Published by Amistad on September, 2003
Genres: African American, Historical, Literature & Fiction
Format: Audiobook, Print
Source: Library, Purchased
One of the most acclaimed novels in recent memory, The Known World is a daring and ambitious work by Pulitzer Prize winner Edward P. Jones.
Henry Townsend, a black farmer, bootmaker, and former slave, has a fondness for Paradise Lost and an unusual mentor -- William Robbins, perhaps the most powerful man in antebellum Virginia's Manchester County. Under Robbins's tutelage, Henry becomes proprietor of his own plantation -- as well as of his own slaves. When he dies, his widow, Caldonia, succumbs to profound grief, and things begin to fall apart at their plantation: slaves take to escaping under the cover of night, and families who had once found love beneath the weight of slavery begin to betray one another. Beyond the Townsend estate, the known world also unravels: low-paid white patrollers stand watch as slave "speculators" sell free black people into slavery, and rumors of slave rebellions set white families against slaves who have served them for years.
An ambitious, luminously written novel that ranges seamlessly between the past and future and back again to the present, The Known World weaves together the lives of freed and enslaved blacks, whites, and Indians -- and allows all of us a deeper understanding of the enduring multidimensional world created by the institution of slavery.
This week takes us to Virginia with The Known World by Edward P. Jones. Entertainment Weekly says – This award-winning examination of man’s ownership of man refuses to succumb to the calcifying effect of history, presenting Virginia’s past as raw, urgent and human.
The Known World by Edward P. Jones is a read that made me question. It made me question if editors actually read the whole book. It made me question if the Pulitzer judges read the whole book. It made me question if I had picked up the wrong book, because this could not be the book with all of those rave reviews. This novel won a National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2004. In 2005 it won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and it was a finalist for the 2003 National Book Award. In 2009, the website The Millions polled 48 critics, writers, and editors; the panel voted The Known World the second best novel since 2000. The book I read was a disjointed mess. No seriously, I can read difficult books. I like non-linear time lines and twisty prose but this took it to a whole new level. The synopsis tells us that this is the tale of Manchester County in Virginia during the antebellum era and a black former slave who is now a slave owner himself. This sounds like a deep and thought provoking read right? It would have been if it was actually readable.
There were approximately 80 characters, so I had no idea who anyone was.
The white man at the front door was from the Atlas Life, Casualty and Assurance Company, based in Hartford, Connecticut. His talking to Calvin at the door was what kept Bennett so long. Calvin eventually came back with Bennett and when Moses told him, Calvin went back and returned with Caldonia, followed by Maude, and Fern Elston.
The time line skipped back and forth often times decades in the future to tell what happened to just one person or object and then skipped back.
This series was Anderson’s most successful, and nothing was more successful within that series than the 1883 pamphlet on free Negroes who had owned other Negroes before the War between the States. The pamphlet on slaveowning Negroes went through ten printings. Only seven of those particular pamphlets survived until the late twentieth century. Five of them were in the Library of Congress in 1994 when the remaining two pamphlets were sold as part of a collection of black memorabilia owned by a black man in Cleveland, Ohio. That collection, upon the man’s death in 1994, sold for $1.7 million to an automobile manufacturer in Germany.
There was so much unnecessary description.
Clarence sat beside his wife and after a time he put a hand, the one not stained with milk, to the back of his wife’s head and rubbed her hair. The cow swung its tail and chewed its cud. It farted.
His horse, Sir Guilderham, was idling two or so paces behind his master. And just as the horse began to wander away, Robbins turned and picked up the reins, mounted. ‘No more visits for a month,’ he said, picking one piece of lint from the horse’s ear.
Seriously, I do not care about lint on a horse and a cow farting. This really detracted from the story for me. The Known World by Edward P. Jones could have and should have been a powerful read. Instead I got bogged down in the minutia and was not able to process the tale.
I had originally picked this up at the library and then, when I found the style to be so odd, I got the Audible version. I really want my credit and the 14 hours I spent listing to this back.
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Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- 2016 Diverse Books Reading Challenge
- The Goodreads Challenge