Beloved - book cover
  • Publisher : Vintage; Reprint edition
  • Published : 08 Jun 2004
  • Pages : 321
  • ISBN-10 : 1400033411
  • ISBN-13 : 9781400033416
  • Language : English


NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER From the acclaimed Nobel Prize winner: an unflinchingly look into the abyss of slavery. This spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby.

Sethe, its protagonist, was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. And Sethe's new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved. Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement.

Editorial Reviews

"A masterwork. . . . Wonderful. . . . I can't imagine American literature without it." -John Leonard, Los Angeles Times

"A triumph." -Margaret Atwood, The New York Times Book Review

"Toni Morrison's finest work. . . . [It] sets her apart [and] displays her prodigious talent." -Chicago Sun-Times

"Dazzling. . . . Magical. . . . An extraordinary work." -The New York Times

"A masterpiece. . . . Magnificent. . . . Astounding. . . . Overpowering." -Newsweek

"Brilliant. . . . Resonates from past to present." -San Francisco Chronicle

"A brutally powerful, mesmerizing story. . . . Read it and tremble." -People

"Toni Morrison is not just an important contemporary novelist but a major figure in our national literature." -New York Review of Books

"A work of genuine force. . . . Beautifully written." -The Washington Post

"There is something great in Beloved: a play of human voices, consciously exalted, perversely stressed, yet holding true. It gets you." -The New Yorker

"A magnificent heroine . . . a glorious book." -The Baltimore Sun

"Superb. . . . A profound and shattering story that carries the weight of history. . . . Exquisitely told." -Cosmopolitan

"Magical . . . rich, provocative, extremely satisfying." -Milwaukee Journal

"Beautifully written. . . . Powerful. . . . Toni Morrison has become one of America's finest novelists." -The Plain Dealer

"Stunning. . . A lasting achievement." -The Christian Science Monitor

"Written with a force rarely seen in contemporary fiction. . . . One feels deep admiration." -USA Today

"Compelling . . . . Morrison shakes that brilliant kaleidoscope of hers again, and the story of pain, endurance, poetry and power she is born to tell comes right out." -The Village Voice

"A book worth many rereadings." -Glamour

"In her most probing novel, Toni Morrison has demonstrated once again the stunning powers that place her in the first ranks of our living novelists." -St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"Heart-wrenching . . . mesmerizing." -The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"Shattering emotional power and impact." -New York Daily News

"A rich, mythical novel . . . a triumph." -St. Petersburg Times

"Powerful . . . voluptuous." -New York

Readers Top Reviews

Bryn GriffithReaderV
This is an extremely powerful and, at times, troubling book. At the heart of the story is the returning spirit of a young woman who was murdered by her black slave mother in order to prevent her from ending up in the clutches of a slave owner. The relationship between mother and child is extremely conflicted; power rests with the returning child, I felt, because of the mother's guilt. Around this central theme are a number of close family members and slaves with common histories. All of the characters are portrayed with powerfully emotional lives that really made me, a white male in his 60s, get some sense of the tortured lives imposed on such individuals. I can only imagine the impact of this book on those with an African American heritage. The book is not an easy read as the story is told in a non-linear fashion and through the eyes of multiple characters. This keeps the reader of their toes, but makes the story ultimately a more involving read. I can understand why this is considered a classic.
I feel changed after reading this book. So complex, so painful, so painfully beautiful, such life in the telling of this story. As a Black queer womyn, I have grown tired of the handling slavery narrative. Of the laziness of its use and overuse as a point of reference. But what Morrison does so well is bring life to the complexities of Black life and love in the face of the worst part of American history. I would even go as far to say, it goes beyond the political. It circles down to the smallest particles of her characters' lives and inner self-talk/workings. I don't even know if this review will capture all that I think and feel and see after reading this book.
Beloved is a novel about Sethe, a woman who was once a slave and is now trying to ‘claim ownership of her freed self’ in a house haunted by a vengeful ghost wanting to claim Sethe for itself. In case I’m not the only person in the world who did not know the plot of the book beforehand I will not speak about it in detail. I wouldn’t want to spoil the book for other readers. Beloved was only my second encounter with Toni Morrison despite having almost all of her books on my ‘to read’ list for years and I’m sorry it took me this long to familiarise myself with not only what is considered her greatest work but also a book so deserving of all the praise heaped upon it. Morrison writes about slavery and the collective trauma it has created. A trauma that has been swept under rugs and resolutely ignored. The trauma in Sethe’s past refuses to stay hidden forever. It confronts Sethe and asks her: 1) How long will you hold on to me? 2) What purpose do I serve? 3) Who are you without me? Finally after a harrowing almost fatal fight with her trauma Sethe needs to determine a way forward. I love magical realism and the poetic style authors who employ it use but I did struggle with how abstract some passages of Beloved were. This difficulty was compounded by the stream of consciousness passages which were also acutely abstract . There were some parts of the book I only understood because I reread them or looked through a literary guide. Reading Beloved is hard work but it is well worth it.
I purchased this book to increase my number of books read from the PBS Great American Read. I felt that I needed a better score than 33% of the books on the Great 100 list. It is beautiful. I had purchased it previously but was not able to get into if for some reason. I think a better goal instead of increasing my total on the list of the Great American read would just be to read all of Toni Morrison. I'm now two to the good. Absolutely beautiful prose, characters, plot, etc. i did need a break from reading this book it was sometimes too heavy to read straight through.
AmandaJames S. Benne
First of all, major trigger warnings for animal abuse and graphic human abuse as well. These two are the main reasons that I am giving this book a lower rating. I do think that it does have literary merit that makes it an important read. But there was some points in this book that made it SO hard to get through. I enjoyed some parts of this book but it was overall so depressing and sad that I just couldn't enjoy it and the writing style was kinda confusing to follow as well...I would not recommend this book.

