124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom…
So begins the story of Beloved, a book I often cite as one of my favourites. I was introduced to Beloved during my undergrad degree in the UK about sixteen years ago, and its impact has never left me. It is the story of Sethe, former plantation slave, with a past full of horror, who, along with her daughter Denver, is struggling to carve out her own identity now they are free. They are joined by Paul D, a gentle man released from the same plantation, who wants to love them. But at the centre is Beloved, a ghost child who returns to the family with an unquenchable thirst for attention, for love, for acknowledgement, for the truth – forcing them apart, pushing relentlessly into any visions of the future they have and seeming hellbent on destroying them. It is the most powerful rendition of the repercussions of slavery that I have ever read. Every page pulled at me, words and sentences strung together with such force they stole my breath. When I watched the Oprah Winfrey film I thought that such a lot was lost in translation – this is a book that needs to be felt far more than it can be visualised. It asks, when such horrors have been visited upon you, how can you begin to be free of them? How can you stop them from snaking through the generations to come, warping more innocent lives? For Sethe, the mother of this story, has not only been a victim of horrific crimes, she has been the perpetrator too.
For all of that, this is not a pessimistic book. There is so much love in this story – aching, fragile love; love reduced to the merest wisps, but still winding itself into the most tenuous possibilities. It’s probably why I still want to cry when I read Paul D’s words to Sethe:
‘You are your best thing, Sethe. You are.’ His holding fingers are holding hers.
And her reply:
Sara Foster is the bestselling author of psychological suspense novels, Shallow Breath, Come Back to Me and Beneath the Shadows, which reached #4 on the Australian Sunday Telegraph Bestsellers List and has been published in the US and Germany.