Voice of America
Toni Morrison, the grande dame of American fiction, has a new novel, A Mercy.
What does a girl from Lorain, Ohio, know of the world of the Virginia colonies of 1682? Toni Morrison is by definition our greatest writer, the one living American Nobelist in literature. Only eight people born here have won this august prize, and just one other was a woman (Pearl Buck). Paradoxically, too often literature’s highest honor is given to someone whose best work is past, but ever since she was named, in 1993, Morrison has been proving wrong this implied prediction by rising to new heights, now with a glorious new novel, A Mercy, the distillation of her themes and wisdom into a small, voluptuous, mysterious evocation of primeval America. She has seen it, because she sees into the past as surely as she sees into the future. She can feel it and smell it. She knows it, because that world of settlers, Native Americans, slaves, with its forces of avarice and love and mortal struggle, is the world from which our nation was formed, our archetypal brew of races and myths. Like her magnificent Beloved, A Mercy is a poetic, visionary, mesmerizing tale that captures, in the cradle of our present problems and strains, the natal curse put on us back then by the Indian tribes, Africans, Dutch, Portuguese, and English competing to get their footing in the New World against a hostile landscape and the essentially tragic nature of human experience. Yet it is a novel of victory and survival, accomplished through an astonishing act of mercy.
Diane Johnson is an acclaimed American novelist and critic best known for her trilogy, Le Divorce, Le Mariage, and L’Affaire, and for co-authoring the screenplay for The Shining with Stanley Kubrick.
Toni Morrison in New York City. Photograph by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders.