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A Mercy

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  26,648 ratings  ·  3,206 reviews
In the 1680s the slave trade in the Americas is still in its infancy. Jacob Vaark 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, who can read and write and might be useful o
Hardcover, 167 pages
Published November 11th 2008 by Knopf Publishing Group (first published 2008)
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Chanel I think it is an animal, one that represents her ability to stick up for herself. Or it could be the eagle in the story Lina told her, the eagle who h…moreI think it is an animal, one that represents her ability to stick up for herself. Or it could be the eagle in the story Lina told her, the eagle who had to flee her nest when the European claimed the land with the word "mine."(less)

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Average rating 3.73  · 
Rating details
 ·  26,648 ratings  ·  3,206 reviews

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Will Byrnes
Jan 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: african-american
“It was there I learned how I was not a person from my country, nor from my families. I was negrita. Everything. Language, dress, gods, dance, habits, decoration, song– all of it cooked together in the colour of my skin.” – Toni Morrison, A Mercy

It’s the 17th Century, and slavery is still relatively new in the Americas. The people living there have either been brought there by force or have voluntarily gone there to start a new life. They are people with no roots in their new country, no famil
Dec 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Jason Koivu
Sep 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Toni, Toni, Toni...it feels good to know you again.

A Mercy is a gorgeous narrative of a dark time that flitters from person to person: child, slave, sympathetic Dutch businessman, mother. Betrayal is ever present, even seemingly from mother to child.

The setting and subject is slavery in 17th century America, specifically Catholic Maryland. These are early days in the New World. Superstition was rife. Black magic and the devil were palpably real.

With a bevy of glimpses Morrison displays most of
Violet wells
Jun 25, 2022 rated it it was amazing
An author arrives at the pinnacle of her powers. She writes her masterpiece. Does she know it will never be so good again? Virginia Woolf famously struggled after completing The Waves and went into a long mounting depression that killed her. Toni Morrison's writing career though is more similar to Don DeLillo. The masterpiece came relatively early. Lots of novels follow the masterpiece. None of them reach the heights of the masterpiece but they are novels we're very glad to have in the world.
Dec 28, 2008 rated it liked it
Back in college I took a course on Colonial America because I had to. It was pretty tough for me to get into it at the time, since I never really gave a crap about that inaccessible and unglamorous period. I wish this book had been around in those days, because Morrison's efforts to describe that bizarre and confusing world might've helped me get better picture of the time, and therefore care more about what I was learning. To me, A Mercy really is incredible historical fiction that provides acc ...more
Jul 05, 2014 rated it really liked it

This story occurs in the late 1600s, during early days of slavery in America (that is, African people being used as slaves). By that time however, the tradition of using 'indentured servants' - essentially white slaves - was already well established.

In this tale, several slaves work on a small farm run by Jacob and Rebekka Vaark.

The indentured servants are: Native American Lina - whose tribe has been decimated by disease;

Black child Florens - who was given away by her mother;

And jinxed Sorrow
Nov 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing

When the furor erupted over the 1619 Project, my thoughts went back to this work, which is set in 1690. Its characters’ dealing with an outbreak of smallpox is another timely element.

With the enslaved mother and daughter at the core of the book, I could envision that some might feel this novel is Beloved-“lite,” but I would say that’s true only in its size and its arguably easier style. In under 170 pages Morrison satisfyingly includes stories of several individuals, including a landowning
Ola Madhour
May 11, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels, classics
All of Morrison’s novels are political and historical and poignant. A Mercy returns to the end of the seventeenth century to evaluate the unfolding of racial slavery within a dark, superstitious, colonial America.

