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Cover image for Beloved

Publication Information:
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.
Physical Description:
xxxi, 316 pages ; 22 cm.
Series title(s):
Number in series:
General Note:
Originally published: New York : Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 1987.
Sethe, an escaped slave living in post-Civil War Ohio with her daughter and mother-in-law, is persistently haunted by the ghost of her dead baby girl.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 6 15 8652.
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On Order



Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Toni Morrison's Beloved is a spellbinding and dazzlingly innovative portrait of a woman haunted by the past.

Sethe was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has borne the unthinkable and not gone mad, yet she is still held captive by memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. Meanwhile Sethe's house has long been troubled by the angry, destructive ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.

Sethe works at beating back the past, but it makes itself heard and felt incessantly in her memory and in the lives of those around her. When a mysterious teenage girl arrives, calling herself Beloved, Sethe's terrible secret explodes into the present.

Combining the visionary power of legend with the unassailable truth of history, Morrison's unforgettable novel is one of the great and enduring works of American literature.

(Book Jacket Status: Jacketed)

Author Notes

Toni Morrison was born in Lorain, Ohio on February 18, 1931. She received a B.A. in English from Howard University in 1953 and a master's degree in English from Cornell University in 1955 with her thesis on the theme of suicide in modern literature. She taught at several universities including Texas Southern University, Howard University, and Princeton University.

Her first novel, The Bluest Eye, was published in 1970. Her other works include Sula, Tar Baby, Jazz, Paradise, Love, A Mercy, Home, and God Help the Child. She has won several awards including the National Book Critics Circle Award for Song of Solomon in 1977, the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved in 1988, the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, the Edward MacDowell Medal for her outstanding contribution to American culture in 2016, and the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction in 2016. She also co-wrote children's books with her son, Slade Morrison, including The Big Box, The Book of Mean People, and Peeny Butter Fudge.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 6

Publisher's Weekly Review

Set in post-Civil War Ohio, this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel concerns a runaway slave and her daughter, whose lives are disrupted by a former slave, a spirit and a woman named Beloved. According to PW, this ``brilliantly conceived story . . . should not be missed.'' (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Kirkus Review

Morrison's truly majestic fifth novel--strong and intricate in craft; devastating in impact. Set in post-Civil War Ohio, this is the story of how former slaves, psychically crippled by years of outrage to their bodies and their humanity, attempt to ""beat hack the past,"" while the ghosts and wounds of that past ravage the present. The Ohio house where Sethe and her second daughter, ten-year-old Denver, live in 1873 is ""spiteful. Full of a [dead] baby's venom."" Sethe's mother-in-law, a good woman who preached freedom to slave minds, has died grieving. It was she who nursed Sethe, the runaway--near death with a newborn--and gave her a brief spell of contentment when Sethe was reunited with her two boys and first baby daughter. But the boys have by now run off, scared, and the murdered first daughter ""has palsied the house"" with rage. Then to the possessed house comes Paul D., one of the ""Pauls"" who, along with Sethe, had been a slave on the ""Sweet Home"" plantation under two owners--one ""enlightened,"" one vicious. (But was there much difference between them?) Sethe will honor Paul D.'s humiliated manhood; Paul D. will banish Sethe's ghost, and hear her stories from the past. But the one story she does not tell him will later drive him away--as it drove away her boys, and as it drove away the neighbors. Before he leaves, Paul D. will be baffled and anxious about Sethe's devotion to the strange, scattered and beautiful lost girl, ""Beloved."" Then, isolated and alone together for years, the three women will cling to one another as mother, daughter, and sister--found at last and redeemed. Finally, the ex-slave community, rebuilding on ashes, will intervene, and Beloved's tortured vision of a mother's love--refracted through a short nightmare life--will end with her death. Morrison traces the shifting shapes of suffering and mythic accommodations, through the shell of psychosis to the core of a victim's dark violence, with a lyrical insistence and a clear sense of the time when a beleaguered peoples' ""only grace. . .was the grace they could imagine. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

Morrison's latest work cinched her reputation as a foremost contemporary American novelist. A staggering depiction of hauntedness set in Ohio after the Civil War, Beloved concerns a woman who flees slavery and, facing recapture, kills her little girl. Morrison's vision of black life, particularly the impact of the past on the present, is mythical in the telling.

