Not since Toni Morrison’s Beloved has the devastation of slavery been approached with more complexity and emotion than in Jones’s epic, The Known World. What’s most fascinating about Jones’s book is that he explores the lives of slaves owned by a black slave owner, Henry Townsend. After the death of Townsend, the book charts the chaos, deceit, and betrayal that slowly begin to develop on the plantation. Jones steeps readers in the history of antebellum Virginia and brings forth a story that takes on the parameters of what it means to be human.
From within the boundaries of Virginia’s Manchester County, Jones weaves an elaborate and enchanting tapestry of narratives that pull and balance upon each other like the tensions within a single family. He has created a fiction that encapsulates the “known world” in its largeness. We see all its insanity and sanity, its madness and grace, its fear and joy. The underlining power of the book is found in the thread that binds everything together with elements of harmony, humor, and horror. The book provides a glimpse into the darkest hours of American history and drives deep to understand the life of real people who suffered and endured.
A wealth of memorable characters emerge throughout the novel. Readers will hardly believe that individuals are capable of certain acts until they commit them, and then the incomprehension of their actions reveals what dwells in the human psyche. Readers will also find intrigue with Jones’s unique style and his ability to elevate ordinary language to a level of beauty and resonance. In this way, Jones's craft is similar to Hemingway’s ability to achieve profound depth with simple prose.
Extremely detailed historical fiction written about a fascinating subject -- freed blacks who owned slaves prior to the Civil War. Edward Jones really immerses you into the fictional community of Manchester County, VA and delves deep into the characters involved. The timeline and location jumps around quite a bit, which some may find distracting, so heads up if that style is not your preference.
I would *highly* recommend listening to this on audiobook. For Lawrence Public Library patrons, find it on Hoopla! https://www.hoopladigital.com/title/11587584
I was eager to read this highly acclaimed story about black slave owners living in the American south. Unfortunately, reading this Pulitzer Prize winning book is a bit like taking a long walk through a forest and wandering around aimlessly for days while waiting for the author to make some kind of point. Each chapter is peppered with pointless characters. Then each of these characters is given a lengthy back story before the author bluntly slams down a brief summary of how they grow old and die thirty years in the future.
I just loved this book. The rhythm and poetry of the writing, the horrific treatment of human by other humans, the total hopelessness of slavery and yet the dignity and integrity of those who had nothing but their own center moved me greatly.
I loved the way the author would periodically make comments revealing future generations of his characters and their impact. It did not take me out of the story, for me it gave the story depth.
Good book, read it with the rhythm of a great river flowing and you won't be disappointed.
Jones, who is a National Book Award finalist, tells an unforgettable story with characters that linger because he makes them so believable. This is a story of slavery – of both blacks and whites – in the southern United States; and of the Townsend family, in particular, who earn their freedom, build a plantation in Virginia, and begin to acquire their own slaves. It’s a world unknown to us today, but to those who suffered under the weight of slavery it was all too real and known.
elucidates the complexity of individuals, black, white, mixed....the lines blur and criss-cross with skin color and morality.
This won the Pulitzer and was in a Times list of the best American novels since 1980. So maybe I went in with unreasonable expectations. I did appreciate this story of race and the wages of slavery in the South, with its echoes of Faulkner, Morrison and Twain without really getting into it.
I wish they would not label books as "Winner of the Pulitzer Prize". It always gets your hopes up. Then, if you read it and don't love it you think there is something wrong with you (am I not smart enough for this book?). I did not love this book. I'm impressed by Jones' ability to develop such a large, varied cast of characters, but his passing references to future events (character deaths and other eventual plot points) took me out of the moment again and again. That technique robbed the story of its potential power and immediacy.
Detailed and nuanced story of the effects of living with oppression. A slow and somber read with no relief, but it does draw you into a world that is nearly impossible to imagine.
This novel opens with immediacy and unforgettable descriptions. It quickly loses momentum, however.
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