A Mercy

A Mercy

Book - 2008 | 1st ed.
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Random House, Inc.
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.

Baker & Taylor
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, in a novel set in late seventeenth-century America.

Blackwell North Amer
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.

Baker
& Taylor

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--in an evocative novel set against late seventeenth-century America, by the Nobel Prize-winning author of Beloved. 300,000 first printing.

Publisher: New York : Knopf, 2008.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9780307264237
0307264238
Characteristics: 167 p. ; 25 cm.

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lelandleslie
Nov 01, 2020

A Mercy flings itself right at you from the opening page with dark promises and visions:

"My telling can't hurt you in spite of what I have done and I promise to lie quietly in the dark - weeping perhaps or occasionally seeing the blood once more - but I will never again unfold my limbs to rise up and bare teeth. I explain. You can think what I tell you a confession, if you like, but one full of curiosities familiar only in dreams and during those moments when a dog's profile plays in the steam of a kettle. Or when a corn-husk doll sitting on a shelf is soon splaying in the corner of a room and the wicked of how it got there is plain."

The novel will make clearer this poetic opaqueness as it goes on, but it's a disorienting and heady opening.

The person speaking those lines is Florens, a teenage slave in 17th century Virginia. What brought her to this point is founded in the experience of a trauma she does not comprehend the full story of, a trauma following from a series of previous traumas stretching from Angola to Maryland to Virginia. Trying to save her from the predations of their slavemasters, her mother thrust the child into the path of a trader to whom their owners owed a debt. A man whom Florens' mother believes sees Florens as a human child, not prey. "There is no protection, only difference," her mother states late on. In this world, such counts as a mercy.

Florens is traumatized by what she sees as this rejection by her mother. When she reaches adolescence, she seeks to fill her deep longing for attachment through the person of a visiting blacksmith, a free black man in the colony. This dependence of women on men is of a piece with all classes of society portrayed in the novel, from "loose women" to the "upright" Anabaptist congregation. "Although they had nothing in common with the views of each other," Morrison writes, "they had everything in common with one thing: the promise and threat of men. Here, they agreed, was where security and risk lay. And both had come to terms."

It makes all the sense in the world, then, that Florens would bet her entire life and identity on an attachment to the blacksmith. "Never never without you. Here I am not the one to throw out." But Florens clashes with a young child the blacksmith is raising, two children extraordinarily jealous of each other's presence here, physically hurts him, and the blacksmith tells her to leave. More than that, he accuses her of becoming a slave in choice, an empty mind controlled by an uncultivated wildness. "Own yourself, woman, and leave us be," he tells her. Given Florens' trauma and youth, this seems unreasonably harsh; Florens at any rate has her vitally held identity as the blacksmith's woman smashed, has a complete mental break, and her grasping of a hammer explains the ominous reference to blood in the novel's open.

The novel closes with Florens' mother stating what she wished to have been able to impart to her daughter: "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." The first might be a reference to motherhood, the difficult responsibility of doing your best for your child in circumstances horrific or otherwise, when your children may or may not understand your choices. The second seems a reference to slavery, one of the undoubted evils in the novel. The third seems a warning not to seek deliverance by handing your agency and identity to another, may you be a love starved youth or a respectable church-going member of the community.

a
Anita_Dickey
Oct 29, 2018

I read this book to fulfil the goal read a book by an author of a differant ethnicity than you. I was super excited about this book as I had heard a lot about Toni Morrison. I was severely disappointed in this book. It's sentences were twisted and choppy a mixture of poetry and prose. Most of the time it felt as if you were trapped in the mind of a severely ignorant 8 year old. The book does come from the point of view of a child slave so maybe that's how we are supposed to feel. I disliked it however.

RogerDeBlanck May 01, 2018

Morrison's ninth novel A Mercy is as poetic as it can be elusive. The narrative structure relies partly on an assemblage of voices. We hear the heartbreaking remembrances and yearnings of each of the story's victimized women: Lina, Sorrow, Florens, and Florens's mother called "a minha mae." At the outset of the story, it is the late 17th century and Jacob Vaark, an orphan of English and Dutch descent, inherits land in the new American colonies and sets out to collect a debt on a parcel of his land on a Maryland estate. As compensation, the Maryland slaveowner offers Florens's mother and baby brother. In an act of "a mercy" to save Florens from the horrors of a cruel master, Florens's mother begs for Vaark, who she can see is a good man, to take Florens instead. Against his will to take on another slave, he does anyways and so Florens joins Lina and Sorrow on Vaark's plantation. This begins the multi-faceted narrative of voices. We learn the harrowing pasts of each woman and what they've suffered and endured. Among this sadness is the Mistress of the plantation, Vaark's wife Rebekka. She too suffers from many grave losses. At the center of all the pain is Florens's obsession with a young Black man who is also free. As a skilled blacksmith, he is hired by Vaark to do intricate ironwork for Vaark's new mansion. What will happen to Florens? What will happen to them all? A Mercy maneuvers back and forth in time, revealing its secrets slowly and in meticulous details. This is a work of prose that is essentially poetry, where its gorgeous language and heartrending voices become a symphony cascading with a lyricism that is hypnotic and mesmerizing.

v
voisjoe1_0
Jan 26, 2016

A Mercy is a short, but very complex novel. It deals with colonial America circa 1680-90 and includes a diverse variety of people. Included are Jacob Vaark (Sir), a farmer and perhaps a rum runner, his wife Rebekka (Mistress), a female Native American servant (Lina), a young female slave (Florens), a possibly indentured young female servant ( Sorrow), a freedman blacksmith, and two white indentured workers Scully and Willard. We begin to get the picture that colonial America is basically a land of a few rich white men who basically profit off the labor of indentured Whites and Black slaves – not quite the advanced Democracy as told in most U.S. History books. The structure of the novel, like other Morrison novels, is quite complex and as with most of her works, I had to restart after 50 pages once the construction of the chapters became more clear.

c
Chapel_Hill_KenMc
Dec 08, 2014

Not up to her best work, but still a powerful story told in an array of voices, each of which sounds authentic.

mrsgail5756 Sep 22, 2012

A very good read. I enjoyed this book I would recommend this book for all to read.

u
uncommonreader
Aug 02, 2012

This book is set in 1680s New England at the beginnings of the slave trade and race hatred. It tells the stories of five diverse women. Excellent.

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kdolson_GRPL
Aug 19, 2019

“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.”

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