Beloved by Toni Morrison
My first Toni Morrison book, can you believe it? Beloved is the haunting tale of a woman who ran from slavery but never fully escaped it, or its consequences. Set in free Ohio following the civil war, it is a cast of few characters. Mother, daughter, lover, ghost. Ah, yes, few central characters, but curious all the same.
Having read the foreword, I came to learn that Toni Morrison wrote this after leaving her job in publishing. She was inspired by another story she had come across in history about a mother who had killed her child rather than it be returned to slavery. This mother, she feared, would not be so easily made protagonist. How could she capture the complexities of a mother who would kill her child and suffer or mourn its loss all the same, as any parent would?
It was with these thoughts that she imagined Sethe, a mother of three, pregnant with her fourth, who would escape to Ohio to join her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, whose freedom was paid for by Sethe's husband and Suggs' son. Her husband would not join her, would instead disappear. On her way to safety, she would be helped by unexpected characters, but necessary ones. Sethe would give birth to her daughter along the journey, miraculously arriving to safety with her younger daughter, who would be named Denver.
In present time, in the book, Sethe lives with Denver. Her other daughter had died at her own hands, and her sons had left the ghost of their sister behind in the house. The presence of this ghost made their once full home quiet, with no more visitors. Why would one visit a murderess, or her mother-in-law? Eventually, Baby Suggs' ghost joins her granddaughter's, and it is just Sethe and Denver until Paul D, known from Sweet Home, the plantation of their past, arrives at their stoop. Daring to enter the home shrouded in despair, Paul D makes a place for himself as Sethe's lover.
The ghost, named Beloved, the only word on her tombstone, does not like this. She leaves their home as a ghost and returns as flesh. Her activities drive mother, daughter and lover apart. Paul D leaves and, eventually, Denver must go in search of work. Reconciliation will come only once the bond between mother and dead child is broken, or broken down enough to release the hold of Beloved on Sethe, who never knew how badly she sought redemption.
Few could weave a story like this, so, while it is my first Morrison read, it did not take much time to become acquainted with her unique and haunting storytelling. In Beloved, she has produced an original tale that takes up residence in your thoughts as its own ghost, chipping away at your singular view of the world and its history as you knew it.