What do you say what you’ve got (nearly) nothing to say? Right now I just want to put this book back on the shelf and I can’t – not until I write something, anything, about it.
It’s not that I didn’t like it; it’s just that any half-decent pseudo-review should have more context than I can offer. I was pleasantly surprised by Toni Morrison’s prose (first time reader) – she’s precise, economical in her use of language and she creates very visual, visceral scenes. But the world she chose for this book – the American South and slavery – is unfamiliar territory for me. I do know some history😉 but the last novel I read that dealt with the subject was Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I was 12 at the time and Beloved is in a whole different class.
I like the foreword in which Ms. Morrison recounts how this book came to be – and the knowledge that it’s based on a real story makes the novel that much more powerful. This is the story of Sethe, a fugitive slave who, when seeing the sheriff and her former owner come to reclaim her and her children, chooses to kill one of her daughters rather than see her lead such a life. She would have killed all her children, if it were not for a friend of the family, but this act, as horrible as it may sound to us now, is made understandable, almost relatable throughout 300 or so pages. The baby’s ghost living in 124 is the physical evidence of past mistakes coming back to haunt you; but the horror, the impotence, the psychological consequences of slave life as described by Ms. Morrison are probably the ghosts America is still sometimes dealing with even now.
Here’s a 1987 interview with Ms. Morrison about the novel. “Compassion is too sloppy” – she says – and her characters aren’t seeking it, nor are they seeking redemption. The stream of consciousness style helps put across the thoughts, feelings and questions of people who are just trying to live with their past, to live with having lost themselves, to live with being rendered half-human by circumstances beyond their control.