Customer Reviews for

A Mercy

Average Rating 3.5
( 100 )
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(34)

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

32 out of 34 people found this review helpful.

A gripping novel written in elegant prose

In this short, lyrical and gripping novel, Tony Morrison has undertaken, once again, to explore her favorite subject: the evils of slavery. Written in prose so lovely and mesmerizing that it reminded me of her ¿Sula¿, also a short novel published thirty-five years ago, ...
In this short, lyrical and gripping novel, Tony Morrison has undertaken, once again, to explore her favorite subject: the evils of slavery. Written in prose so lovely and mesmerizing that it reminded me of her ¿Sula¿, also a short novel published thirty-five years ago, ¿A Mercy¿ was a great joy to read.

Jacob Vaark, a Dutch-born farmer and trader, and Rebecca, his English wife own a tobacco plantation. Even though Jacob owned a few slaves, he did so only as a necessity to run his homestead. Jacob is sympathetic towards orphans and waifs because he himself was parentless at a young age, and had to fend for himself on the streets running small errands.

At the heart of the novel is an act of mercy. When Jacob Vaark travels to Maryland to collect debt from a tobacco plantaion owner named Senor D¿Ortega, he finds out that Senor is broke and has no money to pay off the debt. Senor offers Jacob a thin black girl named Florens, a daughter of one of his slaves, as a partial payment of the debt. Florens is smart, and she can read and write also. Florens¿ mother senses that Jacob is more kind-hearted than her master, and so pleads with Senor to give Florens to Jacob. Her hope is that Florens would have a better life in Jacob¿s estate. Florens¿s mother considers this an act of mercy, but the irony is that Florence considers it abandonment.

Several sympathetic characters make the novel interesting and hold a reader¿s attention. Lina (Messalina), a native American, was sold to Jacob by the Presbytarians who had rescued and saved her. Sorrow, a sea captain¿s daughter, survives a ship wreck, but ends up in Jacob¿s plantation as a slave. Willard and Scully are indentured servants who are sent to work at Jacob¿s plantation by their contract holders. A young black man, a blacksmith, arrives to make an iron gate for Jacob¿s new house. He is not a slave, but a free man. This man is also knowledgeable about medicinal herbs, and Florens falls in love with him.

In this novel, Toni Morrison¿s prose shines: ¿A frightened, long-necked child who did not speak for weeks but when she did, her light, singsong voice was lovely to hear. Some how, some way, the child assuaged the tiny yet eternal yearning for the home Lina once knew, where everyone had anything, and no one had everything.¿
Reading this novel was an intense, deeply moving, and satisfying experience. Even though the novel is short, it is bright, deep and weighty.

posted by Yesh_Prabhu_Writer on November 16, 2008

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Most Helpful Critical Review

2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

Could Have Been Better!!

I picked up this book because I found the basic idea to be interesting--something I hadn't really thought about before. When I read the book I was deeply disappointed. Did Ms Morrison have to rush to publish and not finish her complete thoughts on the subject??? I fo...
I picked up this book because I found the basic idea to be interesting--something I hadn't really thought about before. When I read the book I was deeply disappointed. Did Ms Morrison have to rush to publish and not finish her complete thoughts on the subject??? I found what she did write to be confusing and underdeveloped. I usually keep books that I have read, and pass them along to people in my life that I think would take something from them. I gave this book to my daughter to take to her book seller ASAP!!!

posted by 911483 on January 29, 2009

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  • Posted November 16, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    A gripping novel written in elegant prose

