Beloved by Toni Morrison, Reviewed by Mark D. Walker

What better time to review this influential novel than the first day of Black History Month? Although a piece of fiction, it accomplishes the objective set out in the introduction, “I wanted the reader to be kidnapped, thrown ruthlessly into an alien environment as the first step into a shared experience with the book’s population—just as the characters were snatched from one place to another, from any place to any other, without preparation or defense.” She provides an unflinching look into the abyss of slavery.

Published in 1987, set after the American Civil War, the novel tells of a dysfunctional family of formerly enslaved people whose home in Cincinnati was haunted by a malevolent spirit. The narrative is based on the life of Margaret Garner, an enslaved woman in the slave state of Kentucky who escaped to the free state of Ohio. She was subject to the Fugitive Slave Act when U.S. Marshals could, and did, break into their cabin to return the enslaved peoples to their rightful enslavers.

The book dedication reads “Sixty Million and More,” referring to the Africans and their descendants who died due to the Atlantic slave trade. The book’s epigraph is Romans 9:25.

The author describes the challenge of the slave catcher, whose fear was that the enslaved person might harm him/herself, “Otherwise, you ended up killing what you were paid to bring back alive. Unlike a snake or a bear, a dead nigger could not be skinned for profit and was not worth his deadweight in coin.” In this case, one slave mother, Sethe, killed her two-year old daughter “trying to put my babies where they would be safe.”

One of the more challenging characters is Beloved, who mysteriously appears near Sethe’s house and is believed to be the murdered baby who haunted their home. Beloved becomes a catalyst, bringing repressed slave stories and the trauma of the family to the surface, which creates madness in the house and eventually depletes Sethe.

This haunting character is part of mythical spiritualism not that different from Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s 100 Years of Solitude.  Sometimes it’s difficult to discern if the scene is real or an illusion. Characters with strange names and circumstances come and go, making this a challenging narrative. Speed readers, beware.

Some humor breaks up the tragedy. In one scene, a teacher accuses a student, “Sixo,” of stealing a piece of meat, which Sixo denies because he is “improving your property, sir.”


“Sixo plant rye to give the high piece a better chance. Sixo take and feed the soil, give you more crop. Sixo take and feed. Sixo give you more work.” Although this was a clever denial, the schoolteacher beat him anyway, fso he’d appreciate that “definitions belonged to the definers—not the defined….”

In 1998, the novel was made into a film produced by, and starring, Oprah Winfrey. Although the story brought the author her most significant acclaim, it was nominated, but did not win the National Book Award. Consequently, 48 African-American writers and critics signed a letter of protest. Not surprisingly, a well-written book dealing with the travesty of slavery was banned in many school districts around the country for bestiality, infanticide, sex, and violence.

“Toni Morrison is not just an important contemporary novelist but a major figure in our national literature.”—The New York Review of Books

About the Author

Toni Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. She is the author of several novels, including The Bluest Eye, Beloved (made into a major film), and Love. She has received the National Book Critics Circle Award and a Pulitzer Prize. She is the Robert F. Goheen Professor at Princeton University.

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About the Reviewer

Mark D. Walker was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala and spent over forty years helping disadvantaged people in the developing world. He’s a contributing writer for The Authors Show, Wanderlust Journal, Revue Magazine, and the Literary Traveler. His column, “The Million Mile Walker Review: What We’re Reading and Why,” is part of the Arizona Authors Association newsletter. One of his essays received a Bronze from the Solas Literary Awards for Best Travel Writing.  His first book is Different Latitudes: My Life of the Peace Corps and Beyond.  His latest book, My Saddest Pleasures: 50 Years on the Road, is now available on His wife and three children were born in Guatemala. You can find over 65 book reviews and 25 of his articles at



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