Book Review: Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved by Toni Morrison

This book had been on my wishlist for quite some time. It was ideal for the Around the USA in 90 Days challenge, as several states were mentioned, that I hadn’t come across in other books I have read for the challenge.

I didn’t really know anything about the book, except that it is a modern classic. I found it a stranger story than I had expected.

Beloved: What it is about

This story takes place in 1873, although there are many flashbacks to earlier times. Sethe is a former slave who fled with her children from Kentucky to freedom in Ohio. She moves in with her mother in law, but at some point, her toddler daughter dies and her two sons “go away”. The dead daughter gets the word “Beloved” on her head stone.

The only child Sethe has left is Denver, who was only a small baby at the time. In the current time, Denver is 18 and lives an isolated life at the house with her mother and Paul D, a man Sethe knows from her time in slavery. Denver’s  grandmother has died and the neighbourhood does not want anything to do with Sethe.

When a young woman appears at the house, Denver is quick to befriend her and Sethe is happy to accept her in the family. She is called Beloved and it is suspected that she is the ghost of the small daughter that died years ago.

During the book, we find out what really happened with Sethe’s children and with Sethe’s escape from slavery. There is much, much more going on than first meets the eye!

Beloved: What I thought

This is not an easy read but it is a very interesting story. And apparently, it is based on a real story.

I found the setting and the back story interesting, but the further on in the book I got, the stranger the story got, too.

Whereas I could first (briefly) believe in Beloved as a ghost, very soon she seemed like a real person to me. I felt there was no further reference to her being supernatural, until much further on.

I loved learning about Sethe’s history and about Paul D’s. At first, the reader finds out some of the atrocities they have to suffer as slaves, but later on, you realise the full extend of what was going on, and why Sethe, once free, was so desperate to save her children from slavery.

The story often made little sense to me, and I wondered whether it was me, or? But then, a little later, whatever I didn’t understand was explained in the story. So, the story was built up in that way. Once I understood that, it didn’t bother me so much.

In all, I didn’t love this story. It was too odd for me and I didn’t appreciate the writing, Pullitzer prize (1988) notwithstanding.

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

Number of pages: 350 (Dutch edition)

First published: 1987

I got this book: from the library (Dutch translation: Beminde)

Genre: historical fiction

Have you read this book?

Did you enjoy it?

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

23 Responses to Book Review: Beloved by Toni Morrison

  1. In case you would like to try another novel by Toni Morrison I can recommend her earlier Song of Solomon. It is much less bewildering than Beloved and much more accessible.

  2. I didn’t enjoy the experience of reading this book as it was very confusing, but I bought a study guide for it and was impressed by all the little things I’d missed when reading it. It has grown on me with time – one of those books that needs studying in order to appreciate it.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Thanks, Jackie. I felt there was more to this book than I got out of it. I’m not sure I’d want to buy a study guide but if I came across one itmight be interesting to have a look.

  3. Tesney Ap says:

    This wouldn’t be the book I normally choose to read, but I really enjoy reading your review 🙂

  4. bibliosue says:

    I haven’t read any Toni Morrison novels, but I have The Bluest Eye on my to-read shelf and I’ve been told that is a good one to start with. I’ve heard Beloved is one of her more challenging books so bravo for completing it.

  5. Laura says:

    Beloved is a ghost story..? I definitely didn’t know that! I’m reading this by the end of August (reading challenge thing…) so hopefully I’ll be a bit more excited by it than you were!

  6. Tony says:

    This sounds like one I’d enjoy – at some point, when I have the time 😉

  7. Chinoiseries says:

    So, there are gaps in the story, that are only filled in later? I have this one on my to-read list, as many fellow bloggers have posted very positive reviews. Thank you for adding your own view on Beloved, I really thought it was a ghost story as well…

  8. JoV says:

    I have this on my shelf too and after reading your review I feel like grabbing and read it too just to compare my thoughts with yours. I vaguely recalled it is a ghost story, like you I am afraid it may seems strange to introduce a ghost in this. But let me read it with the expectation of a ghost story (I hardly read any!) and see how it goes. 😉

  9. I have read Beloved several times. It is a favorite of mine out of all of Morrison’s work. It is a complex read that is confusing the first time through. I find that the way that the story is told is essential to the dramatic ending. I encourage you to give it another shot. It is one of those books that gets better on each reading and new discoveries are made each time. The movie is worth a look too, if you are interested.

  10. Leslie says:

    I see what you mean by the story being strange. It doesn’t sound like my kind of book. I’m often at odds with those who bestow prizes on books.

  11. I’ve read this book a few years ago for an assignment and was a bit confused. It might have been the fact that I had to finish it within a certain time frame so I didn’t really take the time to read through all the symbols and hidden meanings. I’ll have to read it again and see if the second time around I can make more sense of it. Some books you can’t just rush through.

  12. Roof Beam Reader says:

    Weird… I’ve always wanted to read this, because it is so highly-regarded here in the States. But I never actually knew anything about the story (I just thought it was a socioeconomically important love story, of a sort…). I’ve owned the book for years… I’ll definitely read it, but now I feel less likely to enjoy it.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Adam, before I started this book I thought exactly the same as you. I do think you’d like I more than me since ypu generally like the more literary books.

  13. Carol says:

    I read Beloved years ago and thought it the strongest, most beautiful book I’d read that year. Like you, I didn’t understand parts of it, and I wonder if anyone does. But I loved the language, the voice and the atmosphere, and felt that I “got it” even though I didn’t totally understand it. And maybe that’s the point of the story. Thanks for your synopsis – I’d forgotten the details.

  14. Dalida says:

    when i heard about this novel i thought it was just about a romance but then i started to realize that it was just about a ghost that when it get me hooked and more interesting. it was a bit confused in the beginning, but when you keep going you will realize what really going on throghout the novel.

  15. Veena says:

    I just picked up this book out of curiosity (it was on sale!). Everyone is saying it’s a different sort of writing. Thought I should try it. Nice review by the way. 🙂

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