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A powerful tragedy distilled into a jewel of a masterpiece by the Nobel Prize–winning author of Beloved and, almost like a prelude to that story, set two centuries earlier.
In the 1680s the slave trade was still in its infancy. In the Americas, virulent religious and class divisions, prejudice and oppression were rife, providing the fertile soil in which slavery and race hatred were planted and took root.
Jacob is an Anglo-Dutch trader and adventurer, with a small holding in the harsh north. Despite his distaste for dealing in “flesh,” he takes a small slave girl in part payment for a bad debt from a plantation owner in Catholic Maryland. This is Florens, “with the hands of a slave and the feet of a Portuguese lady.” Florens looks for love, first from Lina, an older servant woman at her new master’s house, but later from a handsome blacksmith, an African, never enslaved.
There are other voices: Lina, whose tribe was decimated by smallpox; their mistress, Rebekka, herself a victim of religious intolerance back in England; Sorrow, a strange girl who’s spent her early years at sea; and finally the devastating voice of Florens’ mother. These are all men and women inventing themselves in the wilderness.
A Mercy reveals what lies beneath the surface of slavery. But at its heart it is the ambivalent, disturbing story of a mother who casts off her daughter in order to save her, and of a daughter who may never exorcise that abandonment.
Acts of mercy may have unforeseen consequences.
- Orphan hood
A Mercy takes place in late 17th century New England, a budding civilization over which spirits and demons, real and imagined, govern and where indentured servants, dislocated Africans, the " Europes" and Native Americans were first sorting out who would have what on the continent. The title comes from the end of the book, which is really the beginning; it comes from the voice of a mother who was never able to convey it to her daughter. The reader is left to contemplate just what a mercy might be, if the intended recipient is unable to appreciate the impulses that delivered it.
The action moves back and forth from the first person narration of Florens, who is a lettered slave and who desperately scratches out her story on the walls of a derelict, unfinished house and the 3rd person, limited omniscient narration by the other principals of the farm: Jakub, Rebekah, Sorrow, Lina, Willard and Scully. This is an assorted group of orphans who once considered themselves a family, but "really couldn't be because we were orphans".
The state of orphan hood, or expulsion from one state of being into the other, is mostly what the book is about. All the characters, including the house, have been abandoned through tragic death, greed of the survival instinct, "mercy" in the face of untenable circumstances. In some cases they have been doubly abandoned. It is their responses to the state of orphan hood: talking to an invisible twin; taking comfort in a proud heritage; turning to worship a selective God; acquiring material wealth, that shape and define them. Most of the characters are women and their lot is made harder by the commonality of being dependent and of being considered chattel. Women are "unmastered"; they are "invisible"; they "never shape the world. It shapes us." To be female is to be a "wound that does not heal". To them there is " the promise and threat of men", the " security and risk".
There are losses everywhere in this primitive Eden-like land where "pride goeth before a fall", where serpents lurk (if only on metal gates) and where one is expulsed from one's original sense of self, to no sense of self, to a consciousness of what it is like to be less than a person. Florens feels this most acutely and with the help of a nail and the timbered planks of desecrated trees, scribes her tale. Hers might be the first ever slave narrative. It begins as an innocent, untamed and bewildered voice that shrieks to an angry, vengeful one after the Blacksmith gives her the taste of knowledge, minus the taste of love. The Blacksmith, a free Black and a highly skilled craftsman and healer, is the only character who has not been given a voice, a choice that has left this reader contemplating the mystery and meaning of that.
But, Floren's narrative and the insistent, cumulative other voices ultimately rescue them all from the state of orphan hood through us, the omniscient readers. Within the pages of this spare, remarkable book where words and images are never wasted, we get a sense of the original sins of our heritage and the forces that were unleashed when the inhabitants of our land collided. We claim them all as our imperfect family.
