I first read Toni Morrison’s Beloved many years ago, and was thoroughly captivated by this powerful story of slavery and salvation. Although it’s beautifully written, it can be challenging to read. The book is not narrated chronologically, and I was confused by the multiple flashbacks recounted by a large cast of characters. I decided that Beloved is one of those books that needs to be read a second time to fully understand and appreciate. It has always been my intent to re-read this classic Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, but for one reason or another, I never got around to it. Why revisit the harrowing account of runaway slave Sethe and her decision to murder her children rather than return them to a life of slavery, when there so many fun books to read instead?
Picking Beloved as a Book Club title provided the necessary incentive to tackle this book again, and more importantly Book Club members would have the benefit of discussing confusing plot points with others. Reading Beloved was definitely easier the second time around. As the story unfolds through the multiple narrative threads, each one providing more detail and building upon the previous, a cascading effect is developed, steam-rolling the reader to the horrific realization of Sethe’s ultimate act of defiance.
Reaction from Book Club members varied. Some found the book too confusing. Some (like me) had read it before and appreciated the opportunity to read and discuss it again. A few relied on Cliffs Notes. Eighteen years after the war and Sethe is still not free. She’s haunted by her daughter’s ghost, a greedy and indulgent spirit who saps the life out of her mother. How in the world does Sethe find the will to continue? Fortunately, the community rallies behind her and the reader sees glimmers of hope and recovery at the end.
Book Club members agreed that Beloved is an important book that needs to be more widely read. Its dark depiction of slavery and its lasting effects is tough to read, but important to understand. Members commented on the rekindled interest in slavery brought about by the Oscar-nominated movie Twelve Years a Slave (based on the book by Solomon Northup), and that an examination of our nation’s shameful legacy can help shed light on current societal challenges.
Toni Morrison has created a powerful, gut-wrenching, truly amazing book. I’m dazzled by its brilliance. I shouldn't have waited so long to read it again.