A Mercy

A Mercy

3.65 (16,250 ratings by Goodreads)
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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. "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.show more

Product details

  • CD-Audio | 5 pages
  • 129.54 x 149.86 x 30.48mm | 158.76g
  • Random House USA Inc
  • Random House Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • Unabridged
  • Unabridged
  • 0739332546
  • 9780739332542

Review quote

"Astonishing . . . "A Mercy" has both X-ray eyes and telepathic powers, not to mention tree rings, ice caps, pottery clocks, carbon clouds, a long memory, and a short fuse. It dreams its way back to 1682 and a primeval America before racial hierarchies had been chiseled in stone . . . when ordinary men and women hoped that courage alone would prove enough to win dominion over their rude lives. The Dutch-born farmer and trader Jacob Vaark . . . will take Florens, a little black girl in silly shoes, as partial payment of a debt . . . What happens to 'love-disabled' Florens on Jacob's farm . . . is not a sentimental education. Nevertheless, illegally literate, Florens will write it down for us to read aloud: 'My telling can't hurt you in spite of what I have done, ' she says. But it does. Like Pecola, Sula, Sethe, Consolata, Violet, and so many other women we've met in Morrison's pages, Florens is a siren, pulling brave hearts overboard. . . . All adds up to a sensuous omniscience that is practically Elizabethan." -John Leonard, "Harper's Magazine" "Memorable . . . lyrical . . . A miraculous tale of sorrow and beauty. . . . It is 1682 in Maryland. The slave and rum trades are dying in droves from European diseases, and most women live 'of and for men' . . . But this place and time is also full of miracles and mercies . . . American history, the natural world, and human desire collide in a series of musical voices, distinct from one another-unmistakably Morrisonian in their beauty and power-that together tell this moving and morally complicated tale." -Pam Houston, "O, The Oprah Magazine" "In this brutal, well-crafted story, Morrison offers a nuanced explanation of a mercythat forgives those who enslave us, both literally and emotionally." -Christina Saratsis, "Marie Claire" "In 1690, Anglo-Dutch trader Jacob Vaark . . . reluctantly decides to accept a young slave girl, Florens, as partial compensation [for a debt]. Taken from her baby brother and her mother, who thinks that giving up her daughter to a kinder slave owner is an act of mercy, Florens finds herself in the midst of a community of women striving to understand their burdens of sorrow and grief and to discover the mercies of love. Much as she did in "Paradise, "Morrison hauntingly weaves the stories of these women into a colorful tale of loss, despair, hope, and love. . . . Magical, mystical, and memorable, Morrison's poignant parable of mercies hidden and revealed belongs in every library." -Henry L. Carrigan, "Library Journal" (starred) "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, ["A Mercy"] 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. . . . 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 thewrenching final-page crescendo." -"Publishers Weekly" (starred) "Brilliant . . . Riveting, even poetic. . . . The time is the late 1600s, when what will become the U.S. remains a chain of colonies along the Atlantic coast. Not only does slavery still exist, it is a thriving industry that translates into plenty of business for lots of people. . . . [Morrison] has shown a partiality for the 'chorus' method of storytelling, wherein a group of individuals who are involved in a single event or incident tell their versions of what happened, the individual voices maintaining their distinctiveness while their personal tales overlap each other with a layering effect that gives Morrison's prose its resonance and deep sheen of enameling. Here the voices belong to the women associated with Virginia planter Jacob Vaark . . . these women include the long-suffering Rebekka, his wife; Lina and Sorrow, slave women with unique perspectives on the events taking place on Vaark's plantation; and Florens, a slave girl whom Vaark accepts as partial payment on a debt and whose separation from her mother is the pivotal event around which Morrison weaves her short but deeply involving story. A fitting companion to her highly regarded "Beloved." " -Brad Hooper, "Booklist" (starred) "Abandonment, betrayal and loss are the themes of this latest exploration of America's morally compromised history from Morrison. All of the characters she sets down in the colonial landscape circa 1690 are bereft, none more evidently so than Florens, 16-year-old slave of Jacob Vaark and his wife Rebekka. . . . Jacob reluctantly took Florens in settlement of a debt from a Maryland landowner. Her own mother offeredher-so as not to be traded with Florens' infant brother, the girl thinks. (The searing final monologue reveals it was not so simple.) Florens joined a household of misfits somewhere in the North. Jacob was a poor orphan who came to America to make a new start; Rebekka's parents essentially sold her to him to spare themselves her upkeep. . . . They take in others similarly devastated. Lina, raped by a 'Europe, ' has been cast out by her Native American tribe. Mixed-race Sorrow survived a shipwreck only to be made pregnant by her rescuer . . . Willard and Scully are indentured servants, farmed out to Jacob by their contract holders, who keep fraudulently extending their time. . . . America was founded on the involuntary servitude of blacks and whites, [and] the colonies are rife with people who belong nowhere else and anxiously strive to find something to hold onto in the New World. [With] gorgeous language and a powerful understanding of the darkest regions of the human heart . . . this allusive, elusive little gem adds its own luster to the Nobel Laureate's shimmering body of work." -"Kirkus Reviews" "From the Hardcover edition."show more

About Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison is the Robert F. Goheen Professor of Humanities, Emerita, at Princeton University. She has received the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize. In 1993 she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. She lives in Rockland County, New York, and Princeton, New Jersey.show more

Rating details

16,250 ratings
3.65 out of 5 stars
5 22% (3,572)
4 37% (5,990)
3 29% (4,690)
2 9% (1,500)
1 3% (498)
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