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The Known World by Edward P. Jones
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The Known World (original 2003; edition 2009)

by Edward P. Jones

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
5,6091341,111 (3.77)240
Member:charl08
Title:The Known World
Authors:Edward P. Jones
Info:HarperCollins e-books (2009), Kindle Edition, 432 pages
Collections:2015 (inactive), Digital
Rating:****1/2
Tags:slavery, US, history, fiction, African American, at, family life, racism

Work details

The Known World by Edward P. Jones (2003)

  1. 50
    Beloved by Toni Morrison (BookshelfMonstrosity)
  2. 30
    Property by Valerie Martin (Alirob)
  3. 20
    The Book of Night Women by Marlon James (GCPLreader)
    GCPLreader: quite different setting and story of slavery but equally gorgeous literary style
  4. 20
    Cane River by Lalita Tademy (cataylor)
  5. 10
    Sweetsmoke by David Fuller (sungene)
  6. 10
    The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron (Widsith)
    Widsith: The obvious companion-piece...both Pulitzer-winning novels about slavery in 19th-century Virginia
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» See also 240 mentions

English (129)  Dutch (1)  Spanish (1)  German (1)  All languages (132)
Showing 1-5 of 129 (next | show all)
(49) I am late reading this Pulitzer Prize winner. This is fictionalization of the lives of black slave owners and their slaves in the antebellum south, particularly Manchester county, Virginia and Henry Townsend, the black slave owner whose plantation is the nidus of the story. man ester County, while a wholly made up place was written about as if real with census data and other faux facts about its inhabitants which added authenticity, In fact, I kinda assumed it was all based on historical facts until I read the author's interview at the end of the book. I felt strangely let down when I learned he had made up the place and all the characters and their interesting fates. So are we really sure then that there indeed were black slave owners? It seems preposterous that a former slave would consent to own someone - but as the author pointed out slavery made people do strange things.

The writing was quite good. Weaving in and out of the past (and future!) and following several of the stories - Skiffington, the ill-fated generally kind man and his evil cousin, Counsel. Moses - the black overseer whom we see come full circle, poor Augustus Townsend - who works his whole life to free himself, and his wife and son and his payback is bitter. Caldonia, the black slave-owners widow (yes, the main character dies in almost the opening scene) who makes some rather devastating mistakes. I especially enjoyed Skiffington and his wife's love for Minerva. I thought that ending in Philly was aesthetically lovely, though sad. While poignant and engaging, for me there was not that wow factor that would make a 5-star read. I think I expected a bit more based on the praise and the Pulitzer.

But overall, a worthy read. It seems Jones could have written more about Manchester County. - like a Faulkner or a Loiuse Erdrich sort of thing. Perhaps he will. . . ( )
  jhowell | Nov 26, 2017 |
A Masterpiece ( )
  ericmcherry | Sep 14, 2016 |
It took me a while to get into this book, but even though it was slow moving, I couldn't abandon it because I wanted to know what happened to each character. You find out too! This is the first book I've read that really explored what life must have been like for freed slaves before the Civil War, living between worlds, not protected by the law, nor free exactly in the eyes of the South. ( )
  jkrnomad | Jul 1, 2016 |
[The Known World] is a complex look at slavery, set in a fictional county in Virginia in the 1830s. Jones's book goes deeper than the typical Southern white wealthy family owning hundreds of black slaves longing for freedom. In fact, several of the main characters here are free blacks who own slaves. Throughout the book, there is gray area on race - expectations of character, behavior, and wealth are turned on its head. There were lots of times, especially as I was settling into the characters, that I couldn't remember if the characters were black or white without thinking about it - not necessarily typical for a book set in this time period and location, where race meant everything. In addition to the moral complexities, Jones plays with time in a way I really enjoyed. The novel is basically linear, except that he'll insert quick glimpses into a character's future and even the future of his/her descendants.

