Book Review: A Mercy by Toni Morrison


A Mercy (2008) is the latest novel by one of my favorite writers Toni Morrison.  Having read all of Morrison’s novels – except Paradise which I struggled through twice and still haven’t completed – I found it different from the rest of Morrison’s oeuvre, but I can’t put my finger on what.  I thought it may be the historic setting, but that’s true of Beloved and Jazz as well.   I thought it may be that it lacked magical realism, but then I remember there’s a man who returns from the grave to haunt his house and a girl with a very realistic imaginary friend.  Maybe it’s because it’s fairly accessible to read, but Love and Song of Solomon are relatively straightforward as well.  Besides A Mercy is deceptively complex and would reward a rereading should I find the time to do so.

Not knowing what A Mercy is not about, I can tell you it is about a set of people living in colonial America in the 1680’s.  They are European, Native American, and African and share in common themes of uprootedness and slavery (both real and emotional).  They are joined together on the plantation of Jacob Vaark, a trader and a reluctant slaveholder, although presented as more of collector of orphans.  The novel focuses on the women on the plantation: Vaark’s wife Rebekka haunted by the death of her children, an Indian small pox survivor named Lina, a mysterious survivor of a shipwreck named Sorrow, and an African slave Florens who was given to Vaark by her mother to repay her mother’s master’s debt.  Florens is the central character in search of love and rootedness which finds eventually with the unamed blacksmith.  Ironically, the only self-possesed character, the blacksmith is a free African man.

This is a good novel, definitely worth reading and re-reading.

A mercy / Toni Morrison.
Publisher: New York : Knopf, c2008.
ISBN: 9780307264237 : hc $23.95
0307264238 : hc $23.95
Description: 167 p. : map ; 25 cm.

3 thoughts on “Book Review: A Mercy by Toni Morrison

  1. It’s not that I dislike Paradise, I just haven’t read it all the way through. Due to my poor reading comprehension I got about 70-80 pages into the book (on two occasions) and had no idea what was going on. I keep meaning to get back to reading the book all the way through, but I procrastinate.

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