Books are cheaper than heroin, but they DO add up....

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Monday, February 28, 2011

A Mercy by Toni Morrison

Book Summary (from the book jacket)
In the 1680s the Atlantic 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.

Sarah's Reaction
This was, as to be expected, depressing.  But I was pleasantly surprised to read about the perspectives of others in the earliest stages of America, rather than just a slave's voice.  The book jacket leads you to believe it's about the different characters in early America, but I think it's like most of her novels; about love.  Love that is mostly too powerful, too suffocating and often leads to hurt. 

In Beloved, love became death in tangible form, and in A Mercy love became different types of freedom - all of which ultimately became a trap.  Having read several other of Morrison's novels, love is always the central issue.  But whether the love itself is flawed, or the time in which the love is born is flawed, separate the achingly beautiful stories she tells.

Religion has more of a presence here than in her other novels, in my opinion, but that may be more of a mechanism of the earlier time and location of this story.  Faith is always present in her stories, but it's more of a driving force in this book as opposed to part of a character.

It was short but deep and moving.  The lovely language served as a reminder that early American mores, ideology and boundaries fluctuated almost daily.  And, too, a reminder that love often blurs and breaks the lines of all those things.
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