a mercy by Toni Morrison
Finished: Jul. 25 2009
First Published: Nov. 11, 2008 (Paperback - Aug. 11 2009)
Genre: historical fiction, literary fiction
Don't be afraid.
Reason for Reading: I am in the process of reading all the author's books. This is her latest. I received a Review Copy from Random House Canada.
Comments: The time is 1680, the place is colonial America. This is the story of four women: Rebekka, an English girl sent to America as a wife whose family paid a monetary dowry; Florens, a black slave child (later woman) who is traded in exchange for partial payment of a debt; Sorrow, a European (Irish I find myself thinking for some reason) foundling coming to womanhood who is given as a gift to protect her from the growing boys in her current household; finally Lina, another child (later) woman who remembers vividly some small parts of her Native American life before she is sold and paid for. All these women belong to a man who doesn't believe in slavery, who despises those who does. He is a fairly decent, kind man but ultimately wants to have the riches of those he despises. But most of all, as the jacket flap states: "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 ..."
The story is told in many voices: all the woman have their turn (some many times), the man behind the women and the farm hands. The story is told in a progressive forward movement but also slips into flashback scenes to give backgrounds to the characters. In such a short book, this becomes quite confusing at times. I spent a large majority of the time not knowing who was speaking until halfway through their narrative. Generally, I enjoy switching points of view and flashbacks but the book was just too short for me to get a grasp on anything really substantial. I must say for half the book I was under the impression Lina was a Native American and then I came to think she was African and I'm pretty sure she's Native, but I could be wrong... Needless to say, the book confounded me more than enlightened me in any way.
I couldn't connect with any of the characters, nor did I really find the story emotionally charged which is something I've come to expect with Toni Morrison, from her books I've read so far. There is also a heavy theme of religious (namely Protestant) intolerance running through the book. First from a Dutch settler (Calvinist) towards Catholics in general, then Anabaptists causing grief in those other settlers who don't understand their ways and finally the term used becomes "the Protestants" (though I still think we are talking Anabaptists) as the slave people talk of how the Protestant's religion says that certain people such as savages (ie. blacks/natives, etc.) are not equal in God's eyes to them. This theme is pretty heavy handed throughout and I didn't know what to make of it. Does Morrison try to say slavery began with Anabaptist intolerance? Protestant intolerance? Christian? Religion, in general? I don't know anything about Anabaptists but when you get to broad terms such as Protestant or religious intolerance for each one intolerant person there are many good-hearted embracing people and I just don't buy into the "religion is the root of all evil" camp.
A readable story but with each chapter change the figuring out of where you are and what's going on distracted me from enjoying the book as much as I could have otherwise. Fans, go ahead and read it, you may like it a lot more than I did. Never read Toni Morrison before? Don't start with this one.
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