Customer Reviews for

A Mercy

Average Rating 3.5
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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 9 people found this review helpful.

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.

posted by tippiJN on December 6, 2008

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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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  • 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 December 25, 2009

    This is a different type of Morrison

    This book was not what I was expecting...the usual tricky, explosive plot that accompanies Morrison's writing is missing from this work. This book is, for the most part, predictable and does not really tell a complete story. It just "is," and perhaps that is what a lot of readers go into a book expecting, but I do not expect that when I pick up something by Toni Morrison. In that respect, it was disappointing.

    Also, you felt when Morrison was developing her characters. Again, very predictable and very un-Morrison. It made you understand the characters better, but it was not done in any sort of crafty way. It was just done. Finally, after the back-story of each character was told, it was unclear exactly what each character was doing in the novel. There was no sense of closure after fininshing the novel even though the writing and set up seemed to be going towards that goal. Finally, the main male character was not that developed and even when his development began, it was unclear why he was even there in the first place (beyond the fact that all the other characters felt "saved" by him).

    This novel was not the deep, introspective story that I was expecting. It had bits and pieces, but no real "tie that binds."

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2009

    not an easy read

    I had a very difficult time getting in to the book and adjusting to the dialect of the writing.

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