Sunday, August 19, 2012

Beloved: A Book Review

There are NO spoilers in this review. Enjoy. (:

"although there was not one leaf on that farm that did not make her want to scream, it rolled itself out before her in shameless beauty. It never looked as terrible as it was and it made her wonder if hell was a pretty place too. Fire and brimstone all right, but hidden in lacy groves."

The book review I have today is one that I am very excited to write about since it's not the type of book I would normally find myself enjoying. This review is for Toni Morrison's Beloved.

And before I actually get into the review, I wanted to mention that I was initially very skeptical about this book. On the surface Beloved involves issues that I don't personally relate to, such as motherhood and slavery. (This is also why I don't gravitate towards historical fiction. I realize it sounds silly and adolescent, but the inclusion of historical facts makes me feel like I'm being tested on how well I know my history, versus creating a new reality for the fictional characters to grow.) However, underneath the conflicts of slavery and motherhood are issues of suffering and the desire to protect those you love from the horrors of the world, no matter the cost. Those conflicts are ones a wide variety of readers can relate to.

(photographed: Toni Morrison's Beloved)

And like I do in all my book reviews, here is the back cover description:

"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 by Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison."

After I finished the novel I had to immediately go back and reread specific chapters. Beloved one of those books where you could read it for the third/fifth/tenth time and still learn something new. It has an incredible amount of depth, symbolism, and themes you could pick out. The theme that stuck out to me in my first reading (and a theme that could be entirely incorrect) is one of the animalistic nature of humans. There were portions of this book that reminded me of Animal Farm, not at all in style or plot, but in that lovely quote "Four feet good. Two feet bad." except the reverse. Humans have the tendency to pride ourselves as more refined, intelligent, and sophisticated than other animals. And while some of those claims may be true, animal tendencies have a way of showing themselves when we let our guards down. Beloved is the story in which Sethe, the ex-slave and mother, demonstrates moments of animalistic tendencies, and as a result, struggles to fit into the community and societal mold of a proper mother and citizen.

Beloved is a wonderfully written book with beautifully constructed sentences. The flow of it is so smooth and the narration shifts perfectly between various characters. By the end of the book, you will learn in depth about the entire main cast of characters and the journey they each have made to the present narrative. 

Who I recommend this book to:
There are many readers out there who only read certain types of books, whether they are fantasy, romance, young adult, etc. I find it difficult to recommend books to a specific audience such as these because I don't operate that way myself. If I say, "I recommend this book to those who enjoy books on motherhood," then that would be an inaccurate recommendation. I don't consider myself a fan of books on either motherhood or slavery, yet I did thoroughly enjoy Beloved. Therefore, my actual recommendation will be vague. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to be able to reevaluate the nature of humans when it comes to those extremes many of us don't face in every day life.

"me and you, we got more yesterday than anybody. We need some kind of tomorrow." 

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