Monday, February 2, 2009

A Mercy by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison is an American author, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. She has written some of the acclaimed American novels including The Bluest Eye, Sula, and Song of Soloman. In her writing, she traverses the experience and roles of black women in a racist and sexist society. In A Mercy, her latest work, Morrison uses her storytelling to transports readers back to a time (1680s) in America when religion, class differences, prejudice and oppression were as familiar as American apple pie. That was a time in American history when the seeds of slavery and racism began to take root.

The novel centers around the decision of Jacob, an Anglo Dutch trader, who despite his revulsion to the business of slavery, accepts a young slave girl as payment on a debt. The decision to take Florens, the young slave girl "with the hands of a slave and the feet of a Portuguese lady" impacts the lives of other women living on Jacob's farm. There is Rebekka, Jacob's wife, who questions her God as she loses one baby after another to the harsh realities of the New World. A Native servant, Lina, a survivor of smallpox epidemic, who hungers for Florens's love to replace the family taken from her. And then there is Sorrow, a quiet black woman, who is a survivor of a terrible incident on a slave ship.

Use the following discussion questions to participate in our discussion:

Do you think Florens' mother showed her mercy by begging Jacob to take Florens?

How did the different viewpoints enhance the story?

Why do you think Rebekka started treating Lina and others badly after her illness passed?

What acts of mercy do the characters display?

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga - wrapping up

Happy Groundhog Day, folks!

Just wanted to wrap up the White Tiger discussion. Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. I also wanted to share a few last thoughts before we start the next book:-

To Anonymous from January 24, 2009 (1:57):

Yes, I agree, fanatics are fanatics, no matter the country or creed. Although I don't believe that fanaticism as such was really a theme in the book. While there is that incident where Balram blackmails the other driver by threatening to reveal to his employer that the driver is Muslim, this was done for sheer economic and personal gain and not out of a sense of fanatic religious belief. In fact, right after this incident is a poignant moment where Balram experiences a brief pang of regret, which he then steels himself against, brilliantly showing Adiga's delight in exposing the very human quality of ambivalence, even in the face of fighting for survival.

To Preston:

You say:

I am always suspicious of the notion that certain elements of the reality of India are not appropriate for Western audiences. The unpleasantness is thought either to be too embarrassing or to be simply pandering to stereotypes or outdated notions.
I completely agree with you on the above, except for the "pandering to stereotypes" part, where my agreement is qualified by the fact that I do believe that many members of Western audiences (though not all) are only too ready to consume books and films which portray the dirtiness and poverty of the "east" in an imbalanced way. Perhaps it reinforces an inherent sense of superiority, the modern day version of the White Man's Burden? This is not to say that I think that either The White Tiger or Slumdog Millionaire are pandering to this perspective. But I can see how Indians in India would be touchy about such topics... If one has been stereotyped in a certain way for what seems to be eons, then one would have a propensity for kneejerk rejecting of such perceived slights, no? (Not that this tendency is justified, but it's good to understand where such reactions are coming from.)

I do think that much (though certainly not all) of the negative reaction from the Indian press about both The White Tiger and Slumdog Millionaire comes from a sense of this kneejerk reaction mixed with a sense of (dare I say it?) sour grapes. Both works, though not perfect by any means, are powerful in their own right, but it is, I believe, their sheer success in the West that has drawn the ire of many an Indian blogger/movie star/critic etc... And, for interested readers, I should point out that Slumdog Millionaire the film was based on a book first published in 2005, which is available at Brooklyn Public Library for your reading pleasure.

But in the end I could not agree with you more when you said:

But India is too big, too old, and too complicated for any single work, even a lifetime of work, to chronicle the range of its vitality and degradation.
And with that, blog readers, our official discussion of The White Tiger is ended. However, should you like to write further comments that elucidate our understanding of the book, they will continue to be welcomed - and appreciated.