A mercy

by Toni Morrison

Paperback, 2009

Status

Available

Publication

New York : Vintage International, 2009.

Description

In exchange for a bad debt, an Anglo-Dutch trader takes on Florens, a young slave girl, who feels abandoned by her slave mother and who searches for love--first from an older servant woman at her master's new home, and then from a handsome free blacksmith.

Media reviews

The landscape of “A Mercy” is full of both beauties and terrors: snow “sugars” eyelashes, yet icicles hang like “knives”; a stag is a benign and auspicious apparition, yet at night “the glittering eyes of an elk could easily be a demon.” But whatever the glories and the rigors of
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nature may signify to the civilized, for these characters, living in the midst of it, nature doesn’t signify. It’s simply to be embraced or dreaded — like the people with whom they have to live. In Morrison’s latest version of pastoral, it’s only mercy or the lack of it that makes the American landscape heaven or hell, and the gates of Eden open both ways at once.
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3 more
Morrison uses multiple narrators expertly (think also of Jazz), moving easily from third person to first, changing dictions and emphasis, fearlessly closing the novel with the previously unheard voice of Florens's mother. By doing so, she circles hawk-like around the moment of mercy, exploding its
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six degrees of repercussion from one life to the next, asking whether forgiveness or salvation is possible.... Although there's levity with a riotous tea party among the bawdy women who travel steerage with Rebekka, A Mercy is a sad, pessimistic novel, suspicious of the early makings of a democracy, unrelenting in leaving the unwanted unloved. And yet, the signature elements of Morrison's fiction—love turned inside out, history flipped on its head, biblical references, folk wisdom, ghosts, and an old-fashioned bloody, heart-wrenching tale—bring great relief. After the disappointing last two books, Paradise and Love, Toni Morrison's ninth novel roars across the arc of America's birth, wielding a prowess to haunt the reader as only Morrison can do.
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Themes of slavery and grief, of women's struggles to escape the bitterness of the captive world, are at the center of Morrison's work. They also lie at the heart of her new novel, "A Mercy," which looks to history once again -- in this case, the 1680s and 1690s -- to explore the agonies of slavery
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among the settlers of the New World. Such a description makes Morrison's novel sound far too pat, however; it slights the poetry and breadth of her work. Yes, "A Mercy" is about slavery, but in the most universal sense, meaning the limits we place on ourselves as well as the confinements we suffer at the hands of others.
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Morrison structures the novel in her familiar manner, giving one chapter by turns to each competing voice, collapsing time frames, seldom letting her characters directly rub up against one another, trapping each of them in their biographies. In this way, she creates something that lives powerfully
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as an invented oral history and that seems to demand to be taken as a parable, but one whose meaning - which lives in the territory of harshness and sacrifice - is constantly undermined or elusive.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member mrstreme
"It was not a miracle. Bestowed by God. It was a mercy. Offered by a human." - page 195

A Mercy has a quietness about it - as if each character is whispering a secret in my ear. But the message was strong, powerful and riveting. I haven't read a book quite like it before.

The story centers on the
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trade of Florens, a literate slave girl who comes to the home of Jacob Vaark. Florens' mother insisted the girl be traded away from her, and as Florens settles into her new home, she ponders why her mother would be so willing to give her up. While at Jacob's home, Florens falls under the care of Lina, a Native American woman who tends to the farm and household. Also at the home are Sorrow, a supposedly dim-witted slave, and Rebekka, Jacob's wife.

When Jacob dies unexpectedly, the entire structure of the home unravels, thread by thread. Rebekka is stricken with illness, Florens is dispatched to find help from her lover, Sorrow gives birth to a baby, and Lina can't function out of worry about Florens. Chapters are divided among the characters, adding new perspectives to the tragedy. The most telling chapter was the last, when Florens' mother told her side of the story.

The plot doesn't move really, but as the story weaves in and out among the characters, you get a hard look at the effects of slavery in 1680's America. The moral of the story, though whispered, was still loud and clear: Slavery, in all forms, destroys lives.
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LibraryThing member Carlie
This novel begins with a slave girl, Florens, travelling on foot through the forest in search of the blacksmith, a man both foreign to her and entrancing because he is a black but has never been enslaved. Her mistress is ill, and she is calling on him to heal her. The story quickly expands to
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include other characters, each one allowed a voice and the time to be heard regardless of the book’s small size. Morrison is terse and epigrammatical; I think I got as much from what was left out as from what was included.

