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Reflections on Toni Morrison’s A Mercy

Reflections on Toni Morrison’s A Mercy

Sometimes I can’t thank providence enough for making me a person who loves reading. If I didn’t read, my life would be horrible and empty and if I have ever known a single truth, it is that literature has enriched my life in ways I cannot describe.

I recently finished Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, a layered, slim novel (only 165 pages) published in 2008. Though it took me a week to read it, I found that it took much longer for me to mull over it and sort of digest the contents.

A Mercy is set at least a century before the events in Beloved, her better known work, took place. In 1690, America was on the brink of the kind of civilisation from which Beloved was born. It all begins with Jacob Vaark a white settler trying to make a living in a homestead, accepting a little 8-year-old slave Florens, as payment for a debt. He does this despite his distaste for “trading in flesh,” (Which is ironic given the arc the story takes later) but soon Florens is absorbed into life on the Vaark homestead. There’s Vaark’s wife Rebekka; Lina, a Native American slave and a simple-minded foundling Sorrow. The Vaarks, surprisingly, are not the evil-whitey motifs, that you find in a lot of narratives about slavery. They treat their slaves pretty well all things considering – no terrifying stories of beatings and torture. In fact, if you were very dumb, you might even call them a family. Except, of course that they’re not. The word slave runs deep. Morrison uses the story to really explore the beginnings of slavery, to find out the meaning of what it means to be free. She explains, in this discussion at the New York Public Library, that she wanted to eliminate race from the equation completely.

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The story really takes a turn when Jacob dies of small-pox and Rebekka catches it too. Florens must undertake a journey to find a freed man – a blacksmith of African descent- who is some kind of a marvel with medicine. The journey has personal reasons tied up with the obvious; Florens, now 16, is hopelessly in love with the blacksmith. Back stories come through the narration of other three women – Rebekka, Lina and Sorrow and in their stories we get creepy insight into what freedom really means, how slavery was born, what nurtured it and how it stayed untouched and unquestioned for so many years.

It is not a good idea to read Morrison novels and examine your feelings right away. The intensity will mess you up. You have to pause, breathe, read up on your history, re-read and only then can you search your soul to identify the depths that the story and the narrative offer. I did all of that and I was amazed at the things I discovered. Popular culture hasn’t even scraped the surface of what the modern world knows of slavery. Florens’ mother, who in the beginning of the book, begged Jacob to take her daughter, (she sensed that Jacob was a decent man, who would keep Florens safer than she could) was shipped over to America and the book ends with her perspective. “It was there that 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.”

A Mercy is the kind of book that stays with you for days afterward. Its short but it hits so hard, it leaves you breathless. Read. It.

P.S: A shout out to The book lady’s blog that lead me to a bunch of insightful post-book reading.

 

 

To-do: Read

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To-do: Read

We are nearing the release of The Dark Knight Rises and people are going more insane than usual, yes, yes, Nolan, Bane, I get it, stop drooling already. Almost all the tickets are booked for the release weekend and I’m feeling the pressure. What am I to do if I don’t get tickets, what will I talk to people about? Will I be shunned from society?

I have a job and something of a social life and I have to make time to read books, watch movies, watch TV shows, stay updated with everyday internet business. I do it all and in spite of that there are so many things I’m still to do and watch. It cannot be done!  I’ll be having a wonderful conversation about television with someone and then they’ll start talking about Six Feet Under or The West Wing or some other show I haven’t watched and it pisses me off. Let ME tell what a good show is! Just shut your mouth long enough for me to look down upon you for never having watched Studio 60.

I’m so saturated with pop culture that I desperately need the world to stop creating things. Just stop. Stop doing everything, stop making shows, stop writing books, creating art so I can catch up already!

But what suffers the most is my reading. Every once in a while my reading takes a back seat and soon enough it takes me a whole half an hour to get through 2 pages and then I stop putting a book in my bag…it’s just lawlessness  and chaos from there.

So, I’m making a list of books I need to read from The Guardian’s The top 100 books of all time, BBC’s The Big Read and Flavourwire’s 30 books everyone should read before turning 30.

There are 148 books; which means I’ve read 82 books that were on these lists.

I will keep you guys updated on how many I manage to finish. I still have to watch Season 4 of Breaking Bad and Season 3 of Louie, so I might get distracted, but as NPH would say, challenge accepted.

You can tell me how many you’ve read and add to my list in the comments section. But don’t add too many, I’m already intimated. And don’t go all “you haven’t read xxyy yet? Wooooah” on me, ok? Ok.

