One of The New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year
In the 1680s the slave trade in the Americas is still in its infancy. Jacob Vaark 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, who can read and write and might be useful on his farm. Rejected by her mother, Florens looks for love, first from Lina, an older servant woman at her new master's house, and later from the handsome blacksmith, an African, never enslaved, who comes riding into their lives.
A Mercy reveals what lies beneath the surface of slavery. But at its heart, like Beloved, it is the ambivalent, disturbing story of a mother and a daughter—a mother who casts off her daughter in order to save her, and a daughter who may never exorcise that abandonment.
Nobel laureate Morrison returns more explicitly to the net of pain cast by slavery, a theme she detailed so memorably in Beloved. Set at the close of the 17th century, the book details America s untoward foundation: dominion over Native Americans, indentured workers, women and slaves. A slave at a plantation in Maryland offers up her daughter, Florens, to a relatively humane Northern farmer, Jacob, as debt payment from their owner. The ripples of this choice spread to the inhabitants of Jacob s farm, populated by women with intersecting and conflicting desires. Jacob s wife, Rebekka, struggles with her faith as she loses one child after another to the harsh New World. A Native servant, Lina, survivor of a smallpox outbreak, craves Florens s love to replace the family taken from her, and distrusts the other servant, a peculiar girl named Sorrow. When Jacob falls ill, all these women are threatened. Morrison s lyricism infuses the shifting voices of her characters as they describe a brutal society being forged in the wilderness. Morrison s unflinching narrative is all the more powerful for its relative brevity; it takes hold of the reader and doesn t let go until the wrenching final-page crescendo.
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Solid Toni Morrison
I've always been fascinated by the fact the Morrison often tell more story with what she doesn't say than what she does. Her language is spare, but beautiful, her characters deep but more often than not disturbing, and her story always powerful. In A Mercy we are brought to the earliest days of the colonies, and religious sectarianism, slavery, indentured servitude and frontier violence. The story revolves around the orphaned, and disconnected and how it impacts each differently. As always, a good, powerful read.