As the characters are introduced, the story unfolds. It is the 1690s in America, and Jacob Vaark reluctantly agreed to take Florens as a partial payment from a debtor. Back at home, Jacob already has a full plate. His wife, Rebekka, has recently lost her only surviving child. Lina, a Native American woman whose tribe was annihilated by small pox, is their dedicated servant. Another girl, the strange Sorrow who grew up on a ship, was taken in by the Vaark’s as well. In addition, two slaves from a nearby farm also help the family and their servants.

To me the most compelling aspect of this novel was the unobtrusiveness of the history. Morrison is able to weave history into the story in such a way that the reader must decipher it to coax its full implications and its legacy. History is handed to you on a plate that you must dissect with your hands rather than being spoon-fed. While she imparts the inherent contradictions and suffering that comes with racism pushed to its most evil conclusions, aspects of love, belonging, and self-worth are revealed. There is no over-explaining here. As the novel progresses, each character finds their own mercy in their own way. Whether this mercy is right or wrong is open to interpretation and largely based on historicism.
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LibraryThing member Limelite
(CD audiobook) Multiple points of view are flawlessly woven into a seamless imagining of early colonial American life when slaves and indentured servants far outnumbered free people in the southern colonies.

Toni Morrison narrates her own novel in a unique and captivating style, giving her words
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weight with poetic tempo and pauses that lend an understated drama to the story, making it compelling and a bit hypnotic.

Characters are easy to like, plot elements keep the action moving without being over-dramatic, and thematic development is masterful. You will walk away from this book knowing how slavery demeans everyone and makes all -- whether slave or not -- utterly dependent on each other. This interdependence may have the surface appearance of a family unit, but in a crisis, that pretense shatters to the detriment of all.

There is every reason to recommend this novel, not the least of which is the narration, but also the beauty of restrained prose, and the care given to its historicity.
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LibraryThing member cbl_tn
17th century colonial America comes to life in Toni Morrison's A Mercy through the voices of the marginalized: slaves of both African and Native American origin, indentured servants, and women. Small farmer/trader Jacob Vaark's household illustrates the tenuousness of life in a young colony.
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Although his wife and three female servants find some degree of satisfaction, contentment, and mutual dependence in the life they have forged together, Jacob's sudden death robs them of their former security, and triggers a tragic chain of events. Toni Morrison's prose pulled me into the world of the novel to the point that I didn't just feel like I was in 17th century America; I felt like I was inside these women's heads. This is a book to be savored, and one I'm sure I'll revisit. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member LDVoorberg
I didn't get past disk 2 of 6 on this one before it was due back at the library, and I wasn't interested enough to renew it. I'm going to give the book the benefit of the doubt and blame my apathy on the author's reading ability. Morrison reads the book for the CD. Unlike actors who read, she does
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not give characters voices or read with emotional intonation. Instead, there is a consistent rhythm to her voice, which is perfect when you want to be lulled to sleep. It's awful when you need to pay attention to the story. If I try this book again, it will be using the traditional print version that I can hold in my hands and read at my own pace.
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LibraryThing member Deesirings
Morrison paints a vivid picture of her characters in this brief lyrical narrative. The theme that most emerges for me in this novel of slavery in 1690s America is one of violence, of physical beatings from all sorts of unexpected places, in addition to the kind of gruesomeness that one would expect
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in this setting. Women beat each other, a slave girl, enamored of a free man, beats his child. Though unexpected, these acts in are not inexplicable. Morrison conveys an empathy for each character's point of view and does so with a sparseness of words, a poetic concision that sketches the essence of everyone very quickly and has them come together, intertwined despite disparate backgrounds and circumstances. It is only in the final chapter that the title is explained, as the main character's mother explains her motivation in having asked that her daughter be taken from her -- it would characterize a mercy to send her off with a man who seemed to see her as the human child she was rather than as a vessel in which to enact perverse desire. Vulnerabilities, strife, motivation, connections, needs, all are exposed to make a little sense of the apparently incomprehensible acts of so many of the characters.
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LibraryThing member DonnasBookAddiction
Toni Morrison's "A Mercy" is a short yet intense novel. It was not an 'easy read' for me. Morrison's prose is, at times, beautifully poetic, at other times, the oblique language seems needlessly overstated.

