Beloved by Toni Morrison
I was a bit skeptical about going into this book. A classic from the 1980s? Has it really withstood the test of time to be up on the list of the greatest literary works? How wrong I was question it. Perhaps I am biased. I've always been drawn to books like The Gulag Archipelago or Night. Harrowing tales about what human nature can morph into if given the chance and yet how much the human spirit can withstand. They allow me to keep things in perspective, to be grateful for everything that I have. After all, how can I complain about my life when my worst day cannot compare to the suffering and pain that the inmates of the Soviet gulag prison system, the victims of the Holocaust, or the slaves of the American South had to endure on a daily basis. From that point of view, these novels are liberating, empowering, and, in a weird way, calming. Liberating because these novels free us from the societal expectations of trying to keep up with the Joneses. Empowering because it reminds us that literally nothing in our lives can possibly go so horribly wrong as to have any semblance to the horrors that others before us have experienced, so we need not fear anything. Calming because it allows us to transcend our daily troubles and remember what's important.
Beloved is raw. Toni Morrison doesn't mince words about the effects of slavery. But more than that, it's real. Real in the sense that it dives into the deepest abysses of human emotion in the most dire circumstances. Real in the sense that it has no agenda, except to tell the truth, which only underscores how brutal and nonsensical slavery was, even in the "nicer" plantations like Sweet Home. Real in the sense that it feels like she was there and had experienced it all herself. In fact, throughout the entire duration of the book, a single question keeps coming up: how did she know? How did she know all those little details? How could she so seemingly accurately portray the thoughts of people who lived over a hundred years ago? It is one thing to know what happened, but Toni Morrison gives us a taste of what it felt like to be there. Beloved is a masterpiece in every sense of the word.