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...
Early American life was punishing. The scythe of sickness has never been sharper in this country, the fickleness of crops quite so lethal. Everyone involved in the "settlement" suffered, especially when smallpox epidemics scorched through towns and villages. In her meditatively hopeful A Mercy, set on a Virginia farm in the 1690s as pox rages like a fire, Toni Morrison reminds that in these horrific conditions the tenderness of humans could cross boundaries one might assume were unbreachable at the time.