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2 Hawthorne Literature- A to Z

A Mercy (Vintage International)

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A Mercy (Vintage International) Cover

ISBN13: 9780307276766
ISBN10: 0307276767
Condition: Standard
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Excerpt

Don't be afraid. My telling can't hurt you in spite of what I have done and I promise to lie quietly in the dark--weeping perhaps or occasionally seeing the blood once more--but I will never again unfold my limbs to rise up and bare teeth. I explain. You can think what I tell you a confession, if you like, but one full of curiosities familiar only in dreams and during those moments when a dog's profile plays in the steam of a kettle. 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. Stranger things happen all the time everywhere. You know. I know you know. One question is who is responsible? Another is can you read? If a pea hen refuses to brood I read it quickly and, sure enough, that night I see a minha mãe standing hand in hand with her little boy, my shoes jamming the pocket of her apron. Other signs need more time to understand. Often there are too many signs, or a bright omen clouds up too fast. I sort them and try to recall, yet I know I am missing much, like not reading the garden snake crawling up to the door saddle to die. Let me start with what I know for certain.

The beginning begins with the shoes. When a child I am never able to abide being barefoot and always beg for shoes, anybody's shoes, even on the hottest days. My mother, a minha mãe, is frowning, is angry at what she says are my prettify ways. Only bad women wear high heels. I am dangerous, she says, and wild but she relents and lets me wear the throwaway shoes from Senhora's house, pointy-toe, one raised heel broke, the other worn and a buckle on top. As a result, Lina says, my feet are useless, will always be too tender for life and never have the strong soles, tougher than leather, that life requires. Lina is correct. Florens, she says, it's 1690. Who else these days has the hands of a slave and the feet of a Portuguese lady? So when I set out to find you, she and Mistress give me Sir's boots that fit a man not a girl. They stuff them with hay and oily corn husks and tell me to hide the letter inside my stocking--no matter the itch of the sealing wax. I am lettered but I do not read what Mistress writes and Lina and Sorrow cannot. But I know what it means to say to any who stop me.

My head is light with the confusion of two things, hunger for you and scare if I am lost. Nothing frights me more than this errand and nothing is more temptation. From the day you disappear I dream and plot. To learn where you are and how to be there. I want to run across the trail through the beech and white pine but I am asking myself which way? Who will tell me? Who lives in the wilderness between this farm and you and will they help me or harm me? What about the boneless bears in the valley? Remember? How when they move their pelts sway as though there is nothing underneath? Their smell belying their beauty, their eyes knowing us from when we are beasts also. You telling me that is why it is fatal to look them in the eye. They will approach, run to us to love and play which we misread and give back fear and anger. Giant birds also are nesting out there bigger than cows, Lina says, and not all natives are like her, she says, so watch out. A praying savage, neighbors call her, because she is once churchgoing yet she bathes herself every day and Christians never do. Underneath she wears bright blue beads and dances in secret at first light when the moon is small. More than fear of loving bears or birds bigger than cows, I fear pathless night. How, I wonder, can I find you in the dark? Now at last there is a way. I have orders. It is arranged. I will see your mouth and trail my fingers down. You will rest your chin in my hair again while I breathe into your shoulder in and out, in and out. I am happy the world is breaking open for us, yet its newness trembles me. To get to you I must leave the only home, the only people I know. Lina says from the state of my teeth I am maybe seven or eight when I am brought here. We boil wild plums for jam and cake eight times since then, so I must be sixteen. Before this place I spend my days picking okra and sweeping tobacco sheds, my nights on the floor of the cookhouse with a minha mãe. We are baptized and can have happiness when this life is done. The Reverend Father tells us that. Once every seven days we learn to read and write. We are forbidden to leave the place so the four of us hide near the marsh. My mother, me, her little boy and Reverend Father. He is forbidden to do this but he teaches us anyway watching out for wicked Virginians and Protestants who want to catch him. If they do he will be in prison or pay money or both. He has two books and a slate. We have sticks to draw through sand, pebbles to shape words on smooth flat rock. When the letters are memory we make whole words. I am faster than my mother and her baby boy is no good at all. Very quickly I can write from memory the Nicene Creed including all of the commas. Confession we tell not write as I am doing now. I forget almost all of it until now. I like talk. Lina talk, stone talk, even Sorrow talk. Best of all is your talk. At first when I am brought here I don't talk any word. All of what I hear is different from what words mean to a minha mãe and me. Lina's words say nothing I know. Nor Mistress's. Slowly a little talk is in my mouth and not on stone. Lina says the place of my talking on stone is Mary's Land where Sir does business. So that is where my mother and her baby boy are buried. Or will be if they ever decide to rest. Sleeping on the cookhouse floor with them is not as nice as sleeping in the broken sleigh with Lina. In cold weather we put planks around our part of the cowshed and wrap our arms together under pelts. We don't smell the cow flops because they are frozen and we are deep under fur. In summer if our hammocks are hit by mosquitoes Lina makes a cool place to sleep out of branches. You never like a hammock and prefer the ground even in rain when Sir offers you the storehouse. Sorrow no more sleeps near the fireplace. The men helping you, Will and Scully, never live the night here because their master does not allow it. You remember them, how they would not take orders from you until Sir makes them? He could do that since they are exchange for land under lease from Sir. Lina says Sir has a clever way of getting without giving. I know it is true because I see it forever and ever. Me watching, my mother listening, her baby boy on her hip. Senhor is not paying the whole amount he owes to Sir. Sir saying he will take instead the woman and the girl, not the baby boy and the debt is gone. A minha mãe begs no. Her baby boy is still at her breast. Take the girl, she says, my daughter, she says. Me. Me. Sir agrees and changes the balance due. As soon as tobacco leaf is hanging to dry Reverend Father takes me on a ferry, then a ketch, then a boat and bundles me between his boxes of books and food. The second day it becomes hurting cold and I am happy I have a cloak however thin. Reverend Father excuses himself to go elsewhere on the boat and tells me to stay exact where I am. A woman comes to me and says stand up. I do and she takes my cloak from my shoulders. Then my wooden shoes. She walks away. Reverend Father turns a pale red color when he returns and learns what happens. He rushes all about asking where and who but can find no answer. Finally he takes rags, strips of sailcloth lying about and wraps my feet. Now I am knowing that unlike with Senhor, priests are unlove here. A sailor spits into the sea when Reverend Father asks him for help. Reverend Father is the only kind man I ever see. When I arrive here I believe it is the place he warns against. The freezing in hell that comes before the everlasting fire where sinners bubble and singe forever. But the ice comes first, he says. And when I see knives of it hanging from the houses and trees and feel the white air burn my face I am certain the fire is coming. Then Lina smiles when she looks at me and wraps me for warmth. Mistress looks away. Nor is Sorrow happy to see me. She flaps her hand in front of her face as though bees are bothering her. She is ever strange and Lina says she is once more with child. Father still not clear and Sorrow does not say. Will and Scully laugh and deny. Lina believes it is Sir's. Says she has her reason for thinking so. When I ask what reason she says he is a man. Mistress says nothing. Neither do I. But I have a worry. Not because our work is more, but because mothers nursing greedy babies scare me. I know how their eyes go when they choose. How they raise them to look at me hard, saying something I cannot hear. Saying something important to me, but holding the little boy's hand.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Average customer rating based on 3 comments:

John Benschoter, January 8, 2013 (view all comments by John Benschoter)
As always, beautifully written. Honest in its portrayal of the struggles of a group of women during a period in which even white women married into privilege are considered less than human. A product of arranged marriage scorned by her family, a native girl scorned by the white protestants who have slaughtered and driven off her people, and a slave girl given as payment. But this is not a feel-good Hallmark/The Help story. These women have problems with each other as well as their situation. They are marvelously human in the vein of Morrison's best works, and the struggle for hope in her world often leads to madness and despair.
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SkinnyDip, January 7, 2013 (view all comments by SkinnyDip)
An amazing text that gets to the heart of human limitations, suffering, and love. When I finished reading it, I immediately started reading it again!
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Patti Siberz, January 1, 2010 (view all comments by Patti Siberz)
A haunting part of our history. Some of the most beautiful language that I have ever read.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780307276766
Author:
Morrison, Toni
Publisher:
Vintage Books USA
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
African American girls
Subject:
Racism
Subject:
General Fiction
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series:
Vintage International
Publication Date:
20090831
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Y
Pages:
224
Dimensions:
28 x 13 x 4.5 in 14 lb

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A Mercy (Vintage International) Used Trade Paper
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Product details 224 pages Vintage Books USA - English 9780307276766 Reviews:
"Review A Day" by , "Mother love: always an absolute in Morrison's fiction, a terrible swift sword. Ancestors: a religion of owls and the African slave trade. The Middle Passage: commodities trading and shark bait. The world of work: caulking and tanneries, milking and manure, squash and chickens. Tables of food: wild plums, pecans, suet pudding, baskets of strawberries, haunches of venison, roast swan. Out-of-doors: 'trees taller than a cathedral,' 'birds bigger than cows,' 'a sky vulgar with stars,' 'boneless bears in the valley,' blood on the snow." (read the entire Harper's review)
"Review" by , "Spellbinding....Dazzling....[A Mercy] stands alongside Beloved as a unique triumph.
"Review" by , "Luminous and complex....Some of Morrison's best writing in years."
"Review" by , "Like Armstrong hitting the mountain stages, [Toni Morrison] is in the 'zone.'...There are an infinite number of stories in [A Mercy], with each new character's narrative throwing light onto unexpected sides of the people we thought we knew. When Morrison takes us into a world, we do not visit it; we inhabit it....One of her great skills is her uncanny ear; every voice is unique, simultaneously sounding like both past and present....Perhaps the greatest pleasure of the book lies in drawing one in so completely; there are no places where faulty construction hurls us back into reality."
"Review" by , "[A Mercy] examines slavery through the prism of power, not race. Morrison achieves this by setting A Mercy in 1680s America, when slavery was a color-blind, equal-opportunity state of misery, not yet the rigid, peculiar institution it would become....Morrison doesn't write traditional novels so much as create a hypnotic state of poetic intoxication. You don't read A Mercy, you fall into a miasma of language and symbolism. [It] offers an original vision of America in its primeval state, where freedom was a rare commodity."
"Review" by , "Toni Morrison,s great gift is to blend the exotic and supernatural with the homely and realistic. No character in a Morrison novel is too meager to glisten with the magical dust of myth, legend, fairy tale and folklore. A Mercy dives straight to the core of the American myth....Morrison has written a lean, poetic book that is compacted with secrets and desires. Like the story itself, her language is alternately spare and lush, often hopeful."
"Review" by , "Three stars. Shimmering, even beautiful....A slim, somber fever dream of a novel, Morrison's [A Mercy] belies the tenderness of its title. Set in the 1680s, her tale unfolds in the harsh northern climes of an emergent America. Here, on Anglo-Dutch trader Jacob Vaark's isolated homestead, Vaark's mail-order wife and three female slaves struggle against great hardships while forming shifting alliances that serve as the novel's sole flickers of redemption....A Mercy abounds in near-biblical power and grace."
"Review" by , "Memorable...lyrical....A miraculous tale of sorrow and beauty....It is 1682 in Maryland. The slave and rum trades are dying in droves from European diseases, and most women live 'of and for men.'...But this place and time is also full of miracles and mercies....American history, the natural world, and human desire collide in a series of musical voices, distinct from one another — unmistakably Morrisonian in their beauty and power — that together tell this moving and morally complicated tale."
"Review" by , "A Mercy is a sinewy novel [that] contains passages of insight and sensuality....It gathers its own power: Morrison plays a tight game with the social, legal and personal connections between her chess set of characters, a game in which each word — and every detail — counts....Morrison renders the ugly beautiful and the unimaginable real: she is a fine teacher."
"Review" by , "[A Mercy] returns to the subject of slavery, [which Morrison] has already mined with exquisite power....[Here] she probes the machine of slavery itself — the routine acts of closing deals and settling debts by buying or selling human beings....Morrison narrates the ways in which race, gender and class continue to color our reading of slavery. She peers beneath the surface of the machine to reveal its murky underpinnings in religious disputes. She reminds us that although grace is unmerited favor and that a mercy is an unmitigated blessing, it is no easy feat to understand or even read about the consequences of either."
