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The rebirth of a nation

Toni Morrison is America's most influential black literary voice. She is also, says Mary Fitzgerald, an author of supple brilliance who rejects false hope

By Mary Fitzgerald   December 2008

A Mercy by Toni Morrison (Chatto &?Windus, £15.99)

As Toni Morrison knows, remembering in America can be an act fraught with difficulty. Because of the near universal illiteracy of slaves, the firsthand voices of black Americans are rare before the civil war. For writers like Poe, Twain, Hemingway and Cather, blacks often served as white freedom’s antithesis: they embodied what Morrison termed in one of her essays “the terror of darkness, slavery, and nature.” Long-lauded as the “voice of America’s conscience” or, perhaps more appropriately, the “laureate-poet of America’s pain,” Morrison has laboured since her first novel, The Bluest Eye…

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