I agree with what reviewer – Gwendolyn Dawson says on her blog Literary License: ‘A
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Mercy is stylistically and structurally interesting but the overall effect is a bit academic and sterile. Critics will like this book but readers may be disappointed by its inscrutability, which sometimes appears to elevate form over function.’

This novel is written through different voices and each chapter, layered, without warning or notation switches between first and third-person perspectives and at times it was difficult to discern which voice was speaking. Jacob and Rebekka, the sadly childless European landowners; Florens, who was sold away from her mother to repay a debt; Lina is the sole survivor of a small-pox outbreak in her village and Sorrow a poor black girl who has been raped and abused and daughter of a sea captain killed in a storm off the coast of the Carolinas; Willard and Scully, the white indentured servants; and the blacksmith, a nameless free African who captured Florens' heart. I give Morrison credit for her ability to craft these different personalities and weave them together is extraordinary.

Overall, I wouldn't say I enjoyed this book, but I would definitely say it is a uniquely told story with themes of racism, slavery, adventure, religion, and witchcraft. I found it hard to follow, my mind wondering to all of the other books on my shelf I would rather be reading. But her novels take some work to decipher, and I didn’t want to give up so easily. I found that I wanted to work at understanding her characters and their circumstances. It's the kind of novel that needs to be re-read and reflected upon, preferably a book discussion would help as well.
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LibraryThing member crazy4novels
After struggling through the first five pages of Toni Morrison's newest book, "A Mercy," I was faced with a decision: Should I continue to slog forward in the hope that it would all eventually make sense, or cut my losses and immediately toss the book into the return bin at my local library (there
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was, after all, a waiting list)? I have been burned by Ms. Morrison before. An octogenarian friend of mine presented me with a copy of "Beloved" several years ago. He plopped the recently purchased book into my lap and said, "I'm damned if I know what this woman is talking about. See if you can decode it, and call me later." I attributed his confusion to the effects of advancing age and attacked the book with confidence, only to find it as exhaustingly opaque as he had. I gave up after about one hundred pages.

"A Mercy" is a short book - about 170 compact pages, and I decided to stay the course. I'm glad I did. Ms. Morrison's language shifts from an elliptical stream-of-consciousness exercise in the first chapter to an intelligible and poetic narrative that sweeps the reader into the beauty and tragedy of 17th century America before it was America. Her ensuing prose combines a mystical, dreamlike quality with a razor sharp conveyance of nature's immediacy. Morrison leads her reader into a world that is at once mythic and yet acutely real, a literary version of Bierstadt's wilderness paintings.

The quest for belonging, the desire to forge a circle of interconnection between human and human, is a central theme of the book. Almost everyone is an orphan of some sort. Jacob Vaark has scraped his fortune together in the New World by employing the energy and wiles that enabled him to survive as a solitary street urchin in Europe. His wife, Rebekka, was shipped across the ocean to Jacob, sight unseen, by her father, who was only too glad to reduce his familial burden by one hungry 16-year old. Lina, Rebekka's Native American housemaid and farmworker, has lost her entire village to smallpox. Sorrow, an African orphan, has been taken in by Vaark after her rescue, half drowned, from a nearby river estuary. Florens, the main character of the story, has found her way into Vaark's household by default, having been accepted by Vaarck as "payment" for a Virginia slave trader's debt, but only after Floren's mother (the originally intended "payment") begged him to do so.

The motherless, disconnected state of Morrison's characters is made more poignant by the boundless wilderness that they inhabit. Breathtaking, seemingly endless, impersonal in its beauty and in its cruelty, the New World itself is a character in the book. Awe inspiring and yet merciless, nature has a leveling effect on social stratification when survival is at stake. Smallpox, malnutrition, an unfortunate fall that breaks a leg -- such misfortunes are no respecter of class or legal status. People live or die as a group, and the women on Vaark's failing farm form a friendship of sorts as they realize that coordinated effort from dawn until dusk is necessary in order to prevent nature from reclaiming their fragile foothold on the land.

