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Extended Audio Sample A Mercy, by Toni Morrison Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (9,557 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Toni Morrison Narrator: Toni Morrison Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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A powerful tragedy distilled into a jewel of a masterpiece by the Nobel Prize - winning author of Beloved and, almost like a prelude to that story, set two centuries earlier.

In the 1680s the slave trade was still in its infancy. In the Americas, virulent religious and class divisions, prejudice and oppression were rife, providing the fertile soil in which slavery and race hatred were planted and took root.

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. This is Florens, "with the hands of a slave and the feet of a Portuguese lady." Florens looks for love, first from Lina, an older servant woman at her new master's house, but later from a handsome blacksmith, an African, never enslaved.

There are other voices: Lina, whose tribe was decimated by smallpox; their mistress, Rebekka, herself a victim of religious intolerance back in England; Sorrow, a strange girl who's spent her early years at sea; and finally the devastating voice of Florens' 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 it is the ambivalent, disturbing story of a mother who casts off her daughter in order to save her, and of a daughter who may never exorcise that abandonment.

Acts of mercy may have unforeseen consequences.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “It may come as no surprise that Toni Morrison is as thoughtful, dramatic, and poetic a reader as she is a writer…Morrison moves within a distinctive set of characters, her voice somehow both powerful and understated. As her prose weaves vivid and sometimes abstract snapshots of the characters’ lives, Morrison’s performance is the velvet cord that beautifully fastens the audiobook together.”

    AudioFile

  • “Spellbinding…Dazzling…[A Mercy] stands alongside Beloved as a unique triumph.”

    Washington Post Book World

  • A Mercy conjures up the beautiful, untamed, lawless world that was America in the seventeenth-century with the same sort of lyrical, verdant prose that distinguished [Beloved]…A heartbreaking account of lost innocence and fractured dreams…One of Morrison’s most haunting works yet.”

    New York Times

  • “Memorable…Lyrical…A miraculous tale of sorrow and beauty…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.”

    O, The Oprah Magazine

  • “Luminous and complex…Some of Morrison’s best writing in years.”

    Time

  • “Morrison here is seeking some deeper truth about what she once called ‘the presence of the unfree within the heart of the democratic experiment.’ Some regard this novel as a kind of prelude to Beloved, but the author has even more provocative ideas at play…In writing about the horror of slavery, she finds a kind of ragged hope.”

    Boston Sunday Globe

  • 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.”

    Times Literary Supplement

  • A Mercy is about slavery, but in the most universal sense, meaning the limits we place on ourselves as well as the confinements we suffer at the hands of others…[It is] a work of poetry and intelligence, and a continuation of what John Updike has called [Morrison’s] ‘noble and necessary fictional project of exposing the infamies of slavery and the hardships of being African American.’”

    Los Angeles Times Book Review

  • “[Toni Morrison] bound[s] into literature with her new book as if it were the first time, with the spry energy of a doe. A Mercy…is that beguiling and beautiful, that deftly condensed, that sinewy with imaginative sentences, lyric flight, and abundant human sensitivity…Finely hammered phrases repeatedly come off the anvil, forming a story as powerful as the many she has shaped before…Morrison’s tactile reports rivet…What’s the opposite of ‘lazy’ in a fiction writer’s style and research? Industrious? Indefatigable? Morrison wears her knowledge lightly, yet…exhibits her control of [the seventeenth century’s] objects and artifacts, its worries and dangers…A book as masterfully wrought as A Mercy behooves its author to swagger. Go to it, Ms. Morrison.”

    Philadelphia Inquirer

  • “Morrison’s short, magisterial new novel testifies to the art of a writer able to conjure near-unimaginable lives sunk three centuries ago in the infant American colonies…In the women of A Mercy, Morrison returns to the meaning of human identity, its relationship to community, and the making and sundering of both…Morrison flings us into a dread past. But A Mercy pulls us, shuddering, onto the banks of meaning.”

    Cleveland Plain Dealer

  • A Mercy captures the same crazy magic of Song of Solomon and Beloved, Morrison’s most haunting, lyrical books…By the end, one feels as if one has cracked a code. Or seen the light.”

    Houston Chronicle

  • “Magnificent…As with all Morrison’s finest work, A Mercy compellingly combines immediacy and obliquity. Its evocation of pioneer existence in America surrounds you with sensuous intensity…The book keeps you vividly aware of the vital human individuality that racism’s crude categorizations are brutally trying to iron out…A Mercy is so enthralling that you’ll want to read it more than once. On each occasion, it further reveals itself as a masterpiece of rewarding complexity.”

