|New from||Used from|
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Reviews with images
Top reviews from the United States
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
"A Mercy"is simply another example of this woman's greatness. Set in 1690, America, where slavery has not yet been fully implemented and where black girls are sold by their own parents to men looking for a wife, or a cook, or a maid... And black men arrive in America, many as indentured servants for a period of seven years or more in return for their paid passage to this new land.
This period in American history is simply brutal, and to survive and raise children is a near miracle, yet true to form, capitalism does thrive. Ms. Morrison narrative, and it changes throughout from first person to third person narrative, is enthralling and terrifying, her use of words is mystifying and poetic, and her characters are rich and unforgettable.
Ms. Morrison passed away recently, yet her massive body of work and her unique brilliance shall live forever.
"A Mercy" is beautiful - haunting, sad, realistic, and painful - but beautifully crafted. Morrison's prose is well-written and full of intense detail. The story moves at a good pace. There are no unrealistic happy endings and none of the plot feels forced or contrived. The beauty of the novel doesn't hide the fact that it's incredibly confusing. This is definitely a book that readers will appreciate more on a second reading than the first.
Also, a main theme is that of how a slave mother asks Vaark in a silent way to take her daughter. The daughter, Florens, feels the mother has done this out of rejection and choosing to keep her little brother over her. However, the truth is that the slave mother is being raped by the white slaveowner and she knows that it is just a matter of time before he will rape Florens. The slave mother recognizes the goodness in Vaark and wants to spare her daughter. Unfortunately, Florens does not know this and keeps looking for love and acceptance to fill the void put there by the loss of her mother. Rejection is a terrible feeling and I feel that many adopted children can identify with Florens.
At the conclusion, one can go back and see where the name of the book comes from, A Mercy. When we think of mercy, we think of the mercy of God. However, this author makes us look at the mercy of man. One man's mercy spared so many from harm and heartache. He gave them a chance to live freely. Isn't that what mercy does. God gives us a chance to live freely. But often we fail to see that it also takes man to extend mercy in order to give hope to others. Could it be that God's mercy is extended through the mercy of men.
Top reviews from other countries
I’m having a bit of a rollercoaster ride with Toni Morrison. Having been stunned by the power of Beloved, I was then a little disappointed by the heavy-handed symbolism of Song of Solomon, so I didn’t quite know what to expect from this one. Having now read it, I suspect it may have layers of depth that would require further readings to fully catch, but even on this one reading I found it a wonderfully insightful and nuanced picture of the early settlers in the New World, and a beautifully told story of the human spirit battling against hardship.
Jacob Vaark has inherited a piece of land and sets out to farm it, sending back to England for a woman willing to become his wife. Rebekka tells her story of sailing across the ocean to marry a man she has never met. She is lucky – he is kind and they grow to love one another. We see the overcrowded filth and poverty of the London she has left behind and her growing delight at the space, pure air, clean water of her new home. Jacob is kind in other ways, gradually collecting waifs and strays to work on the farm. Florens came to them as a child, traded as payment of a debt owed to Jacob. Lina, a Native American, survived the smallpox brought by the settlers which wiped out almost all of her village. Rootless, she too finds a home in the Vaark household. And Sorrow, turned out by her employers for the sin of being impure, is taken in by Jacob. But Jacob’s kindness is enabled by his investments in slave plantations in Barbados – the nature of America’s foundation is in the background but never forgotten.
One of the things I appreciated about this is that Morrison doesn’t limit it to the story of African slaves. She shows that, while race is clearly already a dividing line, there are other factors – wealth and poverty, gender, competing religions – that define the hierarchies within this still-forming society. We hear about the indentured servants, often white, who are bought and sold much like the Africans; the women who are, if they are lucky, traded as wives; the Native Americans, their population already being ravaged by new illnesses even before they are driven from their lands. She also shows with a good deal of subtlety how kindness is easier in good times; that friendship between people wielding unequal power is fragile, perhaps too fragile to survive when times get tough. She shows how easy it is for good people to convince themselves that they have rights of ownership and control over the lives of others, and easier still to slide unthinkingly into abuse of power. In fact, in microcosm, she shows that the problems of today’s America arise from the circumstances of its conception and birth.
But these characters are not merely symbols of their race or place in society. In what is a very short book, each has time to develop into a fully rounded human being, complete with vulnerabilities and flaws, not always likeable but fully empathetic. Some tell us their own stories; others we are told about in third person. Florens has a dialect and uses a kind of stream of consciousness narrative, making her sections the hardest to read but also the deepest – she is the heart of the story. We learn about the men – Jacob himself and the two indentured servants who work on the farm – but the book is centred on the women, as individuals and on their relationships with each other. Motherhood is a major theme, and a difficult one at a time when infant death was a common occurrence. There are stories of the sacrifices mothers make for their children, the jealousies of those women who are childless for others who have healthy babies, the prejudices against mothers who bear children out of wedlock, even when this is as a result of rape, and the fulfilment that some women only find through motherhood.