So, what is the book about? Henry Townsend is a former slave whose father worked to free himself, his wife, and then his son from the wealthiest man in Manchester County, William Robbins. Robbins sees some promise in Henry and mentors him. Robbins has a complex relationship with his slaves, taking a mistress from his slaves and freeing her and their mixed race (considered black at the time) children. Henry marries Caldonia, another free black woman, who studied with the same black (though she could pass for white) teacher, Fern Elston. Henry dies young after amassing a fairly large farm and large number of slaves, to his parents' dismay. Caldonia is left to run the farm with Henry's first slave and overseer, Moses. There are many other stories being explored simultaneously and they all weave together to create a rich texture and complex novel.

I thought this book was fantastic and important both for the craft of the writing and the topic. I can see it becoming part of the southern American canon with Toni Morrison and Faulkner. ( )
3 vote japaul22 | Jun 17, 2016 |
Henry Townsend is a black farmer, former slave, and, with his wife Caledonia, a slave-owner in pre-Civil War Virginia. This book looks at the moral complexities of slavery from the unusual viewpoint of black slave owners. The writing is excellent, with overlapping plots, shifting points of view, a large cast of characters over long and shifting time periods, with vivid and exquisite detail of life during this time. This was not an easy book to read, as it is not linear and straight-forward in style, but it is well-worth the effort. It is a book I highly recommend.

4 stars ( )
  arubabookwoman | Apr 8, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 129 (next | show all)
Among the many triumphs of ''The Known World,'' not the least is Jones's transformation of a little-known footnote in history into a story that goes right to the heart of slavery. There are few certified villains in this novel, white or black, because slavery poisons moral judgments at the root
added by charl08 | editNew York Times
 
One great achievement of Edward Jones's Pulitzer prize-winning novel The Known World is the circumscription of its moral vision, which locates the struggle between good and evil not in the vicissitudes of the diabolical slaveholding system of the American south, but inside the consciousness of each person, black or white, slave or free, who attempts to flourish within that soul-deadening system
 
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Epigraph
My soul's often wondered how I got over. . . .
Dedication
TO MY BROTHER
JOSEPH V. JONES

And, again,

TO THE MEMORY OF OUR MOTHER
JEANETTE S.M. JONES
who could have done much more in a better world.

First words
The evening his master died he worked again well after he ended the day for the other adults, his own wife among them, and sent them back with hunger and tiredness to their cabins.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (2)

Book description
Set in Manchester County, Virginia, 20 years before the Civil War began, Edward P. Jones's debut novel, The Known World, is a masterpiece of overlapping plot lines, time shifts, and heartbreaking details of life under slavery. Caldonia Townsend is an educated black slaveowner, the widow of a well-loved young farmer named Henry, whose parents had bought their own freedom, and then freed their son, only to watch him buy himself a slave as soon as he had saved enough money. Although a fair and gentle master by the standards of the day, Henry Townsend had learned from former master about the proper distance to keep from one's property. After his death, his slaves wonder if Caldonia will free them. When she fails to do so, but instead breaches the code that keeps them separate from her, a little piece of Manchester County begins to unravel. Impossible to rush through, The Known World is a complex, beautifully written novel with a large cast of characters, rewarding the patient reader with unexpected connections, some reaching into the present day.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0061159174, Paperback)

Set in Manchester County, Virginia, 20 years before the Civil War began, Edward P. Jones's debut novel, The Known World, is a masterpiece of overlapping plot lines, time shifts, and heartbreaking details of life under slavery. Caldonia Townsend is an educated black slaveowner, the widow of a well-loved young farmer named Henry, whose parents had bought their own freedom, and then freed their son, only to watch him buy himself a slave as soon as he had saved enough money. Although a fair and gentle master by the standards of the day, Henry Townsend had learned from former master about the proper distance to keep from one's property. After his death, his slaves wonder if Caldonia will free them. When she fails to do so, but instead breaches the code that keeps them separate from her, a little piece of Manchester County begins to unravel. Impossible to rush through, The Known World is a complex, beautifully written novel with a large cast of characters, rewarding the patient reader with unexpected connections, some reaching into the present day. --Regina Marler

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:12 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

When a plantation proprietor and former slave--now possessing slaves of his own--dies, his household falls apart in the wake of a slave rebellion and corrupt underpaid patrollers who enable free black people to be sold into slavery.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 7 descriptions

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