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Beloved Paperback – September 1, 1998

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Editorial Reviews Review

In the troubled years following the Civil War, the spirit of a murdered child haunts the Ohio home of a former slave. This angry, destructive ghost breaks mirrors, leaves its fingerprints in cake icing, and generally makes life difficult for Sethe and her family; nevertheless, the woman finds the haunting oddly comforting for the spirit is that of her own dead baby, never named, thought of only as Beloved.

A dead child, a runaway slave, a terrible secret--these are the central concerns of Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize-winning Beloved. Morrison, a Nobel laureate, has written many fine novels, including Song of Solomon, The Bluest Eye, and Paradise--but Beloved is arguably her best. To modern readers, antebellum slavery is a subject so familiar that it is almost impossible to render its horrors in a way that seems neither clichéd nor melodramatic. Rapes, beatings, murders, and mutilations are recounted here, but they belong to characters so precisely drawn that the tragedy remains individual, terrifying to us because it is terrifying to the sufferer. And Morrison is master of the telling detail: in the bit, for example, a punishing piece of headgear used to discipline recalcitrant slaves, she manages to encapsulate all of slavery's many cruelties into one apt symbol--a device that deprives its wearer of speech. "Days after it was taken out, goose fat was rubbed on the corners of the mouth but nothing to soothe the tongue or take the wildness out of the eye." Most importantly, the language here, while often lyrical, is never overheated. Even as she recalls the cruelties visited upon her while a slave, Sethe is evocative without being overemotional: "Add my husband to it, watching, above me in the loft--hiding close by--the one place he thought no one would look for him, looking down on what I couldn't look at at all. And not stopping them--looking and letting it happen.... And if he was that broken then, then he is also and certainly dead now." Even the supernatural is treated as an ordinary fact of life: "Not a house in the country ain't packed to its rafters with some dead Negro's grief. We lucky this ghost is a baby," comments Sethe's mother-in-law.

Beloved is a dense, complex novel that yields up its secrets one by one. As Morrison takes us deeper into Sethe's history and her memories, the horrifying circumstances of her baby's death start to make terrible sense. And as past meets present in the shape of a mysterious young woman about the same age as Sethe's daughter would have been, the narrative builds inexorably to its powerful, painful conclusion. Beloved may well be the defining novel of slavery in America, the one that all others will be measured by. --Alix Wilber --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Set in post-Civil War Ohio, this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel concerns a runaway slave and her daughter, whose lives are disrupted by a former slave, a spirit and a woman named Beloved. According to PW, this "brilliantly conceived story . . . should not be missed."
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Plume; Reprint edition (October 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452280621
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452280625
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (991 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #960,118 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Toni Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. She is the author of several novels, including The Bluest Eye, Beloved (made into a major film), and Love. She has received the National Book Critics Circle Award and a Pulitzer Prize. She is the Robert F. Goheen Professor at Princeton University.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

218 of 239 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on December 30, 2005
Format: Paperback
In this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of 1988, Toni Morrison frees herself from the bonds of traditional narrative and establishes an independent style, just as her characters have freed themselves from the horrors of slavery and escaped from Kentucky to Ohio. Revealing the story of Sethe and her family as they survive the brutality of the farm, only to encounter torments even more punishing than whippings after they escape, Morrison presents scenes in a seemingly random order, each scene revealing some aspect of life for Sethe, her boys, her dead baby Beloved, and the new baby Denver, both in the past and in the present. Moving back and forth, around, and inside out through Sethe's recollections, she gradually reveals Sethe's story to the reader, its horror increasing as the reader makes the connections which turn disconnected scenes into a powerful and harrowing chronology.

As the novel opens, Sethe and Denver have lived in #124, a house in Ohio, for eighteen years, refusing to socialize and enjoying no company. When Paul D. Garner, one of the Sweet Home men and a friend of her long-missing husband, arrives on her doorstep and moves in, Sethe slowly reveals her long-buried nightmares, and the two share their stories of the events leading up to their escape. Most haunting to Sethe is the death of her young daughter Beloved, shortly after the escape from the farm, though the reader does not know for many pages the shocking manner of her death. When a ghostly figure who calls herself Beloved arrives at #124, shortly after Paul D., Morrison creates mystery and a heart-stoppingly tense atmosphere when Beloved moves in. As Beloved gradually takes over the household and seems to demand and then possess Sethe's soul, the sorrow which has burdened Sethe seems close to breaking her.
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155 of 176 people found the following review helpful By M. H. Bayliss on May 22, 2000
Format: Paperback
As a a high school English teacher, I've reread this book about 8 times and have taught it over the years to many students. Although it's certainly a complex novel, it's basic storyline is not hard to follow -- just the narrative style which shifts voices quite a bit. One thing that helps when reading anything by Morrison, but especially Beloved, is to remember that she herself is a classicist. Do yourself a favor and read the Medea myth -- you will suddenly understand 100 times more than you would if you skip it. I would also recommend NOT watching the movie, particularly if you are looking for explanations. Parts were well done, but the book is so rich that it seems mean to lower the dignity of the prose by showing private scenes. It's an incredibly rich and lyric novel with strains of Morrison's rendition of a kind of Magic Realism style. Don't expect everything to be realistic: there are ghosts and half painted characters that cross our normal boundaries of time. Expect to be disoriented at the beginning, but the plot clears up as you go and then you can go back and re-read the opening chapters. A great work of literature which yields more after every reading.
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130 of 148 people found the following review helpful By D. C. Palter on July 7, 2006
Format: Paperback
Beloved is the story of Sethe, a runaway slave in the closing days of slavery, and the people around her - Beloved, the ghost of her dead baby, Denver, the remaining daughter, Paul D, her lover who also escaped from the same plantation in Kentucky, and Baby Suggs, her mother-in-law.

The writing is craftful and the imagery masterful. The depiction of slavery and its malevolent effects on everyone is poignant and convincing without ever being maudlin or preachy. What could have been a sad tearjerker is much too real, too convincing, calloused over with the hardness that the characters are forced to develop when everything they love, from their spouses to their children are beaten, raped, taken away, or killed at the whim of the whiteman.

But while I can appreciate the story, the structure, and the way it was written, I found it extremely tedious to read. It hangs on the thinnest of narrative thread, and whenever a plot threatens to develop, the scene ends and we find out what happened later as an aside. Most of the 275 pages are dense interior monologues, frequently repetitious, that sometimes degenerates into what seemed like random text.

The characters are drawn with detail, each distinctive and real. I feel I could recognize them on the street if one walked past. But they are as closed to us as they are to themselves. While they evoke my sympathy, they never gain my empathy. We study them, we hear them, we even feel them, but we never are them.

As an epic prose/poem, Beloved is amazingly successful. Its images are strong and convincing. As a novel, it's a long, tedious read with no payoff. I would recommend Beloved to someone who enjoys poetry. For someone looking for a story, even a difficult one, there are many far more readable.
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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Molly Lingenfelter on July 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
You will not only find this novel difficult to put down, you will find it difficult to put out of your head. I have had wonderful--often heated and wildly divergent--discussions of this novel in both my Lit. classes and my bookclub. I would urge anyone who reads this book to seek out other readers to discuss it with--you will probably be surprised at their interpretation of symbols or events in the story. While Morrison depicts the devestating repercussions of slavery, the story is not completely bleak, and it gets even better with every re-reading. Even without discussion, the prose is challenging but rewarding, and the story is unforgettable. Put this novel on your "must read" list.
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