This doesn’t have the emotional impact of Beloved, but it’s a beautifully rendered picture of womankind in all her complexities, and of inequality, be that of race or wealth or gender or power, and how it distorts the human spirit. But Morrison offers the possibility for redemption. The stories of these women are hard, often bleak, and Morrison doesn’t provide facile, happy endings; but there is a sense that the love mothers have for their children gives hope for a better future. One day, perhaps.
The story, although multi-layered, is a rather straight forward one but made to look complicated by its method of telling and some of the literary devices used to embroider it. We have Europeans sailing across the Atlantic to the new world and we are told of the hardships endured. We then have the experience of settling in the new world and the brutality experienced by settlers, the native Americans and those enslaved. All this is rendered in a way that makes it difficult to follow. So for example, we have a first person narrator who sometimes addresses the reader directly and at other times speaks to a second person. The first person narrator is alternated with a third person narrator. There are episodes that come to a sudden end and then picked up later. Then there are dream-like episodes that draw on the tradition of magic realism. She does away with a conventional linear plot, the omniscient narrator is broadly put to rest and one gets a feeling that Morrison is challenging notions that life is an ordered sequence of events in a coherent world. All this is fertile stuff to explore in a novel but the problem here is that it is too ambitious for a novel anchored in the harsh reality of discovery and brutality rendered in about 165 pages.
On another level, A Mercy is a touching story about four women: rebekka, wife of Jacob Vaark who dies leaving her a widow, Lina a native American woman who has seen her way of life torn apart by the settlers, Sorrow who was rescued from a ship and Floren who is given to Jacob Vaark as payment for a debt with the blessing of her mother. This aspect of the novel is to all intent and purpose a feminist tract - a bringing together of female characters to form a sisterhood, especially given the fact that the story is mainly told from their perspective.
There is the narrative of the harshness of slavery where in one passage two male characters inspect a row of slaves, "identifying talents, weaknesses and possibilities but silent about the scars, the wounds like misplaced veins tracing their skins." But there is also a sense of humanity shown in Jacob. As Jacob examines slaves offered for purchase by another character, Jacob's stomach suddenly seize and in a revealing passage that throws light on the suffering endured by slaves we are told, "whatever it was, he couldn't stay there surrounded by a passel of slaves whose silence made him imagine an avalanche seen from a distance. No sound just the knowledge of a roar he could not hear."
In respect of the language in this novel, there is a sense that Morrison is trying too hard to use poetic language. At the start of chapter 3 the narration is taken up by an unknown first person narrator who outlines sickness invading her home. One passage describes a scene with the sick master thus: "Neither Mistress nor we know if he is alive for even on minute to smell the new cherry wood floors h lies on." It seems as a result of trying to be poetic, the sentence almost does not make sense. In other places the verbs used are at times arcane, "he begged off" or "he trailed him to the little sheds." This gives the text a clumsy feel and made for an unengaging read.
A Mercy is certainly not an easy novel to read but that is not its flaw. The major problem with this novel is that too many novelistic devices are deployed without the scope and need to do so.
I had to read this book twice before I got anything out of it.
My problems with it are:
1) The "revelation" at the end about why Florens mother gave her away is no surprise.
2) Even though the book is written from the perspective of different characters, there is little difference in idiom and narrative rhythm, so one never gets a full sense of the characters: they are thinly drawn. Toni Morrison also gives little idea about how the characters actually feel about each other. There is little sense of real emotion. We know the Native American woman treats Florens like a daughter but still, there is little evidence of love between them. Also, I don't understand how Josef can go from loathing the slave owner and finding him weak, to emulating him and becoming a slave trader himself.
3)Toni Morrisson is remarkably coy about the less salubrious aspects of the book such as WHAT the owners of Florens' mother did that was so bad she'd parcel her daughter off and ship her anywhere and to anything. It's intimitated that she bore rape and abuse by male slaves (that's how she had her children) and the male slave-owner but it was the female's involvement that she wanted to save her daughter from.
Similarly, when Florens flips and attacks the blacksmith we don't find out what happened; did she kill him or not? This leaves questions unanswered which is unsatisfying.
It is complex and shows how slavery of some sort affected many different peoples in th developing America: white and black, male and female.
It makes one think and reflect on aspects of the story for a while afterwards.
I'd recommend it, but don't expect TOO much from it.