    In this short, lyrical and gripping novel, Tony Morrison has undertaken, once again, to explore her favorite subject: the evils of slavery. Written in prose so lovely and mesmerizing that it reminded me of her ¿Sula¿, also a short novel published thirty-five years ago, ¿A Mercy¿ was a great joy to read.<BR/><BR/>Jacob Vaark, a Dutch-born farmer and trader, and Rebecca, his English wife own a tobacco plantation. Even though Jacob owned a few slaves, he did so only as a necessity to run his homestead. Jacob is sympathetic towards orphans and waifs because he himself was parentless at a young age, and had to fend for himself on the streets running small errands.<BR/><BR/>At the heart of the novel is an act of mercy. When Jacob Vaark travels to Maryland to collect debt from a tobacco plantaion owner named Senor D¿Ortega, he finds out that Senor is broke and has no money to pay off the debt. Senor offers Jacob a thin black girl named Florens, a daughter of one of his slaves, as a partial payment of the debt. Florens is smart, and she can read and write also. Florens¿ mother senses that Jacob is more kind-hearted than her master, and so pleads with Senor to give Florens to Jacob. Her hope is that Florens would have a better life in Jacob¿s estate. Florens¿s mother considers this an act of mercy, but the irony is that Florence considers it abandonment.<BR/><BR/>Several sympathetic characters make the novel interesting and hold a reader¿s attention. Lina (Messalina), a native American, was sold to Jacob by the Presbytarians who had rescued and saved her. Sorrow, a sea captain¿s daughter, survives a ship wreck, but ends up in Jacob¿s plantation as a slave. Willard and Scully are indentured servants who are sent to work at Jacob¿s plantation by their contract holders. A young black man, a blacksmith, arrives to make an iron gate for Jacob¿s new house. He is not a slave, but a free man. This man is also knowledgeable about medicinal herbs, and Florens falls in love with him. <BR/><BR/>In this novel, Toni Morrison¿s prose shines: ¿A frightened, long-necked child who did not speak for weeks but when she did, her light, singsong voice was lovely to hear. Some how, some way, the child assuaged the tiny yet eternal yearning for the home Lina once knew, where everyone had anything, and no one had everything.¿ <BR/>Reading this novel was an intense, deeply moving, and satisfying experience. Even though the novel is short, it is bright, deep and weighty.

    32 out of 34 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 21, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Evocative, grippiing, beautiful

    Newly released, A Mercy takes place in the 1680's - the early days of the slave trade in the Americas.<BR/><BR/>Jacob is a trader who takes a small slave girl- Florens - in partial payment for a debt. The mother of the child begs him to take the girl, not herself. It is this act that has consequences for all the lives that are intertwined with that of Florens'. Florens joins Jacob's wife Rebekka, Lina, a servant and Sorrow, an indentured young woman, at their hardscrabble farm. Scully and Willard are also hoping to buy their freedom. Florens yearns for the blacksmith, an African who has never been enslaved.<BR/><BR/>Life at this time in history is defined and described from the viewpoint of each of these characters. Each character is enslaved to something in this new world - an owner, religion, wealth, desire and memory. The most poignant voice is that of Floren's mother. The last chapter of the book belongs to her and it ends on a powerful note.<BR/><BR/>Toni Morrison has a gift with words. Although it is tempting to read straight through to the end, I always take the time to savour and enjoy the language she uses.<BR/><BR/>..."especially here where tobacco and slaves were married, each currency clutching it's partner's elbow".<BR/><BR/>Toni Morrison is an amazingly gifted writer, having won both a Nobel and Pulitzer Prize. If you haven't experienced her yet, I encourage you to pick up any of her books.

    9 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 21, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    AN EMBRACING YET STILL SEARCHING VOICE

    To read Toni Morrison is a privilege. To hear her narrate her work is both privilege and pleasure. Her voice will surprise some as it is slight with the smallest bit of huskiness. Such strong, wonderful words from a voice so quiet? At times the sound belies her 77 years; at other times, it reveals all of that time as she tells us a story of 17th century America, the years before slavery became what we know of it as today. <BR/>Set primarily in the home of farmer Jacob Vaark this is a mini masterpiece, the print copy running a brief 169 pages. His household is unique, a blend of the outcast and the wounded. There is his wife, Rebekka, who fled England to escape religious intolerance. Here her closest friend is Lina, a Native American servant who saw her village destroyed by disease. Sorrow is the oddest of the cast, a strange girl who was found much like a piece of drift wood washed up by the sea. <BR/><BR/>Florens, the central character, is a young slave girl whom Vaark took in payment for a debt. After hearing her mother plead with Vaark to accept her she finds herself lost, searching for love. <BR/><BR/>A strange household? Yes. But each in quest of heart's fulfillment, as are we all. <BR/><BR/>Every listener will undoubtedly find something different in A Mercy - all will be sorry it is over so soon. <BR/><BR/>- Gail Cooke

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 4, 2009

    Toni Morrison is a national treasure

    As a companion to "Beloved," this is interesting; as a stand-alone work, it is mesmerizing. In fact, it's a wonderful first book for readers who haven't read Morrion's work. I suggest that once the reader has read through chapter 2, he/she return to chapter 1 and read it again. The plot falls into place neatly and becomes much more accessible to readers who might be confused by Florens' language.<BR/><BR/>A brief work, this is a relatively quick read, but worthy of contemplation.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 25, 2012

