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Toni Morrison’s Beloved will stay with me for a long while. I had put off reading it for years, picking it up in the library only to replace it on the shelf, because I have a big problem with ghosts. However, it is not only the ghost in the story that will haunt me, but the frightening and painful details of what slavery wrought upon the African Americans in this novel. From the epigraph, “sixty million and more,” the tears began.

Yet the story has redeeming moments of beauty and tenderness, as in the pleasures of nature, the colors of a quilt, the light touch of an old friend, or the quiet help of a neighbor.

The story centers around Sethe, a woman who escapes from slavery to join her children (escaped) and mother-in-law Baby Suggs (freed from through paid labor under an unusual enslaver). Baby Suggs was a leader in her Ohio community, known to be a healer and a powerful preacher.

From the beginning of the novel there is a sense of pending doom, despite the hopefulness of escaping to freedom, because we know one of Sethe’s children died and is haunting the home she shares with Baby Suggs and a daughter, Denver. Slowly, Morrison unwinds the story of Denver’s birth, of Sethe’s life enslaved on Sweet Home, of her escape, and of the disaster.

Only a month after Sethe’s arrival, disaster strikes, leading to the death of the child who haunts their home. After escaping from slavery, and longing for her family to be together, Sethe is shaken by this disaster and its impact on her family. Morrison creates for the reader a world where the freedom to love is a frightfully precious thing, something that those of us born into freedom should never take for granted.

Aside from the fact that a main character in this book is a ghost that takes a bodily form, the details of the novel are all-too realistic. Morrison’s descriptions of the everyday sufferings under slavery, and in the period following the Civil War’s end, are heartbreaking. Supporting characters, including Paul D from Sweet Home, provide a window through which the reader sees the disastrous results of treating people as less than human.

Morrison’s luminous writing gifts the reader a view into the loving and wounded hearts of these characters. To be honest, many parts of this novel turned my stomach, and I cried more than a little. But that is only right, considering the subject matter.

Beloved was published in 1987 and received the Pulitzer Prize. I read this book as part of the African Diaspora Reading Challenge hosted by BrownGirl Speaks. Her blog is full of wonderful reading suggestions, and I invite you to join the challenge.

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