New York Review of Books Review

FAMILY SAGAS WRITE HISTORY through microcosm, tracing a clan's rise, survival and, more often than not, ultimate dissolution. Thomas Mann's healthy bourgeois Buddenbrooks succumb to decadent sterility; Gabriel García Marquez's Buendias are erased by a hurricane; the Starks of Winterfell are massacred in the Riverlands. A family is sacrificed to time, and in their entrails readers find auguries of larger motions. The critic Frank Kermode believed that novels developed alongside a loss of faith in biblical chronology, as substitutes for Adam and Eve's universal family plot. He is borne out by recent years' fruitful crop of epics rooted in the familiar soil of fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, blood, sex, bastardy and inheritance. They are books like Annie Proulx's "Barkskins" (2016), a tale of two families and five centuries of worldwide deforestation; Min Jin Lee's "Pachinko" (2017), an account of the 20 th century as undergone by four generations of a Korean family in xenophobic Japan; and a spate of African-American novels, like Ayana Mathis's "The Twelve Tribes of Hattie" (2012) and Yaa Gyasi's "Homegoing" (2016), that use the dispersal of families to chart the precarious red thread of black survival. Perhaps the most expansive family novel of the last two years, C. E. Morgan's "The Sport of Kings" (2016), synthesizes the black epic of lost roots with the dynastic accrual of white property. Morgan tracks three generations of Kentucky's aristocratic Forge clan, horse breeders whose self-aggrandizing mythology is shadowed at every step by a black Ohioan family descended from their founder's slaves. A picture of the hidden costs of cultivating enduring privilege, Morgan's novel offers a calculus of ancestral sins, a deep history of inequality, and, like so many interracial family novels in American literature, the faint prospect of national reconciliation. Its refrain is, tellingly, "How far away from your father can you run?" Novels like Morgan's draw the past into moral and emotional proximity, allowing readers entry to vast historical schema while borrowing their propulsion - the "illusion of historical flow" that Irving Howe called "a secret of genius"- from the family plot. More and more, they also expose the genre's disavowals and patriarchal dirty secrets, vindicating erased maternal contributions and buried collateral lines. But genealogy isn't everything. In many ways, the family saga runs a blinkered race, eyes locked on the straightaway between the present and its most obvious progenitors - those who managed, despite every obstacle or with the assistance of every unjust privilege, to reproduce. We are interested, to put it otherwise, in people who became "our" ancestors. What about those who didn't? PUBLISHED IN 2015 by New Directions, John Keene's quietly acclaimed but undersung "Counternarratives" surveys the vast tracts of uncharted territory beyond the family-novel paradigm. Chronologically arranged but narratively discrete, Keene's collection of 13 stories and novellas examines lives marked by the tectonic historical pressures of its five-century scope. Jumping from Reformation-era Brazil to Puritan New England to Langston Hughes's Harlem, it is that rare book of short fiction with an epic intuition of time, accomplishing in a handful of inspired, intimate portraits what many sagas only manage in reams. Some of Keene's characters are documented if obscure figures like the Prussian circus performer Miss La La, or "La Mulâtresse-Canon," whom Degas immortalized hanging from a rope by her teeth. Others are plausibly invented, like Zion, an 18th-century Massachusetts bondsman who disappears from his cell - after a debauched career across the Commonwealth - on the eve of his execution. All exist on history's fringes, not forefathers or foremothers but frustrated artists, defeated revolutionaries, monks, nuns, eccentric balloonists and social deviants. Same-sex relationships and their erotic undercurrents are a central focus. But even the stories without explicitly homosexual narratives "queer" history, in Keene's words, raising unwritten possibilities from the past's dormant margins. The book opens with "Mannahatta," a vignette evoking the 1613 landfall of Juan Rodriguez, a black Dominican sailor and Manhattan's first immigrant. Disembarking alone from his canoe, Rodriguez finds himself so entranced by the landscape and Algonquian language that he resolves to desert the crew of the Jonge Tobias - "shielding this place and its particularities from their imaginations" - to join the Indians. A counterspell to the arrival of that lost génocidaire Columbus, the moment is within history but not of it, an overture suggesting alternative chronologies. Other stories mourn disfigured potential. "Cold" dissects the final hours of Robert Allen Cole, a turn-of-thecentury vaudevillian, ragtime composer and tragic pioneer of African-American theater. Carving a Faustian niche for black musicians in a deeply racist genre, Cole is most famous today for "Under the Bamboo Tree." He also co-wrote more than 150 "coon songs" and introduced the first New York musical conceived, directed and performed by black entertainers. Unlike his more famous collaborators, John Rosamond and James Weldon Johnson - the brothers wrote "Lift Every Voice and Sing"; James Weldon Johnson was executive secretary of the N.A.A.C.P. from 1920 to 1930 - Cole did not survive the coliseum of commercial disenfranchisement and requisite self-denigration that encircled black artists of his era. He killed himself in 1911 while recovering from a mental breakdown at a hotel in the Catskills. Cole's is a story few writers would think to tell. Remembered now, if at all, as a footnote or an embarrassment, he is neither an overlooked hero to rescue from erasure nor a tragic martyr like the quixotic John Brown of James McBride's "The Good Lord Bird," the defeated Béhanzin of Mary¿e Condé's "The Last of the African Kings" or the filicidal Sethe of Toni Morrison's "Beloved." Undaunted, Keene finds Cole sweating through his lavender linen suit, tormented by "devil's arias" on his dying day. Lyrics from his "coon songs" interrupt the text, while a tantalizing blues - "undreamt, unsummoned ... terrible samplings of the old and the unfamiliar" - drifts beyond his reach. This description could double as an epitome of "Counternarratives" itself. Keene has a Borgesian