    I'd never read anything by Toni Morrison, so I had no expectatio

    I'd never read anything by Toni Morrison, so I had no expectations. I loved the various character perspectives, and the way the world was drawn through those characters' eyes. This book is a lyrically beautiful and diverse encapsulation of the beauty, brutality, and fundamental injustice of colonial North America.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 16, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Lord Have Mercy

    Toni Morrison explores race through deconstructing (unpacking) the social construction of whiteness. Finally, a book that explores whiteness and put it on trial. This book does not treat whiteness (i.e. Western) traits as "human" traits! It treats white as a color and whiteness as a human construct, not a divine one. The book has several voices-- layered voices that tell a story of identity from individual perspectives. The white characters in the book reveal the solidifying of whiteness through religion, class, community, and gender. Taking place in the wilderness of North America, this book explores how whites came to accept oppression found in a racial caste system. The black characters show how blacks lived in three worlds--one they authored, one they observed, and the one they owned. In self-constructed worlds, they experienced humanity--love and its sacrifices. The Indian character learns to reconcile her memories to find a place in a world that reduced her to a savage. Her self-constructed identity buffered her from the dehumanizing white-authored evironment in which she lived. Lastly, a split human soul found solace in giving life and focusing on that life reminds us all love shared is the best gift to give to another human. "A Mercy" tells the story about how different folks function in the same space, yet have different understandings of that space. While Morrison does a good job at exploring the genesis of racialized identities, at times, a comma here and there would have made this book more enjoyable to read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2009

    Terrible.

    Sorry but I'm giving this audio book away. Toni Morrison is monotonous and pretentious in her reading of this story. I honestly don't know what she was talking about - it's like I was in her bad dream.

    2 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 9, 2009

    The last page...

    will remain in your mind for a long time for on it is revealed<BR/>the reason for the composition. This is a marvelous book. I have ordered more of Toni Morrison's works as a result of reading A Mercy.<BR/>She is an incredible writer.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2009

    Could Have Been Better!!

    I picked up this book because I found the basic idea to be interesting--something I hadn't really thought about before. When I read the book I was deeply disappointed. Did Ms Morrison have to rush to publish and not finish her complete thoughts on the subject??? I found what she did write to be confusing and underdeveloped. I usually keep books that I have read, and pass them along to people in my life that I think would take something from them. I gave this book to my daughter to take to her book seller ASAP!!!

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2008

    NOT WORTH READING

    THIS IS THE FIRST BOOK I HAVE READ BY THIS AUTHOR AND IT WILL BE THE LAST. IT WAS VERY CONFUSING AS IT JUMPED BETWEEN CHARACTERS AND THEIR STORIES AND YOU WERE NEVER ABLE TO CONNECT WITH ANY OF THEM AS A RESULT OF THIS FORMAT. I WOULD NOT HAVE FINISHED READING THE BOOK EXCEPT THAT IT WAS SELECTED FOR OUR BOOK CLUB TO READ.

    2 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 6, 2008

    Read through this book today...

    I read a chapter in the bookstore and decided not to purchase. Toni Morrison has a strange way of writing. Some people love her style and some don't. I do not particularly like her writing style. I found this book to be BORING.

    2 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 8, 2012

    Worst book i ever "tried" to read

    I assumed this book was in line with the movie "beloved" that Oprah praised so highly...i did see the movie and it left me empty without resolution...but figured...its a movie after all...i thought this authors book would be different..

    I was so disappointed in the writing style of this book...it was like reading someones mental notes before editing...i can follow most anyones writing..but this book made me want to stand at a wall and hit my head till i could figure out why it was so difficult..

    Then it hit me...no not the wall...but the resolution as to why i was not enjoying the book...it was not me or my comprehension...it was the mish mash, helter skelter writing style of this author..then it dawned on me....

    I get it...get endorsed by Oprah and doors will open..no matter how weirded out you write a book...a publisher will take their chances...when i think about the fiction i could write on a bad day compared to this book...it makes me sad to think i have not written it...and makes me wonder why not take the chance...

    Oh wait, that's right Oprah hasn't endorsed me....that's why...for people who can understand the direction this writer takes you...all i can say is you need to do something powerful with that mind...because you are way advanced in thought...

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2012

    Okay

    Hard read. Like all morrison web and flow awesome

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2012

    Vivid Character Development

    This is the first Toni Morrison I have read. Her unique approach to character development puts the reader immediately inside the thoughts of each individual. We learn about the world of slavery and prejudice through the eyes of women who lived it. The reader experiences the unique understanding and focus of each character as their lives are woven into a dramatic web of interdependence. The final page reveals a perspective so riveting that the story has stayed with me weeks after I finished reading it.