    Sunday Times (London)

  • “A grand tragedy writ in miniature…Women, men, Africans, Native Americans, whites, masters, slaves—all are cast into the hard world that is the New World in Toni Morrison’s lustrous new novel. In the same way, the Nobel Prize winner casts us into her hypnotic, many-voiced narrative set in the 17th century in a nation yet unformed…We’re beguiled from the opening sentence: ‘Don’t be afraid.’…A Mercy is kindled by characters who are complex and vulnerable, full of what she describes in Beloved as ‘awful human power.’”

    Miami Herald

  • “Toni Morrison’s books are epics of the failure of the country’s conscience. [With A Mercy,] she goes back further in history than her most searing and poetic novel, Beloved, to look at the foundations of slavery in an America ‘before it was America.’…While the women are definitely the center of A Mercy, Morrison offers a more complicated portrayal of a white male in Jacob Vaark. An orphan himself, Jacob has a tendency to collect strays…Like a dream deferred, if a mercy is hidden too long, it tends to explode—as Morrison shows in her knockout final monologue. It’s a spare, dark fable…A swift, kaleidoscopic trip into tragedy.”

    Christian Science Monitor

  • “Astonishing…All adds up to a sensuous omniscience that is practically Elizabethan.”

    Harper’s

  • “Eerily resonant…[A Mercy] is as linguistically rich and emotionally wrenching as [Morrison’s] best work…The novel is an extended consideration of the many ways in which people deliberately or unconsciously assert ownership over each other: spouses, lovers, mothers, and children…What Morrison is out to demonstrate is that slavery of any kind, even the enslavement in passion, is dangerous to the soul…The horror of the central tragedy in A Mercy—the mother forced to choose between her children—is not limited to the world of slavery…Likewise, there is surely no more universalizing experience than motherhood, which unites women regardless of their origins and their circumstances.”

    New Republican

  • “Stunning…A Mercy deserves to be counted alongside some of [Morrison’s] most acclaimed novels, such as Sula and Beloved. The stories in A Mercy are as layered and contested as the barely mapped topology traversed by its characters…A Mercy explores the repercussions of an enslaved mother’s desperate act…Readers familiar with Morrison’s work will recognize its quietly chilling evocations of the supernatural and depictions of powerful relationships among women.”

    NPR

  • “Morrison vaults over America’s legacy of victimizing women and minorities to claim the more provocative turf that infuses much of her fiction. A Mercy tracks the beginnings of a system of oppression by focusing on the psychology of that oppression…Powerful…Poetic.”

    Seattle Times

  • “Toni Morrison continues to delve into the reverberations of slavery, motherhood, sacrifice, and identity she wrote about in Beloved. Yet in her new novel, A Mercy, she draws a closer connection between how the past continues to be part of the present and the future…Readers will be buoyed by the power and beauty of Morrison’s words and will need a breath to absorb the timely implications of her stories about class, greed, and intolerance…Toni Morrison gives us another layered vision of the complicated character of America and how we survive.”

    St. Louis Post-Dispatch

  • “Strangely beautiful and bittersweet.”

    Entertainment Weekly

  • “[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.”

    USA Today

  • “Shimmering, even beautiful…[A] somber fever dream of a novel, Morrison’s [A Mercy] belies the tenderness of its title…A Mercy abounds in near-biblical power and grace.”

    People

  • Selected for the November 2008 Indie Next List
  • A 2008 Christian Science Monitor Book of the Year for Fiction
  • A New York Times Bestseller
  • A USA Today Bestseller
  • A 2008 New York Times Book Review Top 10 Book of the Year
  • A 2008 Library Journal Best Book for Fiction
  • A 2008 ALA Notable Book Finalist for Fiction
  • A 2008 James Tait Black Memorial Prize Nominee
  • One of the 2008 New York Times Book Review 100 Notable Books for Fiction

Listener Opinions

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Kim | 1/20/2014

    " I haven't read Toni Morrison in so long, it was really nice to return to her wonderful language and story crafting. No review could ever do justice to the power of her writing. I love the way her characters unfold themselves by letting us witness their stories. Morrison never tells her audience what a character is like, but by the end, we know exactly who they are. The use of multiple narrators is really effective in getting a complete understanding of the story, and I was especially moved by the choice of narrator for the final chapter. Also, I really admire how Toni Morrison can give her characters these wonderfully symbolic names without it feeling like a cheap gimmick. How does she do that? In all, a very deep and powerful book. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 by Meg | 1/9/2014

    " Hmmmm. I'm glad I listened to this, as painful as I found Toni Morrison's reading voice, as there was an interview at the end that led me back to the themes of love and betrayal, which made me think more about it. Still NOT my fave of Toni Morrison books. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Anne | 1/2/2014

    " Dark, hopeless, but interesting in a historical sense. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 by Landismom | 1/1/2014

    " Not my favorite Morrison novel. Unlike other books of hers, I struggled with the dialect and the way that entire chapters were written. Great story, but felt underdeveloped. "

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