Skin. It features heavily in this book. Things done to it. Things done because of it. The feel of it. This book will get under your skin. There is frequent, graphic violence. But it’s a book set in the mid-1800s as slavery finally starts to stumble, and if you weren’t white, horrific brutality or the threat of it was essentially a daily occurrence. I’m torn between wishing I could forget the images in this book and being grateful that I read it because I believe it’s important to remember that there were people who were treated this way. That while this book is technically historical fiction, it’s based in historical fact.
Aside from etching itself into your brain because of the violence, this book is also impressively done. Morrison has created magnificent characters, complex and powerful. She sets things up so that despite knowing at the beginning that little Beloved has died at her mother’s hands, the ending still comes as a surprise. There’s poetry and prose. Morrison “melds horror and beauty in a story that will disturb the mind forever” – Sunday Times. She’s made the black people the characters, white people the punch cards slid in and out of a machine that generates violence. The handle of a slot machine that may spit out a win, but is more likely to spit out death. It’s an interesting reversal of focus. We see and know everything each black character knows. The white ones are automatons. Mostly unfathomable. They just do what they are going to do and you can’t predict it or prevent it, only react to it. Why even think about them? Think about the people struggling to survive in a world like that. Think about the children.
“The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.” – Joseph Conrad