Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)

When I don’t post anything for more than a month, we know school has started, and my reading decreases from 3-5 books a month down to 1 or 2. Beloved took me almost a month to get through, but it was worth the struggle I felt at the beginning trying to make sense of the story’s timeline.

I last read this book in the early 1990s, and while I remember it as a horrifyingly powerful story, it affected me much more profoundly this time. I was not a mom in the early 90s, and being a mom makes a huge difference in understanding Sethe and her actions. She escapes slavery with her infant child, but she is haunted by slavery’s impact on her life forever. Set in Ohio in the 1870s, the narrative moves back and forth in time from her years as an enslaved child who never knew her own mother, to her post enslaved years (as a mother of four) in which she cannot escape the past because the past won’t let her go. Her very brief time of happiness is cut short when slave catchers show up at her home in the free north, a day that forever changes her life.

Morrison can capture the most horrifying details of enslaved people in just a few lines of images so powerful they suck the breath out of you. She drops them in at unexpected times–often in flashback–which makes the punch hurt that much more. In the time of Black Lives Matter and new attention to racial inequity, this is a must read (or a must re-read). It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988, and five years later Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

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