I finished Beloved last night, when I was able to squeeze in the last few pages before falling asleep. It was an interesting read to say the least, and is yet another book that I would never pick up, if not for this list. I guess in that regard, the list is doing what I had hoped; forcing me to expand my horizons and read books I wouldn't normally be interested in.
I've also managed to pick up the pace in my reading a little bit, but I need to continue at an even quicker pace, if I'm ever going to finish this list before I'm 40...
Beloved is the story of Sethe, a former slave, who escaped from her Sweet Home plantation in Kentucky in 1855. Living in a house with her daughter, the book looks back at the events that led to her escape, and the events which led to her being a near total recluse in the community, living as a free woman on the outskirts of Cincinnati. In the end, it tells the story of her descent into madness, haunted by her past life and her past decisions.
What I found so interesting about Beloved was the harsh truth of the story. Reading about slavery isn't easy, as it seems such a despicable and tragic fate today. The thought of being under someone else's control and not really having anything to live for other than not dying, seems so foreign and almost fictional, which it wasn't of course. What I found most disturbing about the characters in Beloved however, was their acceptance of their situation. Having grown up as slaves, not being educated, and not really knowing any different, most fully accepted their lot in life, not fully aware of any better or any different.
When Sethe finally does escape, she experiences sensations completely new to her, like the ability to eat when she is hungry, or to spend time with her four children, at her leisure. However, after only a month of this new found freedom, some white poeple show up at her house, slave catchers, ready to return her to Kentucky, to her masters and owners. It is here that Sethe takes matters into her own hands, vowing to save her children from the harsh life of servitude she had endured for so many years. It is these actions that will haunt her for the rest of her life, when she spares her oldest daughter a life slavery, by killing her. The rest of Sethe's life is haunted by the memory of her actions and the ghost of her daughter; who's tombstone, marked with a single word, Beloved, is a constant reminder of the past.
Told through the eyes of people Sethe associated with in the past in slavery and the present as a freewoman in Ohio, the pieces of the puzzle are put together to explain exactly what happened that fateful day, why it happened, and how Sethe can possibly explain her awful deed. She feels justified in killing her own daughter, sparing her the same life she led, and at times it can be difficult to disagree with her, knowing what hideous things took place back at Sweet Home.
You can read Time Magazine's original review of Beloved from September 21, 1987 right here: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,965573-1,00.html
My next book will be Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller, the story of an expatriate writer and his experiences in 1930's Paris.