A Mercy, Toni Morrison


Their drift away from others produced a selfish privacy and they had lost the refuge and the consolation of a clan. Baptists, Presbyterians, tribe, army, family, some encircling outside thing was needed. Pride, she thought. Pride alone made them think that they needed only themselves, could shape life that way, like Adam and Eve, like gods from nowhere beholden to nothing except their own creations. She should have warned them, but her devotion cautioned against impertinence. As long as Sir was alive it was easy to veil the truth: that they were not a family-not even a like-minded group. They were orphans, each and all.

So I plunged right into another Toni Morrison for my second book of Bookstravaganza.  I realized I hardly ever read any authors back to back.  I’m glad I did.  A Mercy is Morrison’s ninth novel, and less famous as Beloved or Song of Solomon or The Bluest Eye.  

The story of A Mercy follows a few different characters living in 1690, right at the dawn of slavery in North America.  We meet Florens, a slave girl traded to Jacob Vaark, a New York farmer; Lina, an Indigenous woman who survived the small-pox epidemic that wiped out her tribe; Rebekka, Jacob’s wife, who arrives from England without having met Jacob; and Sorrow, a  survivor of a shipwreck that killed her father, a sea captain.  Each characters tells a part of the story, offers their perspective on their world that is new to them and yet constraining and limiting.  And they face an increasingly limiting world after the death of Jacob, their true vulnerability exposed without the binding presence of a man and head of house.

A Mercy takes on many themes.  Slavery and race, Morrison’s specialities, are prominent, but what I also like how religion plays a strong role too.  As historical fiction it is extremely well crafted.  Below is Toni Morrison’s interview about A Mercy, and I love how she emphasizes the birth of slavery being without a racial construct.

I asked my Polish friend Arleta to read the first passage from A Mercy.  At first she was timid to say yes, but when I explained my ideas to her more, she got on board!  Arleta reads with a measured intensity I really like, especially when reading Morrison’s lovely lyrical language.  I hope you enjoy it too.

Books Read: 2


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