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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I don't think God knows who we are. I think He would like us, if He knew us, but I don't think He knows about us."
(4.5 stars) Continuing themes that she has been developing since the start of her career, Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison creates an intense and involving philosophical, Biblical, and feminist novel set in the Atlantic colonies between 1682 and 1690. Her impressionistic story traces slavery from its early roots, using unique voices--African, Native American, and...
Published on 11 Nov. 2008 by Mary Whipple

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Evocative, but not her best work
This is not my favourite Toni Morrison book although I love her other works. It is beautifully, poetically written, and I was immediately drawn in and absorbed by the predicament of Jacob and the description of his home but I was confused by the constant shift in the narrative viewpoint between the four different women, two of whom appear to be no more than children even...
Published on 8 Aug. 2009 by Parvati P.


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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I don't think God knows who we are. I think He would like us, if He knew us, but I don't think He knows about us.", 11 Nov. 2008
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: A Mercy (Hardcover)
(4.5 stars) Continuing themes that she has been developing since the start of her career, Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison creates an intense and involving philosophical, Biblical, and feminist novel set in the Atlantic colonies between 1682 and 1690. Her impressionistic story traces slavery from its early roots, using unique voices--African, Native American, and white--while moving back and forth in time. The primary speaker is Florens, a 16-year-old African slave, who tells the reader at the outset that this is a confession, "full of curiosities," and that she has committed a bloody, once-in-a-lifetime crime. In a flashback to 1682, we learn that when Florens was only eight years old, her mother suggested to the Maryland planter who owned the family, that Florens be given to New York farmer Jacob Vaark to settle a debt. Florens never understands why she was abandoned by her mother.

Florens lives and works for the next eight years on Vaark's rural New York farm. Lina, a Native American, who works with her, tells in a parallel narrative how she became one of a handful of survivors of a plague that killed her tribe. Vaark's wife Rebekkah describes leaving England for New York to be married to a man she has never seen. The deaths of their subsequent children are devastating, and Vaark is hoping that eight-year-old Florens will help alleviate Rebekkah's loneliness. Vaark, himself an orphan and poorhouse survivor, describes his journeys from New York to Maryland and Virginia, commenting on the role of religion in the culture of the different colonies, along with their attitudes toward slavery.

All these characters are bereft of their roots, struggling to survive in an alien environment filled with danger and disease. When smallpox threatens Rebekkah's life in 1692, Florens, now sixteen, is sent to find a black freedman who has some knowledge of herbal medicines. Her journey is dangerous and ultimately proves to be the turning point in her life.

Morrison examines the roots of racism going back to slavery's earliest days, providing glimpses of the various religious practices of the time, and showing how all the women are victimized. They are "of and for men," people who "never shape the world, The world shapes us." As the women journey toward self-enlightenment, Morrison describes their progress in often Biblical cadences, and by the end of this novel, the reader understands what "a mercy" really means. An intense and thought-provoking look at various forms of slavery from their beginnings, this short novel has an epic scope, one which admirers of Morrison will celebrate for its intense thematic development, even as they may somewhat regret its sacrifice of fully developed characters. Mary Whipple

Sula
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Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Evocative, but not her best work, 8 Aug. 2009
This review is from: A Mercy (Mass Market Paperback)
This is not my favourite Toni Morrison book although I love her other works. It is beautifully, poetically written, and I was immediately drawn in and absorbed by the predicament of Jacob and the description of his home but I was confused by the constant shift in the narrative viewpoint between the four different women, two of whom appear to be no more than children even when pregnant. I was not always convinced that eleven or fourteen year old servant girls would think in such a sophisticated way.

