I bought this book during my ‘innocent’ Sunday bookshopping spree few months ago, inspired by great review by The Reading Bug.
Before I start the review let me explain one thing I am European, which means that bulk of my modern history education focused on WWII and the atrocities that happened then. Which I must admin made me an ignorant when it comes to history of slavery, I know it existed, I know it was inhuman and I know it was abolished and this is definitely not enough to know. It is sad how regionalized our history education is and how it is written by the victors.
Now, to the book for it is truly amazing.
It tells the story of Sethe, who was a slave and escaped to Ohio, and people close to her. Sethe lives with her daughter Denver at 124 Bluestone Road in Cincinnati. Their house is haunted and Denver never leaves it, her two brothers have escaped leaving Sethe and Denver to lead an isolated life. One day Paul D. arrives at the house, Sethe knew him when both were slaves at Sweet Home plantation. Paul manages to drive the ghost away and it seems like the three of them may get a shot at a normal life. Paul D. even takes them to a carnival, it’s the first time Denver left home in a while. When they come back they find a young woman called Beloved on the doorstep. Sethe decides to take her in against Paul D.
From here on tensions run high and we find out the stories of all characters, what hell they went through to get to this place. Slowly Beloved tries to drive Paul D. away, she then seduces him to break his commitment to Sethe and building a life with her. This was not enough to drive him away, but when he finds out why the community abandoned Sethe, he leaves as well. Three women live at 124 Bluestone Road and their relationship shifts again. Sethe driven by guilt gives everything to Beloved, Denver moves from protecting Beloved from Paul D., to protecting Sethe from the ever more demanding Beloved. In the end she decides to call on the community to help.
This book touches on many topics and I’m sure I won’t be able to talk about all of them here, so you can find link to other reviews at the bottom.
For me the most striking was the main topic of the book – the atrocities committed by slavers. As I mentioned before I never had a clear picture of this time. When I read story of Baby Suggs, Sethe’s mother-in-law, of Paul D., of Sethe herself, my heart was breaking and I was taken by the same feeling of ‘how can people do this to people’ that I have when I read about Holocaust and crimes committed against humanity during wars, with one difference what was being done to the slaves did not happen during a war…
The fight Baby Suggs, Paul D. and Sethe had to go through with their memories just to stay sane is tremendous. It requires the same strength I always saw in my grandparents and grandparents of my friends, who as kids have been through WWII and yet never surrendered to seeing people as evil, always looked forward not back and finally managed to build lives for themselves that, at least on the outside, are not marked by the experience.
This book, more than any movie, opened my eyes to what slaves had suffered and for that alone I think it is great.
But there is so much more to it, there is reaction of the community to Sethe, rejection so complete that it takes months before someone tells Paul D. why Sethe is an outcast. There is relationship between Denver and Sethe that throughout the book shifts by 180 degrees. There is unbearable guilt that Sethe has to live with, that she tries to rationalize. There is the atmosphere of haunting even after the ghost leaves, because what haunts people is in their heads, it’s their past.
A truly great book.
Quotes from Beloved
The Reading Bug, Hannah Haney, Les Reveries de Rowena, One Aardvark, Books & Bachelorettes, Owlish Books, Linda’s Yearly Book Challenge, Eleven and a Half Year of Books, Reading Turtle Duck, Rebeccacoztec