Lindsay's Reviews > A Mercy

A Mercy by Toni Morrison
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's review
Dec 05, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: historical-fiction, 2008, slavery, americana, read-for-fun, read-postcollege, families, favorites
Read in January, 2009

The dust jacket calls this book a "prelude" to Morrison's earlier, Pulitzer-winning novel Beloved, and, having read both, I think that's a fair description.

A Mercy is about an intersection in the lives of six characters: white colonists Rebekka and Jacob Vaark, a free African blacksmith, and the Vaarks' three slaves, Lina, Florens and Sorrow. Without giving too much away, I can say that, over the course of the novel, the working relationship between the Vaarks and their slaves (each of whom the Vaarks took in as an act of mercy --- Lina is a Native girl who with two younger boys survived an outbreak of pox that obliterated her clan; Sorrow is an orphaned shipwreck survivor; and Florens was taken in payment of a bad debt owed by a dissolute Portuguese planter) unravels.

What was most eye-opening about this novel was the contrast between race-based slavery as I knew it from Beloved (and lots of other novels, history books and slave narratives) and the slavery portrayed here. Two white characters, Willard and Scully, also work for Jacob Vaark, though he does not permit them to live on his property; they are indentured servants, both bonded more or less indefinitely. At one point Vaark has to command them to take orders from the blacksmith, who as a free craftsman outranks them. Morrison mentions a fascinating bit of historical trivia, the People's War, in which black slaves, white indentured servants and certain Native groups banded together to revolt against white landowners --- apparently it was in response to this united uprising that the first laws discriminating between white and black were set down.

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Reading Progress

01/04/2009 page 67

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