“It was there I learned how I was not a person from my country, nor from my families. I was negrita. Everything. Language, dress, gods, dance, habits, decoration, song– all of it cooked together in the colour of my skin.”– Toni Morrison, A Mercy
It’s the 17th Century, and slavery is still relatively new in the Americas. The people living there have either been brought there by force or have voluntarily gone there to start a new life. They are people with no roots in their new country, no family either. And in such a small space, Morrison manages to pack away so many stories, so many emotions.
This was definitely a satisfying read and, as is always the case with Morrison, we are rewarded with poetic and perfectly crafted sentences.
Morrison paints the New World as a place of hope, but also very different from the Old World:
“Right, he thought, looking at a sky vulgar with stars. Clear and right. The silver that glittered there was not at all unreachable. And that wide swath of cream pouring through the stars was his for the tasting.”
“Unlike the English fogs he had known since he could walk, or those way north where he lived now, this one was sun fired, turning the world into thick, hot gold. Penetrating it was like struggling through a dream.”
What’s common among the women in the story is that they are all victims. Regardless of colour or station, be they slave or free, they are reliant on men and their situation is precarious. They are in many ways pawns; their role in the New World is only slightly above cattle.
How do people displaced from their homes try to come to terms with this separation? How do they try to save their cultures and traditions?
“Relying on memory and her own resources, she cobbled together neglected rites, merged Europe medicine with native, scripture with lore, and recalled or invented the hidden meaning of things. Found, in other words, a way to be in the world.”
Slavery is never easy to read about but this line was especially poignant to me:
“The two men walked the row, inspecting. D’Ortega identifying talents, weaknesses and possibilities, but silent about the scars, the wounds like misplaced veins tracing their skin.”
This book has a lot of sadness in it, then again Morrison’s books are never cheerful. What I love about her chronicles is that she gives voices and feelings to people who are often ignored. Morrison always seems to adds a new layer of emotion to her characters.