Lina, Sorrow, and Florens, however, are fully aware that their cobbled-together coexistence is no substitute for social equality and the right to seek and maintain the bonds of family, a goal that each of them hungers for in her own way. The story has twists and turns that I won't reveal here, but it is safe to say that slavery's devastating effects on the human psyche run through the book and Vaarck's wilderness like a tainted river. The hopelessness and humiliation that accompany Floren's loss of control over her own body and destiny are tragedies that are compounded by her unconscious internalization of slavery itself. A free black ironworker rebuffs Florens' advances with a stinging rebuke: he wants her to go because she is a slave. When Florens responds, as if slapped, "What is your meaning? I am a slave because Sir trades for me," he replies: "No. You have become one. . . Your head is empty and your body is wild . . . Own yourself, woman, and leave us be."

Each side of the ornate iron gate that Jacob has commissioned the black journeyman to fashion for Jacob's newly completed mansion is topped by the image of a writhing serpent. When closed, the two serpent heads merge to form a flower blossom. Is nature the serpent that must be tamed in Vaarck's garden, or is man the serpent in the New World's Eden? Morrison invites you ponder this and other questions as you immerse yourself in this satisfying 2-night read.
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LibraryThing member Copperskye
A beautifully written, spare, almost poetic story of 17th century America.
LibraryThing member thornton37814
Powerful and artfully written book. Morrison's prose is the type that begs to be reread so that one catches all the nuances and meanings. As a genealogist, I enjoyed reading a plot that focused on the Anglo-Dutch slave trade. It was a great way to gain insights into this aspect of Colonial life. I
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enjoyed the authors' comments on the religious groups of the period throughout the book. I'm rating this 4.5, but I'm sure that with a second reading, I'd probably up it to a 5.
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LibraryThing member kambrogi
In this slim but powerful volume, Morrison examines the idea of slavery in a broader context as she presents a wide spectrum of characters in the American colonies during the 1680’s, acting out the tragedies, miracles and hardships of the time. Florens is a sixteen-year-old slave girl whose
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dangerous journey to find a healer for her dying mistress forms the backbone of the story. As a very young child, Florens was given up by her mother to Jacob, a reluctant slave owner with a large farm; this betrayal is a deep scar on the girl’s psyche. She has since been adopted and cared for by Lina, a Native American slave who stays with Jacob and his wife by choice, out of love for her master’s wife and out of a powerful need for community. However, there are many other slaves in this world of the early colonies. Indentured servants, mail order brides, religious devotees and immigrants of many backgrounds create a tapestry of early American life. Some are slaves to a brutal system, others to ignorance or grief, still others slaves of love or passion or greed, however the story is ultimately one about freedom and how anyone is capable of grasping it, or letting it go. Morrison’s latest offering is stunning in its use of the kind of lyrical language and multiple voices she created in Beloved. This is a marvelous book – a wealth of story and character in a very few pages. It’s bound to become a classic.
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LibraryThing member jbealy
Toni Morrison does not give anything away for free. You cannot be a lazy reader and enjoy the heights to which Morrison rises. But if you plow through her sometimes puzzling opening passages, you are rewarded with some of the most eloquent writing available today.

A Mercy is Toni Morrison’s ninth
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novel and could well be the prelude to Beloved, the Nobel Prize-winning author’s 1987 novel that dealt with the brutality of slavery most heart wrenchingly in the form of a mother who cut her daughter’s throat rather than see her live as a slave. A Mercy also has at its heart the “abandonment” of a girl by her mother.

On the surface it is the story of Jacob, a Dutch trader in the 17th century with a small piece of land and the four women who make up his “family”—his wife Rebekka, their servant Lina whose tribe was destroyed by small pox, Sorrow, a young woman who spent her life on the water and seems not all here; and Florens, the young slave girl accepted as part payment for a bad debt.