- A Mercy
It was A Mercy that this book was so short- I couldn't have borne it much longer. Did someone take the original manuscript, run it through a shredder,and then put the confetti back together? I feared I might be the only one to say that the Empress of Nobel has no clothes, but after reading reviews here and in The Atlantic, I'm glad to know there are others who consider it a messy mishmash of fragments thrown together and going nowhere. ...more info
Another Toni Morrison disappointment. I always say I am never going to buy another one of her books and because I like stories related to black history, way of life, I break down hoping this one will be better and it never is. I am an intelligent well versed person. Why do I have such trouble understanding her books? I get so frustrated, they sit there for months before I can bring myself to finish reading the book. "The Secret Life of Bees" I started reading and could not put down. What a waste of 120 DH this was. Never again. ...more info
- It was okay, not as good as I'd hoped
A MercyWhile the book was interesting, it was kind of hard to follow at some points and got a bit overdescriptive in places. It wasn't the "page turner" I had seen described somewhere. It was just okay....more info
- loved it
I loved "Beloved," and this is a beautiful comjpanion piece, set about 200 years earlier. I love how Morison gives me empathy for slavery, which I think white people cannot possibly understand.
This book is short, though not an easy read.The first chapter is especially difficult to read. I read it twice and some of it 3 times. It is narrated by the young slave girl using non-standard English, illusions, fragmented memories and missing referrnets. After that it is easier going. Still, it skips around in time quite a bit, often leaving the reader where we are.
Well worth the work, it has a satisfying resolution....more info
- Rich writing doesn't make up for soft plotting
Luckily the book is short because very little happens. Characters arrive, form friendships and then... Well, that's about all. The writing is lovely, dense and textured and the writer evokes 17th century America vividly, but without much of a plot there is very little to identify with. Her early books are much better. Not for everyone. ...more info
- Author & Publisher Need to Have "Mercy" on Blind Kindle Owners
Did the publisher actually ask the author's permission to not enable text-to-speech? Did this author knowingly sign a new contract that will prevent blind and disabled people from reading/listening/page turning this book? Why?
Sorry, but I cannot support this author or publisher by purchasing a disabled product.
Hopefully, the Text-to-Speech will be enabled soon, as Kindle owners who are blind or disabled cannot read this book. I enjoy the T2S on the Kindle as well and use it on the go when reading is not practical. I will gladly rewrite my review when the publisher enables the Text-to-Speech function on this book. ...more info
- A challenge
Challenging to read, never knowing who's "voice" I'm "hearing" as I start a new chapter. If I hadn't been reading it for my book discussion group, I wouldn't have finished it....more info
- A literary muddle
One thing is sure: Ms. Morrison didn't get her Nobel Prize for the clarity of her writing. If you read for prestige or if you believe that reading should be a hard labor, then you'll be well served. People who care about facts and history are in for a substantial disappointment. This book flew across the room after the first two pages....more info
- a mercy
Toni Morrison really conjures up life in the Northeast in the 1680s when the Dutch were doing business. Jacob, a trader, takes a slave girl as partial payment for a bad debt from a plantation owner in Maryland.This slave girl, Florins, was willingly given away by her mother in the hopes of saving her from a life of slavery. You come to realize how an act of mercy can ignite all kinds of emotions on the part of the mother (who will never know her child as an adult) as well as Florins who struggles with abandonment. Beautifully written, almost poetic....more info
- My take
A mercy is a beautifully crafted tale of slavery,love,hatred and passion all intertwined.The author speaks with an authoritative voice that resounds in the different characters she has created.Whilst this is a good book,it is probably not her best work.However, I cannot be the arbiter here, as this is my introduction to Toni Morrison.
The characters assume a certain ambiguity,voices rather than shape or form.Voices that fail to give full flesh to the characters they represent.
The english, or rather, pigin english, heard through the mouths of Florens and the other women makes an arduous read at times.The poetry from their lips is at most times beautiful, but one questions the credibility of the enterprise.Can such beautiful words come from the mouths of illiterate women? The male characters make no literary pretensions and that was well captured in all their lines.
The end of the book, with Florens's mother describing why she gave her child away seemed a bit rushed to me.Almost like there were some chapters that should have come before that.Perhaps this was the intention.Afterall it is a small novel.
The intermingling of straight prose and the narratives in form of letters is a very good device and that did heighten the reading pleasure.A clever balancing act I must say.
At the end of the day, I found several, beautiful chapters and pages that brought moments of excitement and a yearning to go on reading.Like I said, a good book but proabably not her best.I guess I shall have to read her other works and then compare. ...more info
- A Mercy by Toni Morrison
This item was brand new and the large print was definently a selling point. I was really happy with this item....more info
- A Mercy
This books starts out slow, but if you stick with it, it gets better about midway through....more info
- Over-rated, over-hyped
If Ms. Morrison were not female and black none of her over-wrought "novels" would ever see the light of day. Her receiving the Nobel just goes to show how utterly politicized that dubious award has become. Ten years from now no one will remember who Toni Morrison was....more info
- Consumers beware, your rights are being trampled upon
Shame on Toni Morrison for allowing the criminally crippling of text-to-speech on this work. A lost sale here....more info
- morrison back to her best work
A Mercy by Toni Morrison is a beautiful haunting and important novel. I loved Song of Solomon and Beloved, but her more recent books were less exciting in my view. Here the old magic returns. Her language, the use of metaphor, the development of character, the setting of the seventeenth century days of slavery and indentured service, all create a world we must see, painful as it is. The book gives us a picture of life we have not been privy to in Morrison's fiction, and its music and sorrow have engraved themselves in my heart and consciousness....more info
- Beautiful, Beautiful, Beautiful!!!!
I have personally responded to some of the negative commentators. I mentioned to them that I think we have read and/or listened to a different book. I have no idea what they are even talking about! To me this book is achingly beautiful and one of Toni Morrison's best. In a short book, she captures so much, because her words are so perfectly chosen and crafted, it is if she is "channeling" the characters. I do understand that if a reader does not like or "get" poetry they will not like this book. So I say to them, please don't read Toni Morrison. I am a writer, and I listened to the author's reading of her book with rapt and amazed attention. She is a genius, and I cannot believe how stunningly and powerfully she writes and also reads this work. This book is not just a Mercy, it is a masterpiece. Perhaps those who didn't like it have a problem with being reminded of the horrors of slavery, what was done to Native Americans, women, and poor people in the 1600s. Perhaps it makes them uncomfortable to have to admit that we are still living with the consequences of the cruelty that was done to so many in the past. For those that say, they are "tired" of these themes and they have been written about already, I remind them that many of the injustices told in this book still goes on in many places of the world, and we are still living in the US with that aftermath and scars. I recommend this book to you if you are a serious reader, love poetry, and yes,are a "liberal." If you don't like poetry, feel offended by people reminding us of our collective guilt, and can't hear the "mercy" in this story, you will hate it. Stay away, read something else. Don't denigrate an author who can write circles around you. (And me!!) ...more info
- We all inhabit the earth as brothers and sisters.
Toni Morrison is an acclaimed author and pastoral voice whose writing is beautifully conveyed. In her new book "A Mercy" We are introduced to a 17th century farmer and rumrunner who is in the process of building an overly-ostentatious house, with a serpent-clad iron gate. Jacob Vaark believes he is creating a utopia...but this utopia has two overlying sins...the extermination of the natives...and the import of Africans. Lina, the farmer's slavemaiden...sees the serpents on the gate as a representation of the Europes - white-skinned men whom appear to be sickly and pale, who strip lands of the natural resources and force a harsh view of Christianity unto the native people. Yet Jacob is viewed as the book's rational and benevolent "Europe" as he refuses to traffic in slaves...and becomes somewhat of a godsend to those who've been forced into slavery. In fact, a mother pushes her daughter on him in fear of her ending up with someone less caring. Yet, while Jacob is portrayed as a kind and caring soul...he, in fact, makes a tainted living by using slaves he doesn't come in contact with on sugar plantations in the Caribbean...so how caring is he truly? But the "Europes" have also seen their share of debauchery. Jacob's wife, Rebekka, recalls all too easily public hangings in London when the heads of their brethren were held high for all to see...and the entrails thrown into the river without care. "The Mercy" is a terribly ingenious look into American history with all the spirited passion that intones. Toni Morrison captures the essence of a time when the south was separated...and the north persecuting women as witches. But most importantly, "The Mercy" isn't trying to persuade the reader on the errors of the past...rather, it shows the tragedy and folly of men trying to lay dominion over others.................Another great book that just encompassed me byToni Morrison was Song of Solomon - Song of Solomon ...more info
- Wrenching but beautiful
I marvel at both the story being told and the manner in which it is conveyed. Morrison's word crafting lingers like a distinctive taste. ...more info
- not all that great
Having just finished " A Mercy" ,I can't honestly say that I understand some of the reviews.For me, it just wasn't that great. The book is a mishmash of some old, tired themes and writing styles coupled with some very interesting( and at times ludicrous) transitions between supposed "Period" writing,internal monologue( apparently she was attempting to "channel" Faulkner-I don't think he would have appreciated it)and present day verbalization.
