Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Beloved by Toni Morrison


This is a bitter, powerful, yet beautiful novel about slavery in the South of America around the end of Civil War, or in the Reconstruction era. Beloved portrayed a devotional love of a mother towards her children which—when the worst, unthinkable terrifying situation was approaching—lead her to kill her daughter. Wait, do you mean she really killed her own daughter? How can you call that love? What kind of love is that—killing your own child? I know, before getting into the whole story, you will call it insanity, but wait until you finish it, you will understand why I could not condemn Sethe for committing such a cruel thing to her beloved daughter—whom she later did name Beloved.

Sethe had been through a lot of hard times during her slavery. Throughout the novel Morrison took us to see how white people had ill treated their slaves. Not only they tortured their slaves and took away their freedom, Beloved distinctly pictured how they dehumanized the slaves; so much that the slaves were even scared to love; that their definition of freedom was as simple as to be able to love and to have desires.

“To get to a place where you could love anything you chose—not to need permission for desire—well, now, that was freedom.”

The situation of Baby Suggs, when she was freed by her son, is more than sufficient to reflect what the slaves lost their entire lives. Baby Suggs and few of other characters in this book was fortunate to at last had freedom. But what about them who had lived their entire lives as slaves? And once they were free at last, how would they leave the dark past behind and take steps to the future?

And what Sethe must have endured here was so great—and I won’t write it down here explicitly, it was something you need to feel yourself—that she was determined to not let her children through the same path, ever. Morrison takes us to judge Sethe’s choice through other central characters—but mostly through Beloved, the victim.

Beloved is not an easy reading. Morrison takes us back and forth almost without any particular notice; through each character’s memory and point of view, the whole story is slowly and painfully revealed. It’s a bit strange and confusing at first, but you will get more familiar after few chapters.

I have read somewhere on the internet that Morrison based the story on a true account of a slave mother killing her children rather than having them be returned to slavery under the Fugitive Slave Act, so that they wouldn’t suffer being killed in another way. I don’t know whether it’s accurate or not, but one thing is sure: there is no greater thing in the universe, than love. Sethe killed her daughter not because she didn’t love her, but because she had never felt any kind of love most of her own life; and now—when she was finally able to love after so much sufferings—she would never give anybody a chance to take her children and let them suffer as she had.

Ah….I have tried so hard to picture my feeling through this review, but I guess I can never tell you how powerful this book had affected me and made me re-shape my definition of love. I will only close this review with an emotional dialog that will reflect the desperation and powerlessness of the slaves….

Tell me something, Stamp,” Paul D’s eyes were rheumy.
Tell me this one thing. How much is a nigger supposed to take? Tell me. How much?
All he can, said Stamp Paid. “All he can.”
Why? Why? Why? Why? WHY?”

:(

Five stars for Beloved. And special thanks to Nishita, whose review made me want to read this book, and to Joon Ann and Listra who were reading this book with me...

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Toni Morrison is an American novelist, editor, and professor. Her novels are known for their epic themes, vivid dialogue, and richly detailed characters. Among her best known novels are The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon and Beloved (won Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988).

Born as Chloe Adelia Wofford in February 18, 1931 from a work class family, Morrison grew up as a fervent reader; Austen and Tolstoy were among her reading list. She married a Harold Morrison in 1958, but divorced in 1964. She wrote a short story about a girl who longed to have blue eyes, and the story later on developed into her first novel: The Bluest Eye (1970), which she wrote while raising two children and teaching at Howard University.

Beloved (1987) was her fourth novel and brought her to success. Not only Pulitzer, it also won American Book Award. In May 2006 The New York Times Book Review named Beloved the best American novel published in the previous twenty-five years. In 1993 Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Her citation reads: Toni Morrison, "who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality." She is currently the last American to have been awarded the honor. In addition to her novels, Morrison has also co-written books for children with her younger son, Slade Morrison. Toni Morrison is currently a member of the editorial board of The Nation magazine.

[all from Wikipedia]

30 comments:

  1. The Fugitive Slave Act is the powerful topic behind American Civil War too, this month I've been read it from GWTW, Uncle Tom's Cabin until March, all about similar topic from different point of view, but give me such a hard feelings to understand why some people can treated others so cruel...even animals had better treatment. Is Beloved also in the same period too ?

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    1. The setting is at the end of Civil War. Yes, sometimes I am wondering too how people can let slavery, but I think if you were born and raised with that principles all your life, you might think the same way, although there are people who were more wicked and more tender-heart, but all the same, most of us would probably agree with slavery.

