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 on his farm. Rejected by her mother, Florens looks for love, first from Lina, an older servant woman at her new master’s house, and later from the handsome blacksmith, an African, never enslaved, who comes riding into their lives.
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.
This is a review I’ve been meaning to write since like last year. Every time I sit down to write it and think back to this amazing cast of characters my heart breaks and I end up crying. Which means I don’t end up writing a review.
I picked up this book not because I was Genuinely interested in it, but because I was taken a Major Authors class and Toni Morrison was the author that was studied. That semester I went through many of Morrison’s works and when I tell you that she is an amazingly talented author who deserves all the awards, hype, and praise; truly, positively, mean it.
A common theme in most, if not all of Morrison, focuses on Motherhood. A Mercy is one of those books. A Mercy follows a cast of characters in the 1680s, a period in time in which slavery is in the beginning stages. This story follows, Jacob Vaark and his wife Rebekka, Lina a Native American, Sorrow who is a mentally unstable child (she’s like 11/12), and Florens an African who has never been enslaved.
Now obviously I can’t get too deep and specific and tell you my absolute exact feelings about this book because I’ll spoil it. And trust me, all my feelings about this book led to a 15 page, in-depth analysis about Florens, motherhood, & slavery. So forgive me if things are kind of vague.
The plot for A Mercy is non-linear so it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the plot starts. This setup is one that not everybody would like but personally, I really enjoyed. To me, it added so much to the story to see who these characters were before they came to the farm, and also what made them come to the farm, but also we got to see what motivates their actions and their personalities. Things hop around, and though I enjoyed and felt it added to the overall story, I will admit that can get confusing.
This book though it focuses on each character, and their part in this changing world, A Mercy, is Florens’ story. Florens is a complicated, and frustrating character. There are times in the book where you just want to shake her and make her open her eyes, or just actually listen. On top of being complicated and frustrating, she is jealous and obsessive. She isn’t a character you can root for, you just have to listen as she tells her story, and she does.
Florens was abandoned by her mother, and the trauma from this abandonment is probably the reason for her character flaws. I say probably because I have a different take, but I can’t tell ya because…spoilers. Morrison wrote Florens in such a way that will lead to many different interpretations, actually it how she wrote all of the characters. The characters are fleshed out, and we learn so much about their life, but there are still something’s that are left for the reader to interpret for themselves.
My favorite character had to be Sorrow. When I tell that this child suffered, I mean it. How she was able to survive for so long was because of the women on that farm. I can’t say much more than, the Sorrow you first meet is not the one who’ll you see at the end. What Toni Morrison did with this character was just so freaking beautiful!
The writing is gorgeous, but admittedly it can get a little confusing. The characters are amazing, and well fleshed out. The plot is engaging, heartbreaking, and relatable. And as I said before, this is truly an exploration of motherhood, set in such a hopeless time period.