Toni Morrison (Vintage)

Of all the American writers who have tackled the thorny issue of slavery, few have done it with such lyrical deftness as Toni Morrison.

 Her 1988 masterpiece, Beloved became a film starring Oprah Winfrey and earned a Pulitzer Prize (making her the first black woman to win it).

Set in the 17th century, A Mercy centres on Florens, a young slave girl who is casually handed over to New York state landowner Jacob Vaark as payment for a debt.

Told from multiple viewpoints of those in Vaark’s immediate orbit, including his wife Rebekka and their native American ‘servant’ Lina, Morrison’s prose is biblically poetic and rich with imagery of rural, frontier America.

Despite its brevity, this novella digs deep into the themes of slavery: the dehumanising effects of one person owning another, the fracturing of self that comes from enduring brutality, and, perhaps most importantly, the precariousness of life for those who have little control over their own destiny.