Sunday, October 26, 2008

Book Review: Beloved

Title: Beloved
Author: Toni Morrison
Genre: Literary Fiction
Rating: A+

Summary (from Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby. Sethe, its protagonist, 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 farm 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. Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement.

Review: How does one review Beloved in this day and age without sounding pompous? This book was originally published in 1987 and has been reviewed by many who are more scholarly and well-read critics than I claim to be. However, I'll do my best to extol the virtues of this modern classic.

Clearly, Beloved is a wonderful work, enduring and being loved by readers still 20 years later. In her classic, lyrical style, Morrison brings the story of Sethe to life, and creates vivid supporting characters (Paul D, Denver, Baby Suggs, and Stamp Paid were all loved by me) and their stories are unique and deep. Morrison has a way of telling a story and lulling you along so that, even when you don't completely understand because the story is anachronistic to your life as a young white woman in Indianapolis in the new millennium, you follow her where ever she leads you. You can feel with the characters, feel their physical experiences but also understand the motivations of their actions as they struggle to understand what it means to be a man or to be free or to love so thick that you're willing to kill.

Beloved is a master class in symbolism. If you're wondering which book you should read to see if you really get how great authors tell a story without coming right out and telling you what to think, then pick up Beloved. You'll understand the significance of the four horseman, why Sethe had to cross a river to get to freedom, how Paul D isn't really talking about eating corn when he remembers Sethe's first time with Halle, you'll see that Paul D's sex with Beloved isn't really about sex, and you'll wonder whether Beloved is Jesus Christ or Satan personified, or both. By the end you'll understand that, although the book is about a woman's life after slavery, it's really about so much more than that period in our nation's history.

The content and themes of Beloved are clearly mature, but (as the intended audience is adults) this is a book that everyone must read. I would attest that one cannot consider themselves a lover of literature if they haven't read this book. Parts will make you cringe and others will make you want to stop reading, but the ends of this book truly justify the means (which is more than can be said for slavery). That being said, this book easily earned an A+ rating.

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