This is a character-focused book which deals with feelings and fears and Morrison's themes of slavery and sexual exploitation. It is evocative and often touching. However I found myself going over many paragraphs more than once trying to understand which of the protagonists was telling her tale at any given point. Three stars because of this major flaw in the novel, but I would have given it 3.5 if I could because the writing is so assured and accomplished otherwise.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Morrison not at her Best, 3 Aug. 2010
By 
Herman Norford "Keen Reader" (Birmingham, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Mercy (Mass Market Paperback)
Reading Tony Morrison's novel, A Mercy, one gets a feeling that in this rather mediocre novel there is a very good one, if not great, trying to get out. In A Mercy, Morrison returns to what is for her is a very familiar subject - namely, no so much slavery in itself but the lives and times of her characters living during the early years after the so called discovery of the USA. Even though some of the issues in this novel were explored in much greater dept in Beloved, this period is brimming with so much painful human experience that it is worth returning to it.

The story, although multi-layered, is a rather straight forward one but made to look complicated by its method of telling and some of the literary devices used to embroider it. We have Europeans sailing across the Atlantic to the new world and we are told of the hardships endured. We then have the experience of settling in the new world and the brutality experienced by settlers, the native Americans and those enslaved. All this is rendered in a way that makes it difficult to follow. So for example, we have a first person narrator who sometimes addresses the reader directly and at other times speaks to a second person. The first person narrator is alternated with a third person narrator. There are episodes that come to a sudden end and then picked up later. Then there are dream-like episodes that draw on the tradition of magic realism. She does away with a conventional linear plot, the omniscient narrator is broadly put to rest and one gets a feeling that Morrison is challenging notions that life is an ordered sequence of events in a coherent world. All this is fertile stuff to explore in a novel but the problem here is that it is too ambitious for a novel anchored in the harsh reality of discovery and brutality rendered in about 165 pages.

On another level, A Mercy is a touching story about four women: rebekka, wife of Jacob Vaark who dies leaving her a widow, Lina a native American woman who has seen her way of life torn apart by the settlers, Sorrow who was rescued from a ship and Floren who is given to Jacob Vaark as payment for a debt with the blessing of her mother. This aspect of the novel is to all intent and purpose a feminist tract - a bringing together of female characters to form a sisterhood, especially given the fact that the story is mainly told from their perspective.

There is the narrative of the harshness of slavery where in one passage two male characters inspect a row of slaves, "identifying talents, weaknesses and possibilities but silent about the scars, the wounds like misplaced veins tracing their skins." But there is also a sense of humanity shown in Jacob. As Jacob examines slaves offered for purchase by another character, Jacob's stomach suddenly seize and in a revealing passage that throws light on the suffering endured by slaves we are told, "whatever it was, he couldn't stay there surrounded by a passel of slaves whose silence made him imagine an avalanche seen from a distance. No sound just the knowledge of a roar he could not hear."

In respect of the language in this novel, there is a sense that Morrison is trying too hard to use poetic language. At the start of chapter 3 the narration is taken up by an unknown first person narrator who outlines sickness invading her home. One passage describes a scene with the sick master thus: "Neither Mistress nor we know if he is alive for even on minute to smell the new cherry wood floors h lies on." It seems as a result of trying to be poetic, the sentence almost does not make sense. In other places the verbs used are at times arcane, "he begged off" or "he trailed him to the little sheds." This gives the text a clumsy feel and made for an unengaging read.

A Mercy is certainly not an easy novel to read but that is not its flaw. The major problem with this novel is that too many novelistic devices are deployed without the scope and need to do so.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good idea..not perfectly carried through., 27 Sept. 2009
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This review is from: A Mercy (Mass Market Paperback)
You can read good synopses of the plot from other reviewers, so I won't include on here.

I had to read this book twice before I got anything out of it.
My problems with it are:
1) The "revelation" at the end about why Florens mother gave her away is no surprise.
2) Even though the book is written from the perspective of different characters, there is little difference in idiom and narrative rhythm, so one never gets a full sense of the characters: they are thinly drawn. Toni Morrison also gives little idea about how the characters actually feel about each other. There is little sense of real emotion. We know the Native American woman treats Florens like a daughter but still, there is little evidence of love between them. Also, I don't understand how Josef can go from loathing the slave owner and finding him weak, to emulating him and becoming a slave trader himself.
3)Toni Morrisson is remarkably coy about the less salubrious aspects of the book such as WHAT the owners of Florens' mother did that was so bad she'd parcel her daughter off and ship her anywhere and to anything. It's intimitated that she bore rape and abuse by male slaves (that's how she had her children) and the male slave-owner but it was the female's involvement that she wanted to save her daughter from.
Similarly, when Florens flips and attacks the blacksmith we don't find out what happened; did she kill him or not? This leaves questions unanswered which is unsatisfying.

Strengths:
It is complex and shows how slavery of some sort affected many different peoples in th developing America: white and black, male and female.
It makes one think and reflect on aspects of the story for a while afterwards.

I'd recommend it, but don't expect TOO much from it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not a patch on her usual output, 11 Nov. 2012
By 
Mrs. K. A. Wheatley "katywheatley" (Leicester, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Mercy (Mass Market Paperback)
Morrison always writes beautifully, the poetic fluency of her words is always a delight to read, and A Mercy is no different here than any of her other books. Unfortunately there is a lot less to like with regard to the rest of the book in comparison with all her other works. I found this one dense and puzzling. The constantly switching narrators were rather confusing as it took a while to figure out who was who, and as the book was only short there wasn't a lot of time to make these kind of decisions before you ran out of book. I felt like there was only really half a book here, like the story got rushed through with vital parts missing which could really have made this a great book instead of an alright novella. I got to the end thinking 'well, what was the point of that.' I give it three stars for the beauty of the writing, but not for anything else.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Morrison at her best..., 26 Aug. 2009
This review is from: A Mercy (Mass Market Paperback)
Like many people my attitude towards Morrison's work has often been ambivalent - a mix of admiration and apprehension. My first forays into Morrison's work were not particularly rewarding. `Beloved' remains one of the few novels where my attempts to conclude it have been abortive. Then there was the beautiful-in-parts but characteristically convoluted `Jazz'.
Thankfully, with some persistence I discovered some of Morrison's more coherent novels. For me, Toni, like several authors is at her best when she is at her most concise - `The Bluest Eye', `Sula' and now `A Mercy'.

Set in the embryonic stages of the slave trade during the 1680s when America was still subject to British rule, the novel follows the fortunes of Rebekka and Jacob Vaark and the gaggle of indentured servants who work on their land.

As is customary Morrison gives most of the characters in `A Mercy' a voice and a back-story that makes you feel fully conversant with their worldview and history before you know it. TM knows how to give even the most puzzling or unlikeable characters some humanity.
Unlike any of her other novels with which I'm familiar, `A Mercy' is not exclusively written from an African-American perspective. Morrison gives a voice to men and women of different ethnicities in some ways making the novel have a more universal appeal than previous work. Perhaps this is why I felt such an affinity for the characters and the book as a whole, more so even than the extremely poignant `The Bluest Eye'-although it comes very close.

`A Mercy' also highlights a point a friend of mine recently made. Toni Morrison's feminism is not one based on misandry. She doesn't encourage the loathing of men but instead lends her voice to the discussion of how the two sexes can and do co-exist. How do we show men support without losing out identity to them? Not seeking to render men obsolete but women searching for a viable place in the world; an exploration into the universal female experience or at least where there are overlaps across culture. At one point Morrison sums up an aspect of the struggle with such clarity and precision:

'...Although they had nothing in common with the views of each other, they had everything in common with one thing: the promise and threat of men. Here they agreed, was where security and risk lay...and both had come to terms...'

Each female character in `A Mercy' -from Rebekka, the widow of landowner Jacob Vaark, to stoic native American servant Lina, lovestruck protagonist Florens and the apparently unstable foundling Sorrow, - has her own coping strategy in the mercenary, male dominated world of the slave trade. The tactics differ as much as the women do.

TM's research for the book should also be highly commended. The historical references complement the novel, never threatening to overwhelm or distract the reader. I gained some great insight into the socio-religious tension simmering away in 17 Century America. There are wonderful insights into faith and gender politics in general throughout `A Mercy'.
I don't know how TM manages to give each character so much depth in such a succinct manner but she does it very well. Her style is so poetic at times it demands the same level of analysis and attention to detail as verse. The drawback is that this sometimes interrupts the flow of the work. However it isn't always a bad thing and works especially well when juxtaposed with more prosaic descriptions - as far as Morrison does prosaic.

The last chapter forces the reader to view the story in a new light. We hear the perspective of someone who hitherto has not been given a voice. The revelation shows that the decisions made by Florens, which to an extent have ended in tragic circumstances, were based on a terrible (albeit justifiable) misunderstanding. The world in which `A Mercy' is set is not one where things are always as black and white as they seem.
The novel is TM at her best, showcasing all the stylistic quirks that make her so unique and distinguished. In short, a great introduction to Morrison's work for those as yet unfamiliar with her catalogue.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Mercy has to be read twice, 21 April 2010
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This review is from: A Mercy (Mass Market Paperback)
A Mercy is the harrowing story of three slaves and their owners in the 1690s. This book left a bitter taste, as it shows man's inhumanity to man at its worst. It is quite a disciplined book to read and at first the prose is difficult, but when I read it a second time, I got much more out of it, because the characters were known to me and I understood the whole content much better. It is only 165 pages in total, but there is so much said in those pages. Our Book Club gave it 100% approval and it is definitely a good book club read, provoking much discussion.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't get into it, 11 Nov. 2009
By 
Amazon Customer (Edinburgh, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Mercy (Hardcover)
I really couldn't get into this book. I loved 'Beloved', but nothing interested me here - the characters weren't appealing or well-developed enough to make me care about them, and I had no idea where the plot was going or even what it was! I did want to like this book because the synopsis sounded really interesting and Morrison's portrayal of black African-Americans was wonderful in Beloved (and I used the novel in my Advanced Higher English dissertation) but I found it so hard to keep my focus on the book. It had a few interesting parts, so it wasn't a total failure - but I wasn't at all inspired to finish it and gave up after about 80 pages. And that says a lot, considering there are only about 150 pages in total!

I think the best way to describe this book is this: Toni Morrison is the kind of author that is so famous and loved that people say "She could write books in her sleep!" This is the book that Toni Morrison wrote in her sleep. It is so disjointed and bizarre (not 'Beloved'-bizarre, just "I ate loads of goat cheese before I went to sleep" bizarre) that it does seem kind of like someone managed to tap into Toni Morrison's brain and write down all of her dreams and publish them.

So, on the bright side...the synopsis sounded really good?
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Quietly confusing, 23 Aug. 2010
This review is from: A Mercy (Mass Market Paperback)
I found A Mercy a slightly confusing book. I read it as part of a book group and the funny thing about it is we all came out with the same questions and yet we all had different answers to them.

The book is written from the perspectives of most of the different characters. This takes a while to get used to as they all have different ways of talking - different dialects. The book also throws you in at the deep end putting it's most difficult to comprehend voice first talking about things you will only understand at the end. So don't give up at the first chapter.

The book is quite female focussed, it looks at the status of women as wives and servants in newly colonised America. It covers a multitude of themes including female identity, slavery, racism and religion. Sometimes it felt like the author could have been more focused on a couple of these rather than try to cover all of them in such a small book.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Very disappointing, 24 Oct. 2009
By 
Mabel Stark (Lincolnshire, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Mercy (Mass Market Paperback)
I was looking forward to this book immensely, the subject matters being of interest to me.
However, from almost the first page, I found the writing style very difficult to enjoy. There is a sense of being an 'outsider' when reading this book, the characters seem distant and therefore I felt I could not connect or empathise with them at all.
Overall, very disappointing and I would not recommend this to anyone.
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A Mercy
A Mercy by Toni Morrison (Mass Market Paperback - 4 Jun. 2009)
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