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Beloved – from the Monitor archives

Morrison's novel of slavery, memory, and human kindness.

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[The Monitor occasionally reprints book reviews of current interest. This review of "Beloved" by Toni Morrison originally ran in the Monitor on Oct. 5., 1987.]

The opening of Beloved, Toni Morrison's fifth novel, is deliberately uninviting - an obstacle thrown in our path that puzzles and repels.

It is a household in Cincinnati, where a former slave woman named Sethe lives with her daughter Denver. The house is haunted by the ghost of a baby, Sethe's other daughter, whose headstone was inscribed with the single word, ``Beloved.''

There were two boys, Howard and Buglar, who ran away. There was a grandmother, Baby Suggs, who died. Baby's son - Sethe's husband, Halle Suggs - worked as a slave to purchase his mother's freedom. He died in the attempt to escape to his own.

It is 1873 as the story opens; but, as Sethe has come to believe, ``nothing ever dies.'' All kinds of memories - most of which she cannot bear to recall - have taken on a threatening, all but tangible, presence.

Along comes Paul D, who remembers Sethe, Halle, and Baby Suggs from years ago, when they all were slaves on a Kentucky farm called ``Sweet Home.'' The owner, Mr. Garner, was the ``best'' possible kind of slaveholder: a man who was not afraid to treat his slaves as ``men'' (not boys), who valued their opinions and cared for their welfare.

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