From a thoroughly disadvantaged background, European settlers gradually develop a frightening ethnocentric view—coupled with greed—that will lead to relentless violence against blacks and natives. Stories of bondage and abandonment abound. Disorientation, caused by an absurd lack of mo
Michael Finocchiaro
A Mercy takes us on a voyage into the dark world of slavery in the 1690s through the eyes of several slaves and one owner. In typical Morrison style, the time is non-linear, but it is an easier book to follow than say Beloved. Its text is less powerful and poetic than say, Beloved, but still there is a poignancy and urgency to the writing. Given the current slavery-denial in the media, it is probably a timely read.
I was enthralled with the incandescent prose and moving voices of four women in this tale set on a remote farm in colonial New York in the 1690s. It was outstanding in the audiobook form read by the author, often sending chills up my spine with the vibrant power of its poetry. A major theme is how people harness love in all its forms and how they deal with the perception of betrayal. Another is the paradox of the foundation of the new world both on the hunger for freedom and on various forms of ...more
Dec 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

What a beautifully heart-breaking book. It's a bit disorienting, jumping around from different characters' perspectives, and told in different writing styles. But I think that lends itself to the sort of medley of pain and struggle and sorrow these characters' face. Each has their own story to tell about loss, about displacement and about learning to live through it as best they can. And Morrison excellently captures those feelings without every feeling didactic. They are richly crafted an
Aug 16, 2022 rated it really liked it
[If you haven't watched the documentary Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, do yourself a favor and find it somewhere.]

I was uncertain about this book until a little more than halfway through at which point I fell in love. Eight women of no importance--mothers, daughters, whores, and thieves--having a tea ceremony in the dark lower deck of a ship crossing the Atlantic at the tail end of the seventeenth century. There is no tea, only warm water spirited with rum, along with cheese and stale biscuits,
D. Pow
Aug 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Joy D
Short, tragic, beautifully written book set in the late 17th century in the American Colonies. It speaks of slavery, indentured servitude, patriarchy, exploitation, superstition, disease, and child mortality. Prominent themes include fear of abandonment, lack of agency, and unintended consequences. The author elucidates the seeds of issues that still have repercussions today.

Morrison focuses this book on an ensemble of characters. Jacob Vaark finds slavery abhorrent but, at the urging of her mo
Nov 13, 2022 rated it liked it
“America, whatever the danger, how could it possibly be worse?”
This may be a short novel, one of Morrison's last ones (2008), but the feeling of disorientation that creeps up on you at the first reading is immediately reminiscent of Faulkner. Morrison made use of the Faulknerian techniques of twisted perspectives and stream of consciousness before, but here she goes a step further. The result is that you only get a little insight into the story towards the end of the book, which immediately
Jul 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ibr
This is only my second Toni Morrison after reading Song of Solomon last year, I guess I am tiptoeing cautiously towards her major works.
It is extraordinarily impressive what Morrison manages to do here in this slim novel (167 pgs). The text rapidly immerses you in late 17th century America and almost all the characters are either orphans or foundlings. Essentially, one might classify this as a character study, each chapter tells one person's story of how they came to be alone in the world, an
Jul 21, 2008 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 23, 2010 rated it it was ok
Maybe it's the bitter taste Beloved left me with; Maybe it's that she comes off as the poor woman's Maya Angelou; Maybe it's just that no matter how much I want to like her writing, I just can't.

The first four chapters were confusing as hell and the remaining ones were disorienting. The POV's from chapter to chapter were so intertwined, I could barely remember who was talking and found myself constantly going back to the beginning of that particular chapter to double check. Not only that, but t
Nov 13, 2008 rated it it was ok
This was definitely not one of my favorites. I am usually a die-hard Morrison fan, but this one just wasn't up to par with her earlier works. Many people have compared this to Beloved, but I find that comparison unjust. This book, while it had its moments of brilliance, was inundated with dense, incomprehensible prose. At times, I was unable to decipher who was speaking and when. It just wasn't a good read for me. ...more
Nov 29, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: literature, 2009
Dear Ms. Morrison:

I just want you to know that I think you are a wonderful writer. I remember picking up a copy of The Bluest Eye back in 1990 because I was taking a stupid college course and we were required to read a book by a female author written after WWII. I chose your book because it was really short and I didn't want to put a lot of time into that assignment. I remember crying while reading it and wanting to take that little girl out of her miserable life and make her feel better about h
Read By RodKelly
I needed this. Morrison is always fascinating for me to read; I'm paying attention to the structure, the themes, the tone, and every nuance she wrings out of her perfect sentences.

This is one of her easier novels, one featuring a swirling ensemble of voices, all gazing at the harsh reality of a group of women living in 17th century America.

The whole novel is one fluid tapestry, quite intimate, with a subtlety that is rare for Morrison but which works so well here. She questions how, in a world
Jun 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, favorites, own
I love Toni Morrison, the way she holds out the dark truths of Americas past and forces the reader to look and while the themes here are the same as much of her other work this one is a bit more raw, not the writing which is beautiful as always, but here she just lays it all out in plain sight, here it is motherfuckers, And oh man does she really give it to Christianity good for its part in the oppression of women, slave trade, all around evilness, etc, so you know I was into that and I probably ...more

A little way into reading, I had to pause and go back to the beginning, because this story is told not in a linear way, but in a spiral and with multiple perspectives that to me didn't relate to what the blurb says this book is about.

Florens is the only voice we hear more than once as she sets out on her quest, her chapters are interspersed by those she is growing up around, each one of those is told in the third person, but for their chapter stays with their perspective and views the
Carmel Hanes
Jun 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
"Their drift away from others produced a selfish privacy and they had lost the refuge and the consolation of a clan"..."Pride, she thought. Pride alone made them think that they needed only themselves, could shape life that way..."..."As long as Sir was alive it was easy to veil the truth: that they were not a family--not even a like--minded group. They were orphans, each and all."

A short but densely packed story, told in prose that is impossible to skim or read quickly. Lines heavy with meaning
Dec 31, 2008 rated it liked it
From my youngest sister, who reads often and prefers "Austenish" lit: "It was confusing and hard to get into and I didn't like the ending, but I did like that we heard every person's side of events. I still like my picks "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" and "The Guernsey Potato Peel Pie Society" best."

From my middle sister, who is not a big reader and likes "family smut" (aka divorcee single mother who has had it hard and then finds love in the shape of a Tarzan woodsman living alone and horny in the
Jun 15, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
”It was not a miracle. Bestowed by God. Offered by a human. I stayed on my knees. In the dust where my heart will remain each night and every day until you understand what I know and long to tell you: to be given dominion over another is a hard thing; to wrest dominion over another is a wrong thing; to give dominion of yourself to another is a wicked thing.”

A Mercy is perhaps my favorite Toni Morrison novel. Morrison never compromises her story-tellng for the reader, and Morrison’s fiction somet
La Tonya  Jordan
Nov 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
What can I say about this marvelous read, the poetry of the language is music to my ears. I can feel the anguish of those owned and indentured to others. The desire for love and family no matter how it comes to you. The agony of wanting freedom others have or what others appear to have in their possession. Desperately wanting to hold onto memories of Africa, villages, land, and customs ripped from you. Distressed over circumstances you cannot control.

This is a story of a young girl named Floren
Mar 18, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is my third Toni Morrison's novel. While I was awed by Beloved, Song of Solomon for me was a great collection of themes, but it never came together into a cohesive novel. It felt as a work of a writer still coming into her own. This book was written by a pro in full command of her craft.
This book is about slavery, but it's very different to Beloved. There's no plantation, slave catchers, abominable violence by slavers (well, almost).
The novel is structured as a main story with flashbacks of
Elyse Walters
Jul 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Before "A Mercy" came out, I had only read "Beloved", "The Bluest Eyes" maybe a year before. (I was out of the country for two years during the 70's --I don't remember reading much of anything during that time), when Toni Morrison had first established herself as a writer 'to read' -- A woman making a difference in the world!

Her writing is deeply felt --(reminding me --I've 2 other books in my house still 'to-read').
"Sula" and her later book "Love".

Her books about slavery reach deep below the
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Toni Morrison (born Chloe Ardelia Wofford) was an American author, editor, and professor who won the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature for being an author "who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality."

Her novels are known for their epic themes, vivid dialogue, and richly detailed African American characters; among the best k

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