flair for invented primary texts and pseudoscholarly ephemera. "Rivers," a postscript to "Huckleberry Finn" narrated by Jim (now a Union army veteran), begins as an interview in the style of the W.RA.'s Depression-era oral histories. "Blues," which imagines an affair between Langston Hughes and his Spanish translator, the Mexican poet Xavier Villaurrutia, is a fantasy spun from the slenderest evidence: the latter's dedication of an erotic poem to Hughes and the knowledge that their time in New York and Mexico City overlapped. Disguised as marginalia, these stories are hard to imagine fitting into any novel. Larger narratives would only destroy that apartness from the chain of events which gives them escape velocity. HAUNTED BY ORIGINAL SIN and nourished by dreams of upward mobility, family sagas rarely extricate themselves from a sense of inevitability. They are about how the world came to be as it is, and even when they include characters outside the rubric of struggle and reproduction, it is usually a way to ruminate on their own boundaries. Toni Morrison coined the phrase "black surrogacy" to describe how blackness in classic American literature marked the limits of rational experience. Family novels often position queerness similarly, using it as a counterpoint or rebuke to the patriarchal dynamics driving the plot. "No one knows my name - or my history!" boasts Reuben Bedford Walker III, the jockey who rides the Forges' prize filly in "The Sport of Kings." Clearly marked as queer, he mocks both the aristocratic pretensions of his employers and another black character's self-consciously stereotyped family debilities. "I piss on family and order," Walker declares. "No mother made me, I bore my own damn self." Quey, the son of a Fante woman and a British slave trader in the 18th-century Ghana of "Homegoing," encounters an alternative to the novel's fateful trans-Atlantic course in his attraction to Cudjo, a childhood friend and wrestling companion. Both a tragic mulatto and tragically queer, Quey briefly considers an invitation to visit Cudjo's village - even fantasizes about living in his compound like a wife - but ultimately capitulates to the white, patriarchal role his father has marked for him: slaver. The novel's subsequent generations process in this betrayal's wake, as though if only Quey had spurned his father's dirty work for Cudjo's wrestler's arms, some quantum of the diaspora's tragedy might have been averted. In "Counternarratives," queerness is not a wrinkle in generational time, but a subject - and lens - in its own right. Glimpsed from the peripheries of gender and sexuality, history confesses concealed depths and old stories reveal unsuspected trajectories. The novella "A Letter on the Trials of the Counterreformation in New Lisbon" begins deceptively as a story of "civilization" in distress, adopting the portentous register of Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness." A Jesuit priest, Joaquim D'Azevedo, arrives to lead a failing monastery in Alagoas, on the frontier of Portuguese Brazil. His predecessors have either died or disappeared, and Catholicism's influence is threatened by the monks' slackening morals, imminent Dutch invasion and an ineffable malevolence that seems to revolve around one of the monastery's eight African slaves: Joäo Baptista, caught one night in women's clothing trying to burn the compound down. The ensuing confrontation ends with the slave liberating his master. Baptista - who is really Burunbana the "Jinbada," a bigender seer sexually involved with many of the men at the monastery - discovers that D'Azevedo is a Jewish converso, secretly adherent to his old faith, and endangered if he remains at Alagoas. He spirits the Jewish Jesuit to a hidden settlement - possibly Palmares, a city founded by runaway slaves that before its 1695 destruction counted more than 10,000 inhabitants - and from there to Dutch territory, where he is free to practice his ancestral faith. Burunbana's clairvoyance echoes the slant reappraisal of the past in "Counternarratives," one that proceeds not along the vector of generations - each a kernel containing the next - but the strange byways of identities in flux. Catholics become Jews, Portuguese captaincies are subsumed by Dutch colonies or supplanted by armed fugitive settlements and purported apostles of white Christian civilization are rescued by queer representatives of African spirituality. History is restored to miraculous contingency, no longer fraught with the present. THERE IS MUCH TO BE SAID for heredity's tethers, and for the writers who unravel them. But art has other ways to humanize time's passage, forms emphasizing lines of continuity and species of kinship that family sagas - still the dominant genre for putting history's course on an individual scale - largely ignore. Keene echoes writers like the Uruguayan Eduardo Galeano, whose three-volume "Memory of Fire" chronicles the Americas in a monumental collage of myths, crimes, encounters and skirmishes in a long anticolonial struggle. Or Patrick Chamoiseau, whose novel "Texaco" recounts Martinique's history as remembered by the insurgent residents of a shantytown menaced by city planners. Among contemporary American writers, the poets Layli Long Soldier, Robin Coste Lewis and Susan Howe stand out as fellow travelers, ventriloquists of the archive who wring new voices from settled texts. Their liberating attention to the interstitial and unwritten contrasts with the family saga's sentimental attachment to endurance, what the scholar Lauren Beriant describes as a "confusion between survival and freedom." Entranced by the ancestor who crossed on the Mayflower, escaped from the plantation or started anew in a hostile foreign city, we too often limit our retrospective gaze to those predecessors who made provisions for a future we recognize in our own present. We deprive ourselves of people whose visions were never realized, who left no obvious legacy. More people have lived on earth than the tendentious nets of genealogy - inevitably tangled in the chronologies of faith, race, nation - can catch, and we are connected to them by threads more subtle, and resonances more profound, than have yet been explored. Imagining those lives, deeply and without the prejudice that they must be prologue to our world, can be both radical and beautiful. We Eire interested in people who became 'our' ancestors. What about those who didn't?

Choice Review

Toni Morrison's fifth novel, Beloved, is the story of the life and loves of Sethe, an escaped slave who had preferred the risk of death to slavery for both herself and her children. Readers who know Morrison's fiction will find familiar themes-the struggle for identity, the all-consuming demands of love, the inescapable presence of the past-explored in a lyric style that combines realistic detail with folktale, legend, and myth. The technique invites almost inevitable comparison with Morrison's masterpiece, Song of Solomon (1977), and indeed there are numerous haunting parallels between Sethe's household and that of Pilate Dead that may illustrate a weakness in this latest novel. The fragile equilibrium between reality and myth so carefully sustained in Song of Solomon is less successful in Beloved, and, as a result, Sethe and her family are less real, less flesh-and-blood than the Deads. And the continual employment of flashbacks in the latter novel occasionally leads to confusion. These criticisms, however, are relatively minor; Song of Solomon is a great novel; Beloved, a very good one. Morrison is one of a handful of contemporary novelists whose work will, in this reviewer's judgment, stand the test of time. For academic, secondary school, and public libraries.-C.E. Davis, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Library Journal Review

Morrison's prize-winning, masterly, and disturbing novel Beloved should be an essential part of every library in every format. The story of the escaped slave Sethe and the past that literally and figuratively haunts her is rightfully still vivid, and, in Morrison's controlled reading, the words and images linger powerfully in our mind's eye. The novel was both well researched and imaginatively constructed to show the horrors and costs of both slavery and freedom for these characters who are by turns unforgettable, tragic, and mystical. The library packaging in CD format will allow libraries to enhance their collections or replace the original 20-year-old cassette version. Highly recommended.-Joyce Kessel, Villa Maria Coll., Buffalo, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.