The Nobel prize-winning author talks about her new book, "A Mercy," a prequel to "Beloved," which many say is the single best work of fiction in the last 25 years.
In 2006, the "New York Time's" Book Review editor, Sam Tanenhaus, sent a letter to the country's literary wise men and women -- editors, writers, critics and the like -- asking each to name the single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years. Toni Morrison's "Beloved" was the winner.
Bob Edwards spends an hour with author Toni Morrison. It's been twenty-one years since Morrison published the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Beloved," a story about slavery set in 1855. Now she offers a prequel to "Beloved" with her new book, "A Mercy" which takes place in America around 1690. Morrison said she wrote the book because she was "wondering what it must have felt like to be a slave before racism."
"I was trying to de-couple slavery from race. Trying to figure out what it was like on this continent before the inevitable happened. But perhaps it wasn't inevitable, but it was certainly useful, when indentured servants, white Europeans, African slaves all worked together on these large plantations. And what made it important and necessary in some instances, to establish laws that privileged poor, indentured whites over blacks. The divide and conquer rule -- the consequences of which are still with us."
"A Mercy" takes place in the Bristol Colonies, in the aftermath of Bacon's Rebellion. The group of characters in "A Mercy" made up a type of "family" -- the master and mistress, a Native American, an orphan of mixed race, a black child, and others.
Morrison reads an excerpt from "A Mercy," where the narrator is Lena, the Native American woman, who is worried about her mistress' safety, and what would happen to the people on the plantation if misfortune were to befall her master and mistress:
"Don't die miss. Don't. Herself, Sorrow, a newborn, and maybe Florence -- three unmastered women and an infant out here alone, belonging to no one, became wild game for anyone. None of them could inherit, none was attached to a church or recorded in its books. Female and illegal, they would be interlopers, squatters, if they stayed on after mistress died, subject to purchase, hire, assault, abduction, exile. The farm could be claimed by, or auctioned off to the Baptists. Lena had relished her place in this small, tight family, but now saw its folly. Sir and Mistress believed they could have honest, free-thinking lives; yet without heirs, all their work became less than a swallow's nest ...".
Bob Edwards Weekend" is a two-hour interview showcase, in which celebrated host Bob Edwards highlights the life and work of interesting people, from newsmakers, historians, and authors to artists, actors, and regular folks too. The show is produced by XM Satellite Radio and distributed nationwide by PRI.