This book was received through the kind offices of Penguin Random House India in exchange of an honest review
Every ‘Must-read’ list of books ever to appear on the internet or the newspaper or magazines names ‘Beloved’ by Toni Morrison as one of those books that must not be skipped. Since I have not read it as yet, I always feel a little guilty and incomplete in proffering my claims as a bibliophile. Naturally, when offered a chance to read the latest book by her, I jumped up with both hands in the air and a whoop of delight.
It has a beautiful cover of a black woman in a pristine white dress and I was all set to enjoy my first ever Toni Morrison book. Something terrible happened instead. A few pages in, I was already feeling uncomfortable in the knowledge that I did not like the book at all. At times like this, I often start wondering about my lack of a classical English Literature college level education and whether I would appreciate such works better if I had been taught to look for symbolism and sentence construction. Is it possible that I don’t understand the ‘moral’ of the story at all? Am I just too practical and insensitive to appreciate the truth about human nature?
Whatever may be the reason, in the spirit of honesty, I declare that I thought this book was ‘meh’.
The story is told through the points of view of the various protagonists in the story. The one on the cover and the heroine of the story is a girl named Bride, who is a successful executive in a cosmetics company and grew up looking for a cold mother’s loving approval. She loves Booker, who was her boyfriend but who left her one day after some little disagreement. She eventually tracks him down but that comes later. She has a dear friend called Brooklyn, who is always there to lend a shoulder but is not without the foresight to look out for her own interests. And then there is Sweetness, Bride’s mother, who is actually the strongest and most street smart woman of the bunch, even if she is the sort-of villain of the piece.
Sweetness is a black woman who may pass for white and was the daughter of another black woman who actually did. As fate would have it, she bore a daughter who was dark skinned. Sweetness grew up in a time and society where the colour of your skin was all that people looked for before judging you. Add to that the fact that you are a woman and you are effectively holding all the wrong cards for tackling the game of life. She is always so hung up on the things that can go wrong for herself and her daughter that she forgets to enjoy the love that the little person can give her. As it is, I felt that she managed to protect her daughter a bit too much and ended up making her too naive for this world instead of tough and thick-skinned as she had intended.
As for Bride, I am sorry but I thought she was an exceptionally stupid woman and I know exactly who she reminded me of. When I was a 14 year old, we had a girl in our after school group who was 2 years older to us. One evening she comes up to us and says we must go back to the bridge we were cycling on the precious evening. With nothing better to do we all trooped off and only when we reached there did she inform us that she was looking for a 100/- rupee note that she had dropped there 24 hours earlier. Even as I stared at her in open-mouthed amazement, my other friends declared that she was so ‘innocent’ and ‘cute’. Bride is portrayed in much the same light in this book while I once again shake my head in disbelief.
As soon as one is introduced to her, she is on a mission of mercy. She has saved up a lot of cash and is taking it in her flashy car and while dressed up to the nines to a woman who is about to be released from prison after serving 15 years. ‘How sweet’ one muses, until it is revealed that it was Bride’s false testimony that put her behind bars. Making amends is never an easy job, and these circumstances would have called for a more than usual level of finesse. The encounter that follows is short, swift and excruciatingly painful for Bride.
Throughout the book, Bride manages to keep getting physically hurt over and over again. And that too more seriously that the last time. She is an absolute train wreck and try as I might I fail to empathize with her even a little bit.
Another disturbing aspect was the amount of child sexual abuse going on in the book. If the characters had not been abused themselves as children, they had witnessed or known someone who had been a victim. As sad as it is, the idea that any stranger you meet in America will have personal knowledge of child sexual abuse is disconcerting and feels like overkill managing to detract instead of adding meaning to the message the author is trying to convey. There is something to be said for subtlety.
The irony of Bride and Booker abandoning their own parents because they felt they did not love/understand them enough only to love an old woman who had abandoned her own numerous children all over the world when she had had enough is not lost on the reader. It is a very clever plot twist and made me acknowledge the truth of the author’s renowned abilities even if it happened too late in the story.
The most poignant chapter in the book for me though was the last one, where Sweetness muses over Bride’s news and makes a scathingly accurate observation that beautifully justifies the title of the book.
However, to cut a long story short, I did not like the book and feel truly sorry for that.