And herein lies the undercurrent of the story. Florens feels betrayed by her mother who begged her master to sell Florens rather than herself and everything she does is based on that feeling of abandonment. It is a story of race and gender, loss and betrayal, broken hearts and unrealized dreams. The storytelling is masterful and it crescendos with the mother’s voice, with her haunting account of the day she let her daughter go. This is one of Toni Morrison's best. A sure bet and a must read.
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LibraryThing member 1morechapter
I'm sort of at a loss when it comes to writing about Toni Morrison's books. There's always that element of genius in her work -- I would say she's a very worthy Nobel laureate. Somehow, though, her books always make me very uncomfortable. I guess they're meant to do that. I always seem to absorb
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the emotions of the characters -- which normally is a good thing -- but oh, the depths of the emotions the characters experience! I probably did like A Mercy better than others I've read so far, though perhaps Beloved will still be considered her masterpiece.

This story takes place in the 1680's, in the wilds of a new America. Jacob is a man who disapproves of the slave trade yet makes concessions toward it. His wife Rebekka is a mail order bride from England, yet the two have a happy marriage. On their land they do have 'help' in the form of Lina, a Native-American, Sorrow, an orphan from the sea, and Florens, a slave girl given up by her mother whom Jacob takes as payment for a debt. Together they try to build a home for themselves, fighting against a harsh climate, disease, and inside and outside forces that seem bent on destruction.

With themes of racism, slavery, adventure, religion, and witchcraft, A Mercy is another brilliant work by a very brilliant author.

2008, 167 pages
Rating: 4.5/5
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
One afternoon a few months ago, I was sentenced to that purgatory that is a 2-hour drive on the New Jersey Turnpike. But then my spirits were lifted heavenwards by a National Public Radio interview with Toni Morrison. Ms. Morrison discussed her new book, A Mercy, and rewarded her audience with a
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reading. Sheer bliss. I knew I had to read this book!

My, oh my, oh my. Morrison packed so much richness into this short novel. The richness is centered around a tiny bit of storyline, in which Florens, a slave girl, is sent on an errand to get help for her seriously ill mistress. But there's so much more in the stories of each character, told in their own voices: Jacob and Rebekka, the sadly childless European landowners; Florens, who was sold away from her mother to repay a debt; Lina and Sorrow, women who came to the farm via slave ship; Willard and Scully, the white indentured servants; and the blacksmith, a nameless free African who captured Florens' heart. I found myself enveloped in Morrison's prose, savoring every word, as with this description of an Atlantic crossing: Women of and for men, in those few moments they were neither. And when finally the lamp died, swaddling them in black, for a long time, oblivious to the footsteps above them, or the lowing behind them, they did not stir. For them, unable to see the sky, time became simply the running sea, unmarked, eternal, and of no matter. (p. 85)

This is a wonderful, moving, haunting book. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member bhowell
I was priveleged to have received this book from Early Reviewers, a new novel from one of America's greatest contemporary writers. I read it in a day and upon reflection, that was best because I was immersed in the lyrical haunting prose and the voices telling the story never seemed disjointed or
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confusing. They were a coherent chorus of the inner lives of five women and their heartbreaking outer lives in the harsh world of the Americas in the late 17th century. Slavery, racial hatred and religious intolerance abound but at heart this is a story of a mother who casts off her daughter perhaps to save her or as it appeared to the daughter, Florens, to save her baby brother. As in "The Bluest Eye" the daughter yearns for her mother's love and despite other hardships never reconciles herself to the loss of that primary attachment which should have been hers as of right. In "The Bluest Eye"a daughter yearns for the love and attention she sees her mother lavish on the white children of her mother's employer. In "Beloved" there is a different kind of casting off by a mother in order to save her daughter. The abandonment defines the existence of both mother and daughter. Is it true after all, that the only true love is between mother and daughter? No one loves with the strength of a mother and none but a daughter can ever appreciate or understand that attachment and hense truly mourn it's loss.
The mother of Florens speaks of her act as a mercy though Florens will never know or understand that, just as the baby daughter in "Beloved" will never know or understand that her mother cut her throat to save her life. Florens' mother speaks of her 'mercy'

