Posted by: Corri van de Stege | November 30, 2008

The Sunday Salon – last Sunday in November 08.

The weeks come and go and I seem unable to get a handle on what I’m doing and when.  At the same time so many things are going wrong in the world on such a scale that it almost seems pointless to try and create order.  The Mumbai attacks, the pointless killing and carnage  – again – make you wonder about your own small worries, the never-ending battle with time and trying to get things done, your job, your reading, your writing, communicating with people, etc.  Even the recession and economic gloom disappear into the background when you try and understand these senseless killings.  No, much of it does not make sense and it is better to take a deep breath and take things as they come.  There is now for me also the worry about what is happening in Thailand with my youngest son out there with his girlfriend ‘on the holiday of his life’… only to be caught in a situation where he does not know if he is able to fly back in the middle of next week or not. 

Not surprisingly then that I have not been in the mood for blogging much – at least not about what I am reading or writing.  However, what is better than a rainy and cold and miserable Sunday afternoon curled up inside, when the day seems to move from dawn to early evening without much light in between, and sit back with newspapers, and think about books and writing.  

I started a review of A Merci by Toni Morrison, and then came across the New York Times review here, which is such an extensive and comprehensive review that it does not make much sense to try and do the same again.  A Merci is about America in 1690, the making of modern America, when racism and slavery helped to divide poor people and poverty was used to enslave people.  In this way, someone like Rebekka, who although white, is also a kind of slave, bartered by her father to a Dutchman, and shipped across the world to America to marry him.  People sold anybody to anybody, not only blacks, and in particular women were at the butt end of this (white or black).    Rebekka’s husband, Jacob, although initially seemingly ‘more human’ and distancing himself from slavery, is caught up in the greed, and sacrifices all in order to feed it. 

The story is told from the perspective of the different characters in the book.  Rebekka in her new life and trying to fit in with the religious Baptist women who live in the village compares that with the life of her shipmates on her way to America, poor women who were sent as servants and slaves and notes that

Although they [her shipmates and the Baptist women) had nothing in common with the views of each other, they had everything in common with one thing: the promise and threat of men.  Here, they agreed, was where security and risk lay.  And both had come to terms.  Some, like Sorrow, who apparently was never coached by other females, became their play.  Some like her shipmates fought them.  Others, the pious, obeyed them.  ……

And then:

            Adam first, Eve next, and also, confused about her role, the first outlaw?

But the book is first and foremost about Florens, Sorrow and Nila,  acquired by Jacob to farm his land, trying to make sense of their lives, even if they have no control over it.  Florens, the little girl with fancy shoes, who needs to learn to live and walk in a world that is very dangerous for a girl, in particular a black girl.  She learns the hard way so that at last she accepts that she has to walk without shoes:

            Mae, you can have pleasure now because the soles of my feet are hard as cypress.

So I think Toni Morrison very much approaches the issue of slavery and possession in terms of her female characters and what it means to them.

Read the New York Times review: it gives a very comprehensive overview of the story.  I want to recommend this book to you: it is, in Toni Morrison’s style, a difficult book, but not as difficult, or as intense, as Hope.  This has a story that grips you from beginning to end.  It requires you to pay attention – but it is well worth it.  Never has human slavery been so well portrayed in all its horrifying aspects, and showing little glimpses of hope,  A Merci, that people cling to, because they need to.  Not realising that it has not become better, only they needed to think it would be better, wanting a mercy…

 I’m glad that the Sunday Times in its overview of a Year of Fantastic Fiction, includes A Mercy as Novel of the Year.  It is…

Others on that list? One that I have read is Breath by Tim Winton, plus a number that are on my wishlist or tbr list: Zoe Heller – The Believers; David Lodge – Deaf Sentence and Aravind Adiga – The White Tiger.

On the very busy trains last week and stuck in one horrible hotel room I lost myself in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake.  Excellent for reading on trains, a lovely story about Gogol, born in America and with Bangladeshi parents,  who does not like his name and tries to re-invent himself only to realise that as he grows older that his search for identity will bring him back to himself and is totally independent from his name.  That’s a very brief synopsis!

Enjoy your Sunday Salon wherever you are. 




  1. I know what you mean about not being in the mood for blogging or reading (he says, as he surfs around blogs, not reading). It’s not just world events, but at least where I live, it’s the weather too, with no sun for two weeks.

    The Namesake: That’s one of those books I’ve wanted to read, but haven’t yet. I saw the movie, so I don’t know what else I’m going to get from it. 😦

  2. I’m thinking good thoughts for your son and his girlfriend.

    Immersed in writing all week, and maybe for the first time, immersed that way, it’s like coming up for air to come out and see what’s going on.

    Thank you for your review of A MERCY. I am hoping that someone on my Xmas list will like it. The list goes to the bookstore with me and I will get it all done there, I hope.

    I, too, will curl up by the fire as soon as we get this tree up and the lights affixed.

    As always, lovely to read you.

  3. unfinished person:lovely to see you back here. I can understand your gloom at not seeing any sun – it kills me every time that happens, at least every so ofen it suddenly seems to brighten up and with it my mood … 🙂 xx

    Oh: I so admire your perseverance with your writing! And yes, I do hope someone thinks of you for xmas and remembers to buy A Merci. Lights on the tree already? Oh my, I’m only getting myself into train for THINKING about it! A few more weeks of hard work ahead. But it’s lovely to be in touch xx and thank you for thinking good thoughts… I’m sure they will help. Thank you.

  4. I hope your son and his girlfriend are able to come home without incident. They are in my thoughts.

    I enjoyed The Namesake very much. I’ve tried reading Lahiri’s latest collection of short stories, but it just hasn’t captured my attention the way The Namesake did.

  5. The situation in Bangkok should be under control pretty soon, in time for the celebration of the King’s birthday on Dec 5. I try to appease my two friends whose trip to Bangkok is right around the corner. Air traffic to and from the Thai capital, however, is completely stalled. Let’s just hope everything will clear out.

    I have a copy of A mercy here but until I have re-read beloved, I won’t get to it. I will be reading Beloved along with a friend of mine.

    Namesake came up as one of the top books I read in 2007. The social and inter-generational conflicts Lahiri raises in the book are just so spot on in our time.

  6. just stumbled onto your blog and will look forward to coming back. I love a reader and a writer….

  7. My son and daughter in law are also in Thailand. They are with her family on extended holiday. I hope things clear out there so your son can come home on schedule. Young people so often look at these things as just part of the adventure – but we parents feel differently!

    The Namesake is one of my all time favorite books. I’m glad you enjoyed it too.

    Take care – you’re in my thoughts these busy and worrisome times 🙂

  8. All of you: Good news of course: not only have the protestors decided to leave Bangkok airport, but it all appears to be working out without further upheaval for the country after a court decision. I am very relieved. Mind you, my son and girlfriend will be queuing with all others to try and get on a flight back…..

    And thank you so much for caring! I really appreciate it. xx

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