Beloved, by Toni Morrison: A book of hope that everyone needs to read

Old favourites: Lucy Sweeney Byrne on her most loved texts

Hopefully you don’t need me to tell you that Beloved by Toni Morrison is a masterpiece. If you haven’t read it yet, stop reading this, go out, get it and begin, because nothing I can say here in so few words could begin to convey its splendour (although I’ll try to offer a taste).

Beloved is one of those rare novels I'd describe as necessary. It's a book about everything, in that it's about humanity, family, history, existence. It's a book about faith, and even more so about love. Specifically, it's about slavery in America, and one woman's attempt to free her children from a life of dehumanising servitude on a farmstead called Sweet Home.


It's about the lengths to which she goes to ensure this freedom, and their consequences. It shows us how slavery becomes a state of mind, like a sickness. We see, with shocking clarity, the desperate inhumanity of it, the violence of it, the ugliness – all known before the reading of Beloved, but not felt in the way Morrison forces us to feel it.

Yet, in spite of the terrible scenes it contains, and the astounding amount of pain those within it endure, Beloved is a book of hope. It is peopled with characters who, once read, are always remembered.


And my God, the language! Any description of mine proves paltry, so take this:

"So you protected yourself and loved small. Picked the tiniest stars out of the sky to own; lay down with head twisted in order to see the loved one over the rim of the trench before you slept. Stole shy glances at her between the trees at chain-up. Glass blades, salamanders, spiders, woodpeckers, beetles, a kingdom of ants. Anything bigger wouldn't do. A woman, a child, a brother – a big love like that would split you wide open in Alfred, Georgia. He knew exactly what she meant: to get to a place where you could love anything you chose – not to need permission for desire – well now, that was freedom."