A Mercy

Written by Toni Morrison
Review by Janette King

A Mercy takes place in the late 1680s and follows Florens, a young black slave girl suddenly alone and relying on herself for the first time. Following the death of Sir, she has been entrusted with an important mission: fetch the blacksmith, long gone from Sir’s Virginia plantation, where he had designed an elaborate wrought iron gate and proved himself a healer. He is a free black man and the only person the others believe can save the Mistress and, in doing so, preserve their lives on the plantation. Florens loves him, but she desperately desires to be needed and loved. Yes, she will find the blacksmith, but will she bring him back?

The novel illuminates much more about Florens and about those who have also been gathered onto the plantation they’ve come to regard as home. The full story grows throughout in a narrative revealed by various characters: Florens, Jacob (“Sir”), Rebekka (“Mistress”), and Florens’s fellow slaves, Lina and Sorrow. Their voices disclose their unique perspectives and clarify motivations often misconstrued by the others.

For instance, from Florens we learn she was given freely to Sir by a mother who preferred to keep her son. From Jacob we learn that he took Florens reluctantly to settle a debt, finally deciding that Rebekka would appreciate a little girl about the place after losing her own. But from Mistress Rebekka we learn that Florens wasn’t an addition she welcomed at all.

Toni Morrison’s A Mercy is told in a beautiful yet devastatingly honest way. Each narrative voice is distinct, adding enormous depth to the whole right down to the last voice with its final poignant message. It is an outstanding novel.