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  2. To be honest, I still couldn't imagine what made this novel beautiful. I know it's great from your review and others' too, but what kind of 'great' it is. However, because it's you who said so, I believe, and someday I'll take a chance to read it. Thanks :)

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    1. What I can say is that this book had touched me, or even struck me, very deeply. The effect was so powerful, that after I have finished it, this book affected me for sometime still. It's about a woman's struggles to do one thing she was capable to, despite of her limitation (being a slave), that is to love her children. However, bad things still followed her, and forced her to do the murder.

      And then she must struggle with her dark past that haunted her. Oh..you just have to read it for yourself to get what I meant. :)

      I said that this is a beautiful novel, in the way Toni Morrison had written it.

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  3. semakin bagus suatu buku, semakin susah ngereviewnya ya mba? tapi baca reviewmu aku bisa ngerasain betapa powerfulnya buku ini =) not an easy read, but a very memorable one indeed ya =)

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  4. baca versi asli atau terjemahannya mbak? tebel ya? *celingak celinguk nyari keterangan bukunya

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    1. eh iya ya...sampe lupa gak cantumin keterangan bukunya :P
      Tipis kok, 200 lebih, gak sampe 300. Aku baca English-nya, Vina.

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  5. Err...it seems like American Civil War & slavery aren't my cup of tea. I couldn't get myself to finish Uncle Tom's Cabin until now, I have always wanted to read something else instead. From your review I could depict that Beloved is somehow darker than Uncle Tom.
    Maybe someday this topic could make me interested more than now.

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    1. UTC is more narrative than Beloved, reading Beloved is like following the mind of a woman who struggles all her life. it's not JUST about slavery, but it's more about how Sethe struggled to hold her own life. But yes, it is darker than UTC. I hope you would read this someday, Mel! :)

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  6. Err. Thanks God I didn't finish the book this month. Reading both Beloved and Les Miserables would make my heart unstable the whole month. As you know I tend to take characters and their experiences personally. What a dangerous habit!

    Thanks for the review.

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    1. Well, with that habit, you should cleverly manage a reading schedule for a month, then. But try to finish it when you have managed to get away from gloomy reads, Beloved worth a try!

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  7. As far as I remember, the closest to slavery themed book I've read is Huck Finn, though it only gives a glimpse of it. I imagine this kind of book would be gloomy.
    Looks like Beloved is an awesome one, I'd like to read it too one day :)

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    1. Slavery in Huck Finn is only a very small glimpse if compared to Beloved. But I think you would like it Dessy, it's about woman's struggle to live her own life. I can borrow you the book if you'd want to try.. :)

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  8. Buku pilihan mbak Fanda lebih suram dari buku yg saya baca. Kalau sampai seorang ibu sanggup membunuh putrinya sendiri, kebayang betapa ngerinya hidup sebagai mereka.

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    1. Yup, jadi ini ceritanya kebalikan sama Disgrace-nya Coetzee ya, di sini kulit hitam yang menderita di bawah dominasi kulit putih.

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  9. I really want to read this one, Fanda. It sounds so powerful.

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    1. Oh yes, this is a powerful book, Sam, it affected me quite much. This year I read two books that gave me this effect, firstly Zola's L'Assommoir, and then Beloved, but Beloved is more 'beautiful' in its own way because it talked about love, the power of love.

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  10. Baca reviewnya aja udah bikin tahan nafas... apalagi baca bukunya.. Suram, tapi bikin penasaran :)

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    1. Suramnya bikin menghunjam jiwa, Desty!

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  11. noted! ini bacaan wajib!
    thanks for sharing this review mbak :)

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  12. Fanda, what a wonderful review! You really captured the essence of Beloved in your writing -- beautiful! :)

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    1. Thanks Joon Ann, this is not an easy one for me to write, though. I wrote this right after I finished reading, when I was still carried on by the story.

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  13. Ugh....tema tentang slavery dan anak-anak korban perang adalah 2 tema yang paling gak ketahan buat saya. Selalu menyakitkan bacanya. Tapi toh...selalu bikin penasaran buat dibaca. Yeah...that's a masochist side of me, I guess :|

    Gonna look at Beloved. Makasi buat reviewnya, mbak

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    1. Kalau buatku, justru cerita-cerita kayak gini yang benar-benar menempel di hati setelah membaca, jadi merasa gak sia-sia menghabiskan waktu selama membaca. :)

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  14. Replies
    1. Emmm...aku rasa ini bukan hisfic, Ally. Memang settingnya pas Reconstruction era, tapi tidak ada unsur sejarah sama sekali, murni fiksi. :D

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  15. Akkkhhh mba fanda aku jadi pengen baca ulang!! Udah lama baca buku ini tapi yg terjemahan. Kyknya asik bhs inggrisnya ya!

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    1. Eh, Beloved udah pernah diterjemahkan ya? Malah gak tahu. Baca English-nya kayaknya lebih 'nendang' Nisa!

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