  1. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
  2. A Doll’s House, Henrik Ibsen
  3. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving
  4. A Sentimental Education, Gustave Flaubert
  5. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
  6. A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
  7. Absalom, Absalom!, William Faulkner
  8. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
  9. Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery
  10. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
  11. Beloved, Toni Morrison
  12. Berlin Alexanderplatz, Alfred Doblin
  13. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
  14. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
  15. Bleak House, Charles Dickens
  16. Blindness, Jose Saramago
  17. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
  18. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
  19. Buddenbrooks, Thomas Mann
  20. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
  21. Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut
  22. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
  23. Children of Gebelawi, Naguib Mahfouz
  24. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
  25. Collected Fictions, Jorge Luis Borges, Argentina
  26. Complete Poems, Giacomo Leopardi
  27. Confessions of Zeno, Italo Svevo
  28. Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  29. Dead Souls, Nikolai Gogol
  30. Decameron, Giovanni Boccaccio
  31. Diary of a Madman and Other Stories, Lu Xun
  32. Don Quixote, Miguel De Cervantes
  33. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson
  34. Dune, Frank Herbert
  35. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card
  36. Essays, Michel de Montaigne
  37. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
  38. Fairy Tales and Stories, Hans Christian Andersen
  39. Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
  40. Faust, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  41. Gargantua and Pantagruel, Francois Rabelais
  42. Ghost World, Daniel Clowes
  43. Gilgamesh
  44. Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson
  45. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
  46. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
  47. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake
  48. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
  49. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett
  50. Gypsy Ballads, Federico Garcia Lorca
  51. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
  52. History, Elsa Morante
  53. Holes, Louis Sachar
  54. Hunger, Knut Hamsun
  55. I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
  56. Independent People, Halldor K Laxness
  57. Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace
  58. Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
  59. Jacques the Fatalist and His Master, Denis Diderot
  60. Jesus’ Son, Denis Johnson
  61. Journey to the End of the Night, Louis-Ferdinand Celine
  62. Katherine, Anya Seton
  63. Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman
  64. Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez
  65. Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert

See the full list here.

Preach alert: How to read when all you want to do is not

Preach alert: How to read when all you want to do is not

This weekend I indulged in some serious guilty pleasure reading. I was struggling with Orlando by Virginia Woolf and suddenly I found myself scanning my roommates bookshelf. One Sophie Kinsella, several Mary Higgins Clark and around two thousand romances. I chose a slim volume called “The Brazilians blackmailed bride.” I know that enough of you have read Mills and Boons at some point so you know how the story goes. I was mildly surprised at how sexist it was (“She was weak, just like all women.”) but mostly I was surprised at how much I didn’t care that I was wasting my time reading a book like that. To be fair, it wasn’t bad writing, but the characters were terribly annoying and what they did was incredibly predictable. End of story. After they kissed on the last page I closed the book and pondered.

Bombay is not kind to the readers among us. We work ourselves to the bone, we get home smelling of sweat and trains and we’re always hungry, tired and trying to rid our lungs of all the exhaust fumes we inhale on a daily basis. I’ve heard several people say “I used to read a lot but now I barely get the time.” I get that. Are we really expected to curl up on the couch with Ullysses on a Monday night? If at all we read, we want it to be a light escapist soiree involving fluttering blonde women with names like Sophia and bronzed Brazilians who in my mind are built like Gaston from Disneys’ Beauty and the Beast. Does that make us stupid? No it doesn’t and there’s no shame in the occasional “The disobedient virgin’s secret affair. In Rio. They do it several times.” But as readers, we need to be disciplined.

Reading is not easy. I’ve always been a reader and sometimes I struggle like hell with the books I choose to read. Here are some things I’ve learned about the habit. I hope it will help you.

1. Categorise your books into those that will go fast and those that require concentration. Don’t read the latter in the train or when you’re tired. There are train books and there are non-train books.

2. If you’re reading something written several generations before you were born, trust me, no matter how exciting the plot, it will be slow at points. The best example I can think of is Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. You’re several pages into the book before the narrator even gets to the Congo. It’s worth it, so keep reading. Be patient.

3. You don’t have to finish the book all at once. It can get to you. Take a break for a month or two and get back to it.

4.  Make time. If you are genuinely too tired during the week, give yourself three hours on he weekend.

5. Allow yourself the occasional indulgence. For every three Gabriel Garcia Marquez you read, you can read one “A summer in Copacabana.” That’s just good maths.

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