Without a doubt, one of the most powerful, devastating, moving and eye-opening novels I have ever read in my life. This book astonished me the first time I read it, back in the 90’s, and I find myself again floored not only by the strength and quality of her writing…but the abject heartbreak of the subject matter. This one is not for the faint of heart.
And, in the times we find ourselves living in today, the summer of 2020 in the aftermath of the brutal killing of George Floyd, and with slavery once again in the headlines, this is a book that without a single shadow of doubt illustrates just why black people, especially in the USA, still feel so much pain reflecting on slavery – and are still fighting against the horrific and unjust treatment they have in the past, and still do, receive.
‘until the last afternoon of her life, when she got out of bed, skipped slowly to the door of the keeping room and announced to Sethe and Denver the lesson she had learned from her sixty years a slave and ten years free; that there was no bad luck in the world but white people. “They don’t know when to stop”, she said, and returned to her bed, pulled up the quilt and left them to hold that thought forever.’
The story centres around Sethe, an escaped slave who kills one child, and tries to kill two others rather than see them returned to slavery. This is a woman who has learned not to love, because those you love can, and will be, be taken from you. Her mother in law, if we can use that description, because a marriage between slaves was not recognised – instead, they were bred like animals with a dollar value attached – had eight children to six fathers, and saw all of them taken from her before they attained adulthood. And the brutal question it raises for me is, as a mother and loving my children as much as I do, would I have done the same?
I don’t know. Because I’m a white woman. I have always had the right to be in a place where I can love anyone I choose – not needing permission for desire. Yes, that’s another quote. Imagine for a moment having a child who will be taken from you to be sold on. You won’t know what has happened to them, or where they are. You will be almost happy to know they have died rather than endure what you have. Not nice, is it.
Seriously, read this. It should be in every school curriculum . Not only as a fabulous piece of literature, but because of the message it contains. Mum’s copy has already been promised, but I urge you to find a copy and read it.