    This book offers a powerful glimpse into the lives that were shaped by the degridation of prejudice against women and slaves. I am haunted by a new understanding of what it must have felt like to live in that world. I am chagrined to discover blind spots in my own existence that have kept me from seeing the continued segregation in our own society. Thank you, Toni Morrison, for being a conscience for all of us.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 11, 2009

    Indecipherable and disappointing

    Who's on first? "Beloved" was by far worth the work, "Paradise" was difficult, even on a second read (still don't know which character is "the white girl" who was shot first in the first sentence), and maybe I'm just getting too old for this fine but increasingly elusive author.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 16, 2009

    A Mercy

    I found this book to be boring and hard to understand, despite being quite intellegent.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2009

    Not a favorite!

    Writing style made story line difficult to follow. Struggled to finish it.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 11, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A compelling story but difficult to read

    Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, best known for her mesmerizing ¿Beloved¿ has penned her most recent novel, ¿A Mercy,¿ about the turbulent times surrounding the birth of our nation, through the eyes of several downtrodden characters. <BR/><BR/>Jacob Vaark owns a small farm in upstate New York. He abhors slavery but purchases a young Native American, Lina, who is the sole survivor of her village after a smallpox epidemic kills all around her. Jacob also purchases a wife, Rebekka, from England. At first, his wife and Lina don¿t get along, but with the harsh realities of life in the 1690s, they soon come to depend on and love each other. Sorrow, a slave girl who Jacob rescued from a bad situation, struggles to fit into this small, disjointed family. Florens, yet another young slave, is given to Jacob in exchange for a debt owed by a rich landholder.<BR/><BR/>¿A Mercy¿ follows the internal struggles of each person. Jacob is clearly conflicted by his ownership of slaves, ¿God help me if this is not the most wretched business,¿ yet it is thanks to slaves that he is able to stay above the financial fray. Florens, a tortured soul who is never able to come to terms with being given up by her mother feels betrayed.<BR/><BR/>The weaving together of these lives and how they survive on a daily basis in a world where almost all people are for sale, makes for a fascinating read. It is an absorbing look at our country in its infancy when rules were still being written, and landowners used and then discarded other people without a thought. The difficulty with ¿A Mercy¿ is in the way the story is told. It is disjointed with story lines starting and abruptly ending for no apparent reason, making it quite difficult to follow. For instance, the first chapter is a recounting by Florens of her ¿adoption¿ by Jacob, although he is referred to as ¿Sir¿ and never Jacob. The second chapter then jumps to the same event, but through Jacob¿s eyes. The reader has no idea who is telling the narrative, or that this is the same incident until quite late in the chapter.<BR/><BR/>Much of ¿A Mercy¿ is told in the third person and these sections are the easiest to follow while those told by Florens, the slave girl, require careful reading. Her sections are written in her voice and use language such as: ¿Or when a corn-husk doll sitting on a shelf is soon splaying in the corner of a room and the wicked of how it got there is plain,¿ or ¿Night is thick no stars anyplace but sudden the moon moves. The chafe of needles is too much hurt and there is no resting there at all.¿ You come to understand the cadence, but it takes work.<BR/><BR/>There is much to admire in this book, including the touching chapter recounting Rebekka¿s life. The choices she is faced with, ¿¿her prospects were servant, prostitute, wife, and although horrible stories were told about each of those careers, the last one seemed safest,¿ bring the stark realities of life in the 1690s to light. The final chapter concludes in such a chilling way, particularly for Florens, to make the struggle of staying with the difficult text, worthwhile.<BR/><BR/><BR/>Quill says: A compelling story that is very difficult to follow at times.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 28, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Picked this up on clearance, as I know Tony Morrison is a wonder

    Picked this up on clearance, as I know Tony Morrison is a wonderful, well-known and award-winning author. But as much as I wanted... I just couldn't get into this. I finished it, sure. But much of the language was very hard to understand, it was quite hard to follow characters, and overall the storyline was pretty dark. Wouldn't recommend if you're not familiar with Morrison's style.

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  • Posted April 16, 2012

    Another Toni Morrison Great

    This book is wonderful as are all Morrison books. It climbs the scale of emotions on every page. The characters are clearly drawn and the plot keeps you reading. Don't expect happy endings for everyone, because TM does not do that.

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