133. A Mercy by Toni Morrison

a mercy by Toni Morrison

Pages: 167
Ages: 18+
Finished: Jul. 25 2009
First Published: Nov. 11, 2008 (Paperback - Aug. 11 2009)
Genre: historical fiction, literary fiction
Rating: 2.5/5

First sentence:

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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  1. I love Toni Morrison!! Its looks like a fantastic read!!!

  2. I love Toni Morrison too, as a rule. Hope you like this more than me!

  3. Which books have you read of hers? I've read Sula, Beloved, and The Bluest Eye and liked all of them (Sula probably the least). I know what you mean about them being emotionally charged, and it's something I really like about Morrison's writing. 167 does seem really short--for any novel!

  4. I've read The Bluest Eye and Song of Solomon, so far. Still lots to go! But after reading those two I just knew I had to read everything she's written! I plan on reading Beloved next and I also own Jazz so that will in line.

    This is short. I guess it's more a novella, than an actual novel.


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