This book tells the story of a small family of former slaves living in Cincinnatti just after the end of the American Civil War.
As a white Englishwoman I feel massively unqualified to comment meaningfully on this book which I found really hard to read. Not because of the writing style, although it uses an almost stream-of-consciousness narration at times, but because the life stories of the freed slaves it relates are so painful to contemplate. I had to stop reading from time to time because it was simply too much. The optimistic part of me was hoping that the sufferings of the enslaved characters were exaggerated for emphasis, but the rest of me was very much afraid that they weren't.
The central characters of the novel are Sethe and her daughter Denver. They have built a modest new life for themselves which is disrupted by the arrival first of Paul D. who was a slave on the same farm as Sethe, and then of a woman, who gives her name simply as Beloved and triggers a series of painful memories for both Sethe and Paul D and changes their lives drastically.
This book really expresses on a personal level the misery and hopelessness of slavery. The lives of Sethe and her friends are enormously removed from my own experience but Morrison's depiction of their suffering was extremely effective. I"m not usually a huge fan of this style of stream of consciousness random flashback writing, but I have to admit that in this case it worked very well to get me inside the characters' heads and empathising with them. Not a comfortable book, this, but a very good one, I think.