"Review" by , "Toni Morrison gives a different narrator to each chapter of [A Mercy], and the effect is of a circling collage that cumulatively forms a picture of pre-Revolutionary America. It's a daring, well-wrought concept....A Mercy does not contain a lot of pages, but they are dense with meaning and the pain of a group of disparate lives robbed of any kind of momentum, perhaps because Morrison's real subject is the birth of a new land, already corrupt in its cradle."
"Review" by , "In this brutal, well-crafted story, Morrison offers a nuanced explanation of a mercy that forgives those who enslave us, both literally and emotionally."
"Review" by , "More tone poem than unabashed fiction, [A Mercy is] a series of emotional episodes revealing an ugly portrait of this country's earliest days....Through it all is the very human ability to survive, to endure unimaginable pain....Morrison's prose makes it impossible to wallow in the story's obvious misery....Her world [is] a savage realm that retains some beauty thanks to the author's staggering gifts."
"Review" by , "Reaching back to 1682 on the Atlantic coast of America, Morrison describes a dangerous Eden, a simmering, pungent stew of Angolan slaves, transplanted London guttersnipes, Portuguese plantation owners, Dutch traders and the pox-ridden remnants of original peoples....Morrison's lush prose has always had a mesmeric quality....The music and mystery of [her] language is still abundant."
"Review" by , "Smooth and alluring....There is hardship, injustice and misery [in A Mercy]. But there is also hope and beauty — and mercy, in the face of wrenching choices. And there is the poetic vibrance of Morrison's writing, especially in the voice of the semi-literate Florens....She lasts, as do the other characters in A Mercy — they are a window into our past, and also into our present."
"Review" by , "As evocative and haunting as Beloved...Morrison recently told National Public Radio that she sought in this novel to 'remove race from slavery.'...By reminding us that many white Americans also can trace their ancestry back to people who were enslaved, Morrison has deepened our understanding of human history and the complex legacy of slavery in America."
"Review" by , "I loved it. A Mercy is tender, brutal, quiet and urgent, with a cast of characters that will make you forget you're reading a novel....If you're looking for a short novel that will, at the end, make you want to turn around and experience it again, get A Mercy and sacrifice some time. You won't be sorry."
"Review" by , "The fact that readers will be astonished by what they discover [in 17th-century Virginia] is a testament to how different that world was from our own, and also to the author's uncanny gift for inhabiting the nuances of place, character and situation....Morrison weaves a rich tangle of human stories and interactions....[She has created] a world filled with wonder that we have to piece together for ourselves, out of the characters' wildly divergent partial impressions and imperfect understandings. By requiring this act of imagination from her readers, Morrison enriches the experience and brings it closer in, sometimes so close it seems to jump off the page."
"Review" by , "An intimate, insightful, and surprisingly relevant look at the ties that bind us in relationships."
"Review" by , "Morrison's storytelling genius is fully blooming in A Mercy, told from the viewpoints of a number of characters, the most significant being Florens, a young black slave....Morrison creates a magical voice for Florens that lifts readers up on a swirling arc of prose, which makes all [her] despair and heartbreak almost tolerable. Florens could be describing how Morrison captivates her readers when she says 'I can never not have you have me.'"
"Review" by , "Morrison is as good as her many awards say....Her use of language...makes you feel the emotion of the characters, demanding understanding and sympathy, not letting you avoid it with the explanation 'it's only a story.' A Mercy is an outstanding addition to Morrison's list, probably destined for the next 'best work of American fiction poll' in 2020."
"Synopsis" by , Nobel Prize-winning author Morrison's latest New York Times-bestselling masterpiece centers on a powerful tragedy involving a mother and daughter, and reveals how acts of mercy have unforeseen consequences.
"Synopsis" by , 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.

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