"One chance, I thought. There is no protection but there is difference. ...I said you. Take you, my daughter. Because I saw the tall man see you as a human child, not pieces of eight. I knelt before him. Hoping for a miracle . He said yes....I stayed on my knees. In the dust where my heart will remain each night and every day until you understand what I know and long to tell you: to be given dominion over another is a hard thing: to wrest dominion over another is a wrong thing; to give dominion of yourself to another is a wicked thing.
Oh Florens. My love. Hear a tua mae."
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LibraryThing member ironinklings
Reading Toni Morrison is like taking a master class in how to write characters. Morrison delves deep into the psyche of her characters and finds that raw, vulnerable place in each one. Morrison gathers together an uncommon group who have been cast off from society. Even though he abhors slavery,
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Jacob Vaark, a northern trader and money-lender, accepts a young girl, Florens, as partial payment of her master’s debt. Jacob had asked for her mother but she was still nursing her infant son and asked Jacob to take Florens instead. Jacob brings Florens back to his wife, who bore 4 children none of which lived beyond the age of 5. He hopes that the young girl might lift her spirits. Morrison’s supporting characters are no less compelling. Lina is the sole survivor of a small-pox outbreak in her village and Sorrow claims to have washed ashore on the back of a whale. Jacob gathers these outcasts around him, but it is clear when he becomes ill that he is the one thing that holds them together. Set in the late 17th century, A Mercy is a novel about survival and Morrison does an excellent job of illustrating the turbulence and danger of that time.

Reading Toni Morrison’s work is never easy, but this book is easier to read than some of her others. I found that I couldn’t put it down and when I finished the last chapter, I immediately went back and re-read the first.
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LibraryThing member Girl_Detective
Morrison is a great writer; her Beloved is one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read. This book, which addresses some of the same issues, felt like a faint echo of that work. It’s uncomfortable not to like a work that others have praised and one by a great artist. YMMV.
LibraryThing member ericnguyen09
Five years after he last novel Love, Morrison returns to spin her magic in the novel A Mercy which only proves to be worth the wait. If you can keep up, that is.

The story opens up with a "confession" from the protagonist, a 16-year-old slave girl named Florens, with hands of a slave and feet of a
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Portuguese lady. She warns of a bloody story to be told as the reader muddles through what is admittedly a difficult narrator to follow. But Florens's present-tense stream of consciousness is easily overcome by the end of the story, as Morrison weaves in between voices and narratives: from Jacob, the hesitant master, to his religiously apathetic wife, as well as the servants, including Lina, rescued by the Puritans and then given to Jacob, and Sorrow, a arguably delusional character whose name matches how others perceive her. Each character is fully developed with their own heart-breaking story to tell on top of Florens's own story of abandonment, which is a highly resonant theme for discussion throughout the novel.

The most amazing part of Morrison's 167-page endeavor is perhaps its length—under 200 pages, a quick read compared to her previous books. Yet despite this, Morrison manages to create yet another masterpiece of epic proportions: her characters are richly drawn, her story is skillfully sewn together a la Faulkner, and most importantly, Morrison infuses the novel with a type of emotion rarely seen in books, past or present. One can't help but quote passages, think, and cry, at not only its depth, but simply because it is beautiful and poetic.

Morrison lives up to her expectations as a Nobel Prize winner, even though some might be lost in the multiples narratives as well as the constant change in voices. Yet in the hands of Toni Morrison, these traits become the treasure of her work. A Mercy is simply amazing, simply epic—just as we know Morrison to be—and simply must be read; it is one of the best novels, if not the best novel, of 2008.
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LibraryThing member vtmom13
I have one small complant, I never felt that any of the charictors were developed. Great story just felt that it could have been twice as long so the whole story could have been told instead of just part.
LibraryThing member laVermeer
In terms of plot, A Mercy is quite simple. It is the tale of a family torn apart by slavery. In terms of story, it is a deeply sad consideration of the long consequences of human brutality.

The power of the narrative, situated in the context of the early American slave trade, emerges from the many
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themes it portrays. Jacob, a trader, struggles with class, origins, identity. Lina, lost and alone, tries to reconcile herself to absence, belonging, and privilege. Sorrow, a foundling, explores groundedness, arrival, the idea of home. And Florens, a child becoming a woman, searches for love that can transcend betrayal.

This is a masterful novel of elegant construction. It is elliptical and cautious, impressive and immensely moving. It is also demanding and intense: not a casual read, but rather a text that insists on re-reading, reflection, and recognition of our complicity in our own private monstrosities and their far-reaching effects.

