Thanks to John, one of our seven-member reading group, we selected Beloved for August reading. Except Norm, a professor of literature at a Chicago university, none of us had read Toni Morrison before. “It’s beautifully written,” Norm said. But he warned us it would be a heavy reading.
Heavy it was. The story dealt with the issue of slavery, the meaning of freedom, and the necessity to deal with the suffering in the past in order to move on to the future. It was so well-written that we found ourselves well connected with the lives of Sethe, Baby Suggs, and Paul D, key characters in the book, and felt their pain and unbearable suffering, as if we were present.
At our discussion session over the weekend, we voiced our own interpretation and addressed the questions we each had, bringing the understanding to a deeper level. There was so much to dig into: the symbol of the ghost “Beloved,” the child Sethe murdered out of deep love so she wouldn’t be subjected to slavery; the constant switching point-of-view in narration, making the story non-linear and more complex since it opened more doors to examine the roles both white and black played; and how the repressed past prevented people from moving into the future, an issue we could all related to, either in history or in our present life.
We talked for three hours over lunch and snacks. Afterward, John sent an email that strongly expressed how I felt about our group and discussion every time we met:
“I get so much more out of the book just listening to the various takes that people have on aspects of the book that often I miss completely. I always walk out enriched by you folks.”
Thank you all. I look forward to our discussion on 1Q84 next month!
Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning feature-length documentary by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset.