Mercy Among The Children

WINNER 2001 – Canadian Booksellers Association Libris Award – Fiction Book of the Year
FINALIST 2000 – Governor General’s Literary Awards – Fiction
WINNER 2000 – Scotiabank Giller Prize
NOMINEE 2001 – Trillium Book Award
WINNER 2001 – Canadian Booksellers Association Libris Award – Author of the Year
WINNER 2001 – Canadian Booksellers Association Libris Award – Fiction Book of the Year

This is absolutely, positively, without a shadow of a doubt, the MOST depressing book I have ever read. In my life. Ever.

Every time something horrible happens, and you’re crying in your chair waiting for something good to happen, something worse happens. And it goes like that until the very bitter end.

You name it, it’s there: poverty, death, despair, hopelessness, cutting, drunkenness, blackmail, thievery, hate. I think there’s more, but that covers the main themes. Except for religion.

Several times in the novel, Tolstoy’s short story, The Forged Coupon, was mentioned. Now, I love Tolstoy. He is my favorite Russian author, and probably one of my favorite authors period. So, of course, I had to buy my own copy of The Forged Coupon having neither read it, nor heard of it, before.

Here is a book! The Forged Coupon starts in the same place as Mercy Among The Children. Basically. One crime begets another, and another, and another. But, along the way, we encounter a woman of faith who believes in nonviolent resistance. Her very act of not defending herself before she is murdered so changes the criminal’s viewpoint that he becomes a man of love instead of hate.

Just the opposite of Mercy Among Children, where one crime begets another, and another, and another, until every one dies and no one ever finds any hope at all. Least of all the children, who suffered from their parents’ interpretation of nonviolent resistance: complete submission in the face of any evil they encounter.

I’m left wondering about the premise of this novel, not to mention why it won so many awards.

Are we to find hope? No.

Christianity saving lives? No.

Lives of death and despair? Yes. But, for what purpose?

Tomorrow night my Book Club who chose this will discuss it. I’ll let you know their thoughts when I return.

10 thoughts on “Mercy Among The Children

  1. Last week I reviewed Anne of Windy Poplars and complained that Canadian literature has gone down the bleak, treeless road of books like the one you reviewed. It just seems to be the in thing and I'm sick of it.Pass.


  2. Perhaps my disappointment with this book colored my review (ya think?), but honestly, I can't figure out the purpose of this novel! I teach the children all the time the three main purposes of writing: to inform, to persuade, or to entertain. When someone depicts utter depravity with no positive resolution, I can't imagine the purpose.Myabe writing doesn't have to have a purpose, but I like leaving a book with either a lesson or a laugh. Not utter discouragement.


  3. This is why I read so few modern books. It seems like the worst topics get awards, acclaim, praise. The cheerful, uplifting, just plain pleasant books are overlooked. I will not read books with depressing topics. What's the point, I wonder. The only two possibilities are that it has somehow made the author feel better to unburden herself (I say – go to a shrink) or to make someone in the same situation feel better. There is just such a trend of 'letting it all hang out' and frankly I don't need it, want it, or wish it upon anyone. Whew!


  4. I have this one in my stacks and I'd heard it was depressing but oh dear! Thanks for mentioning the Tolstoy story though. Do let us know what the others in the book group think of it and how the discussion goes.


  5. Hmm, well, I definitely don't feel tempted to pick up Mercy Among the Children anymore, but The Forged Coupon sounds GREAT! And I've never read Tolstoy. Shame on me, I know. 🙂


  6. Nan, there's a great line in Jerry McGuire (the movie) where Renee Zellwiger says something like, "Let's just keep our pasts to ourselves, shall we?" Sometimes, I'm tired off everyone airing their dirty laundry, especially when there is no change in attitude or behavior. The most discouraging aspect of this book to me is that moral conviction had no benefit, which I can't believe is true.Tanabata, the Tolstoy work is only 72 pages, and actually you can find it on line! Do a Google search, and several sites had an online copy for you to read if you don't want to buy your own. (I should've sent you that book instead!) The summary of the book club was that it was a view into lives of poverty and misfortune, and that we not judge others. By the community's judgement on this family, their suffering never disappates. Being the very judgmental person I am, quick to form opinions, I guess that's a lesson I could take away.Andi, you might want to read Tolstoy's Forged Coupon because it's very short, and the epitome of his writing which not only depicts Russian life, but is full of Christian values. This work was outstanding in my opinion.


  7. I can only take so much of stuff like this. I've read a few books that have left me feeling very empty–all it takes sometime is just one little small morsel of hope, but I don't do well with novels that throw me into the pits of despair.


  8. I can't do depressing books like that, either. At some point, the author's got to throw the reader a bone, don' you think?Anne of Windy Poplars is in the Anne of Green Gables series, so of course I love it. I think Anne herself is such a wonderful character. Maybe one of the others would be less depressing?I do like the Renee Z. quote- I couldn't agree more. Too many people have a bad case of "TMI", as in Too Much Information.


  9. Mrs. T, I've never read any of the Ann of Green Gables series, only seeing them once on PBS. Her character impressed me very much, so I do want to read them someday. Maybe when I finish the Narnia series I'm currently going through book by book.I like how you said the author should 'throw us a bone' once in awhile. Even if there's only a wisp of hope for the far off future!


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