A Mercy by Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison's New Novel to Be Released on November 11, 2008
Toni Morrison's new novel, A Mercy (Knopf), is scheduled for publication in November 2008.
A Mercy is Toni Morrison's 9th novel. Set in the 17th century northeast when the slave trade was in its infancy, the novel provides a detailed look at the social environment of religious persecution and racial hatred, class distinction that allowed the institution of slavery to take root in the US. As in all of her novels, Morrison outlines the broad strokes of history in order to explore the impact that they have on the personal choices of the individuals caught in history's reach. Morrison read from A Mercy during the Fifth Biennial Conference of the Toni Morrison Society in Charleston this summer. The reading by Morrison was an important contribution to the conference, which focused in this 200th anniversary year of the ban on legal slave trade in the US, on how Africans came to terms with their fate and created a new life that allowed them to survive slavery and thrive in a New World.
Jacob 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. Her slave mother has urged him to take her. This is Florens, "with the hands of a slave and the feet of a Portuguese lady," who can read and write and might be useful on his farm. Rejected by her mother, Florens looks for love, first from Lina, an older servant woman at her new master's house, but later from the handsome blacksmith, an African, never enslaved, who comes riding into their lives . . .
There are other voices: the native-American Lina, whose tribe was decimated by smallpox; their mistress, Rebekka, herself a victim of religious persecution back in England; and young Sorrow, daughter of a sea captain, who's spent too many years at sea to be quite . . . normal; and finally the devastating voice of Florens's mother. These are all men and women inventing themselves in the wilderness.
A Mercy reveals what lies beneath the surface of slavery. But at its heart, like Beloved, it is the ambivalent, disturbing story of a mother and a daughter--a mother who casts off her daughter in order to save her, and a daughter who may never exorcise that abandonment.
Acts of mercy, like everything else, have unforeseen consequences.