Honestly- aren't we all just getting a little tired of the topics that she utilized? I was mesmerized by Beloved- the exquisitely "tight" writing, the absolute purity of her exploration of her theme- a brilliant novel written by a true artist. I bought this book expecting more- unfortunately, she didn't deliver.
- Only if you love, love, love Toni Morrison
If you're into Toni Morrison you will find this story and style quite typical of her work. There's always a great sadness to the plight of women who are disenfranchised by society in her novels. But this story seems to make only a singular point and because of that it feels unsatisfying when you finally get to the end....more info
- Not her best effort
This was not her best effort. Normally, I can't put her books down. However, this one I can not stand reading a page.The characters are flat and the rotating voices are more distracting than enthralling. I'm half-way through and I am not engrossed in the story at all. I don't think that Toni M. put in her normal effort, this was a rushed job. I expect a high quality from this author.
I would not recommend this book at all!! It was a waste of money...more info
- No Text to Speech, No Purchase!
This is one of the first backwards, greedy authors (and/or publisher) to ask that Amazon disable the Kindle 2 text to speech function for their book. This is a stupid move that is unfriendly to the visually impaired and to the consumer in general. I would urge people to boycott this book (or any other by this author) for that reason. I certainly will never buy any book by this author as long as this policy stands!...more info
- Good, but short
This was a good, creative story, but not very long, (under 200 pages). I think I was expecting more of a novel than a short story. This was my first Toni Morrison book. She is an excellent writer....more info
- A Horror- not a Mercy
This is possibly one of the worst books I have ever read. The plot is paper thin, the characters are flat one-dimensional, non-sense voices and the ending is abysmal. I thought that I may have missed the point (as with Beloved), so a checked the audio-book from the library-just to be sure. The audio book was even worse. I am very disappointed that this book gets so much positive attention from critics and readers because I believe that this work is being judged, not from its own individual standing, but from the author's previous triumphs. ...more info
Reading Toni Morrison's A Mercy slowly during Black History Month gave me plenty of time to absorb her lyrical language and reflect on her depiction of life in America in the late 17th century. A Mercy presents that time and place through multiple narrators and through the description of setting and feelings in a way that readers can come closer to understanding all the moral ambiguity of the era. One could be opposed to slavery and also participate in its practices. Individuals can yearn for a better life while despairing the present one. One can be subject to the mastery of another while fearing the absence of that master. The language becomes mesmerizing at times, and I found the best way to absorb the story was to relax and take it in, rather than try to over-analyze or think too hard about what was going on. Morrison and her work have been recognized and rewarded. A Mercy adds to her legacy.
Rating: Three-star (Recommended)
- Really interesting read
It's been a long time since I read a book that took me to a different place than I've been before. I've never really considered was it was like to be a women around the time this country was first being established. The way the book was written took some getting used to, at times I needed to read and re-read to understand it. But i was truly captivated by the story and simply the 'idea' of the story that this didn't bother me. Highly recommended - ...more info