June 1, 2015

5/26/15 - A Pulitzer Prize-winning Book

Can you believe that this is my first Toni Morrison book? And I call myself an English major.

Beloved is, unexpectedly for me, a ghost story. I never thought that was the kind of thing that Toni Morrison wrote. Then again, I was never really sure what Toni Morrison wrote, which says more about my sad lack of awareness than anything else. Still, that sad lack of awareness made for a very powerful, attention-grabbing experience with Beloved.

I said in my brief Goodreads review that I'm not sure if this is the kind of book that's appropriate to say you liked. How do you 'like' a book like Beloved? Does that mean you like books about racial violence, about the murder of children, about fragments of a fragment of a culture? Don't get me wrong - this is a good book. Beloved is a great book. Sethe is a modern-day mythic heroine somewhere on the level of Antigone or Penelope, while she at the same time is one of the most truly human protagonists I've ever read. The other characters, while never reaching Sethe's transcendent level, are engaging, mesmerizing in their strength and fragility: Denver, Paul D, Beloved of course, and the others.

But what these characters go through, and knowing how much of their story comes from history, makes it impossible to say that I like this book. It might be different if it were a speculative story, if the torture and the dehumanization were tools for the story goal to be pursued and gained, tools for character development. But this is a story about the slavery, the torture and the dehumanization, and while it is also about the people who struggled against and occasionally overcame that, it makes it difficult to really assess my reaction to it.

So I think the best way to assess my reaction to it is to take myself out of the equation completely and deal with the book itself. Beloved is a good book; it's a great book, about a worthwhile subject, told in the most masterfully controlled and yet rightly out-of-control emotion and passion of any author. Read it. It's difficult, but read it.

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