Short Excerpt Teaser


124 WAS SPITEFUL. Full of a baby's venom. The women in the house knew it and so did the children. For years each put up with the spite in his own way, but by 1873 Sethe and her daughter Denver were its only victims. The grandmother, Baby Suggs, was dead, and the sons, Howard and Buglar, had run away by the time they were thirteen years old--as soon as merely looking in a mirror shattered it (that was the signal for Buglar); as soon as two tiny band prints appeared in the cake (that was it for Howard). Neither boy waited to see more; another kettleful of chickpeas smoking in a heap on the floor; soda crackers crumbled and strewn in a line next to the doorsill. Nor did they wait for one of the relief periods: the weeks, months even, when nothing was disturbed. No. Each one fled at once--the moment the house committed what was for him the one insult not to be borne or witnessed a second time. Within two months, in the dead of winter, leaving their grandmother, Baby Suggs; Sethe, their mother; and their little sister, Denver, all by themselves in the gray and white house on Bluestone Road. It didn't have a number then, because Cincinnati didn't stretch that far. In fact, Ohio had been calling itself a state only seventy years when first one brother and then the next stuffed quilt packing into his hat, snatched up his shoes, and crept away from the lively spite the house felt for them.

Baby Suggs didn't even raise her head. From her sickbed she heard them go but that wasn't the reason she lay still. It was a wonder to her that her grandsons had taken so long to realize that every house wasn't like the one on Bluestone Road. Suspended between the nastiness of life and the meanness of the dead, she couldn't get interested in leaving life or living it, let alone the fright of two creeping-off boys. Her past had been like her present--intolerable--and since she knew death was anything but forgetfulness, she used the little energy left her for pondering color.

"Bring a little lavender in, if you got any. Pink, if you don't."

And Sethe would oblige her with anything from fabric to her own tongue. Winter in Ohio was especially rough if you had an appetite for color. Sky provided the only drama, and counting on a Cincinnati horizon for life's principal joy was reckless indeed. So Sethe and the girl Denver did what they could, and what the house permitted, for her. Together they waged a perfunctory battle against the outrageous behavior of that place; against turned-over slop jars, smacks on the behind, and gusts of sour air. For they understood the source of the outrage as well as they knew the source of light.

Baby Suggs died shortly after the brothers left, with no interest whatsoever in their leave-taking or hers, and right afterward Sethe and Denver decided to end the persecution by calling forth the ghost that tried them so. Perhaps a conversation, they thought, an exchange of views or something would help. So they held hands and said, "Come on. Come on. You may as well just come on."

The sideboard took a step forward but nothing else did.

"Grandma Baby must be stopping it," said Denver. She was ten and still mad at Baby Suggs for dying.

Sethe opened her eyes. "I doubt that," she said.

"Then why don't it come?"

"You forgetting how little it is," said her mother. "She wasn't even two years old when she died. Too little to understand. Too little to talk much even."

"Maybe she don't want to understand," said Denver.

"Maybe. But if she'd only come, I could make it clear to her." Sethe released her daughter's hand and together they pushed the sideboard back against the wall. Outside a driver whipped his horse into the gallop local people felt necessary when they passed 124.

"For a baby she throws a powerful spell," said Denver.

"No more powerful than the way I loved her," Sethe answered and there it was again. The welcoming cool of unchiseled headstones; the one she selected to lean against on tiptoe, her knees wide open as any grave. Pink as a fingernail it was, and sprinkled with glittering chips. Ten minutes, he said. You got ten minutes I'll do it for free.

Ten minutes for seven letters. With another ten could she have gotten "Dearly" too? She had not thought to ask him and it bothered her still that it might have been possible--that for twenty minutes, a half hour, say, she could have had the whole thing, every word she heard the preacher say at the funeral (and all there was to say, surely) engraved on her baby's headstone: Dearly Beloved. But what she got, settled for, was the one word that mattered. She thought it would be enough, rutting among the headstones with the engraver, his young son looking on, the anger in his face so old; the app...