Toni Morrison has written another stunning, striking book. It is certainly not for everyone, but it is sure to change those who read it.
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LibraryThing member ocgreg34
Florens is a young slavegirl in 1690's Virginia, sent by her ailing Mistress to find a young African blacksmith who cured another slavegirl of the pox. As she sets out on the difficult journey, her thoughts flow toward the blacksmith chronicling the hardships she faces to reach him: losing her
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Master's shoes, finding temporary shelter with religious zealots who take her for a demon, the cold nights, the possibility of capture as a runaway slave, the visions of her mother. She also recites her love for him, as a kind of mantra to keep her sane, to keep her going until she reaches him.

Interspersed throughout her story, sixth other characters offer glimpses into Florens' life and into the New World: Jacob Vaark, a Dutch landowner who reluctantly accepts Florens in exchange for a debt owed by a Spaniard; Lina, the Native American woman who serves as Mistress' confidant and is in love with Florens; Sorrow, a slavegirl, possibly the only survivor of a shipwreck, who is still haunted by the passengers and her Twin; Rebekka Vaark, a strong woman whose spiritual beliefs are put to the test when she contracts the pox; Scully, an indentured slave who provides a remarkably clear view of each character in the novel; and finally Florens' mother who commits the ultimate sacrifice unbeknownst to her little girl.

Each narrator suffers through some form of test, ultimately showing the resiliency of human nature. But how will Florens handle such tasks when she confronts them?

Something I noticed is that each character sees the others at face value, but when given their chance to speak, what's seen on the outside doesn't necessarily reflect the true person, and with many surprises, I delighted in how each character shattered those pre-conceived notions. And, as an added "family" bonus, two of the characters also out themselves: Lina's affection for Florens is very quiet and secretive, but her jealousy flares at the first sight of the blacksmith; Scully, who openly confesses that he is attracted to men. To me, this also goes along with shattering the preconceptions because when discussing books or stories about slavery or the early days of the New World, sexuality almost seems a taboo subject, though it played a large role in how society operated at the time. (And still does.)

A beautiful book, filled with many surprises and twists. And though it's only the second of Morrison's novels that I've read, this one adds her to my list of favorite authors.
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LibraryThing member posthumose
A seemingly short novel at 167 pages and narrated in lyrical language by several voices, A Mercy is in fact an intense and often internalized perspective on the effects of slavery on the human mind and heart. In colonial America of the late 1600s, life is harsh for most people and brutal for
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slaves. With disease, food shortages, and backbreaking work to contend with, the land is rugged and even the weather seems to conspire against you.

Our story centers around Florens, a young slave girl who been accepted reluctantly by a Dutch landowner to pay off a debt owed him. He was offered her mother but the slave mother begged the man to take the daughter, thinking Florens would have a better life than with her own brutal, rapist master. Viewpoint shifts as chapters are spoken in different voices, including those of Lina, an old Indian woman whose tribe has been wiped out by smallpox. Sorrow, a lone shipwreck survivor, Rebekka, the childless landowner's wife and Florens mother will all have their say here too. Each will speak in their own voice, something Morrison accomplishes better than most, revealing more about themselves than observation or simple narration could tell us.

Belonging is a strong thread throughout the story, being motherless and yearning for family and closeness, or being childless in the case of their mistress. Lina thinks of young Florens as "love-disabled" because of the way she tries to get close to her, and then to others, including a black freeman who rebuffs her for, among other things, having a slave mentality. There is so much here that the story seems almost condensed to me. This is not a fast read for most, the story should be read slowly, the language is rich, almost dense at times, and needs to be savoured. But what a powerful story it is. And what it leads us to is the realization that what to some may seem like an act of mercy may in fact feel like an act of abandonment.
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LibraryThing member EAENGLAND
I could not connect with any of the characters. I found myself very confused reading it, not knowing what was going on. I was very dissapointed with it.
LibraryThing member vegetrendian
Not as powerful or all encompassing as some of her major works, but still a well put together and engaging read. Though it is by no means her best novel, this is still a strong moving story from one of contemporary literature's best writers.
LibraryThing member thebooky
This was the first book fromToni Morrison that I have read. I found it difficult to become absorbed by it and found that I could not connect with any of the characters. I know this is a very highly regarded novel and that Toni Morrison is a very respected author. I so wanted to be swept away, but
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it didn't happen. I think her style may take some getting used to. I will have to try another one of her books now that I know what to expect.
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