for Halle, Sethe’s husband and Baby Suggs son.  One day, Paul D from Sweet Home, came knocking at the door and brought with him unwelcome news. The story actually takes place in the years after the Civil War, but the flashbacks cover the years of slavery in the south.

I didn’t know anything before I started and I think the less you know the better.  This story about the black experience is told so perfectly as the many layers and years are slowly revealed.  All of the characters have their own story and their own contribution to the overall narrative.  A narrative that I loved.  Some was told in stream of consciousness that only enhanced the otherworldly quality of the book, a much-needed offset to the ugly subjects of slavery, bestiality, rape, torture and worse.

Sethe was my least favorite character and while that would normally doom a book for me in this case it didn’t.  The story revolved around Sethe, but it was the story of everyone around her too.  Baby Suggs, Denver, Paul D and others all contributed their experiences to the captivating tapestry.

I loved the prose and found it so rich and vivid that I only wanted to take my time reading it.  This is not one to rush through.  The story got off to a bit of a slow start, but the writing was so poetic that I didn’t care.  For me, it was a beautifully told story of heartbreak and triumph and I am so glad that I read it.  My words cannot do this book justice, so I’ll have to rely on Morrison herself.

Paul D had only begun, what he was telling her was only the beginning when her fingers on his knee, soft and reassuring, stopped him.  Just as well.  Just as well.  Saying more might push them both to a place they couldn’t get back from.  He would keep the rest where it belonged: in that tobacco tin buried in his chest where a red heart used to be.  Its lid rusted shut.  He would not pry it loose now in front of this sweet sturdy woman, for if she got a whiff of the contents it would shame him.  (p. 86)

Whitepeople believed that whatever the manners, under every dark skin was a jungle.  Swift unnavigable waters, swinging screaming baboons, sleeping snakes, red gums ready for their sweet white blood.  In a way, he thought, they were right.  The more coloredpeople spent their strength trying to convince them how gentle they were, how clever and loving, how human, the more they used themselves up to persuade white of something Negroes believed could not be questioned, the deeper and more tangled the jungle grew inside.  (p.234)

“A man ain’t nothing but a man,” said Baby Suggs.  “But a son?  Well now, that’s somebody.”  (p.27)  In honor of my Gage 🙂