the observer Sat 20 June 2009
Seventeenth-century North America: a time when deep superstition fights for supremacy over religion and men either "terrify, rescue or puzzle". As Florens, a teenage African slave, etches a dark confession on to the walls of an empty house, shifting narrative voices unravel this tale of four women brought to work on Jacob Vaark's farm. The subject of slavery is never far beneath the surface, from the ease with which Vaark relinquishes his former disdain for "the commodity" of flesh, to the painful journey Florens must take to learn the true meaning of freedom. A Mercy is an intricate blend of harsh reality and haunting parable; its power and lyrical beauty make it a worthy successor to Morrison's masterpiece, Beloved.
the guardian Fri 19 June 2009
It's 1690 on the eastern seaboard of America. Tiny communities of people who have come across the Atlantic to escape religious persecution or prison do their best to survive whatever this raw place throws at them: blighted crops, bears, attacks by natives, smallpox. They fear everything, particularly each other. Anabaptists, Presbyterians, separatists, Protestants, they are scarcely more tolerant of each other than their persecutors back home. Jacob Vaark, by contrast, has brought together a group of misfits who, in the face of relentless child mortality, function as his family and who are dependent on him and his wife for a tenuous legal status. There's a Native American woman, a black slave child and a waif rescued from a shipwreck. In this short, suspenseful novel, the narrative is passed from one character to another. Morrison drops in her stark revelations with shocking nonchalance to destroy one's faith in humankind. Deep currents of lust, love and grief sweep all before them in lyrical prose that insists on being given free rein.