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The Known World by Edward P. Jones
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The Known World (original 2003; edition 2006)

by Edward P. Jones

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4,906117937 (3.76)197
Member:harryo19
Title:The Known World
Authors:Edward P. Jones
Info:Amistad (2006), Edition: First Edition, Paperback, 432 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:None

Work details

The Known World by Edward P. Jones (2003)

  1. 20
    Cane River by Lalita Tademy (cataylor)
  2. 20
    Beloved by Toni Morrison (BookshelfMonstrosity)
  3. 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
  4. 10
    The Book of Night Women by Marlon James (GCPLreader)
    GCPLreader: quite different setting and story of slavery but equally gorgeous literary style
  5. 10
    Sweetsmoke by David Fuller (sungene)
  6. 00
    Property by Valerie Martin (Alirob)
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English (115)  Dutch (1)  All languages (116)
Showing 1-5 of 115 (next | show all)
Shifts the narrative of enslaved people in a meaningful and moving way. An intimate and confounding story with unique humanity. ( )
  LauraCLM | May 7, 2015 |
here is a perfect example of a books i should love, and yet.... i didn't. the book was a lot of work and, for me, very little reward. i think most of my issues are because of the style/structure of the novel:

* the third-person, omniscient narrator - this was distracting from very early on in the read. i held off judging it. i wanted to trust jones and his choice.
* non-linear narrative - i don't tend to have problems with this at all, but i found it super-clunky here. also distracting.
* the made-up references - jones would cite sources and details that seemed to lend such an air of gravitas, but none of it is actually real. (i know, i know. this is fiction. a novel. get over it. but it was just kinda weird to me. social commentary inserted into fiction happens. steinbeck did it. teju cole does it. many writers do this. i felt like jones did a crap-ton of research for this book. but then i read this NPR piece. in it, he notes he collected 2 shelves worth of books on slavery... "but never got around to reading them". so this just added to my 'what the?' on the references in the novel and jones' research.)
* all of this combined for a really awkward flow, and convoluted storytelling. i felt like it could lose 50-100 pages and be a tighter, better story.

in case you think maybe i am a lazy reader - i'm not, i swear! i love nothing more than a meaty, tough read. jones' story is definitely both of these things. he explores the issue of free black people owning slaves in virginia, and he gives us a large cast of active characters. but it all felt so... surface-y. we get the actions and reactions, but we don't really get the motivations or emotions. jones is navigating a morally dodgy landscape, one i would have loved to have gone into more deeply. we are given the horrors and the heartbreaks, but it all felt so detached. and, you know, maybe that is totally on purpose. maybe, for some people, detachment is the only way through such a horrible time in history.

jones has collected some serious critical acclaim and recognition over his career. to name a few: he's won the pulitzer, the national book critic's circle award, the PEN/Hemingway award, a MacArthur genius grant, and the International IMPAC dublin literary award. he's won nearly $1 million in literary awards alone. the man knows what he's doing, and the respect he's earned is fairly universal. the known world is an important story. but is just shining the light on the issues jones raises enough? so now i am back to the should. i should love this book. (it was just okay for me.) people should read this book. (indeed. but this is not a book i will blanket recommend to all.)

so, i don't know you guys. i am bummed over this one. and this is a terrible review/collection of thoughts. maybe i'll become more coherent with some distance and fix this up a bit - but for now i wanted to note down something here.

(aside #1 (going to be a bit spoiler-y here): moses confused me. or, rather, his turn to all-of-a-sudden being an asshole was weird. we're going along with moses. he seems like a lovely man. then, halfway into the book, he's a wife-beater, jerkface? where did that come from, and why was he presented like that? the reveal of moses being a not nice man was sudden and odd.)

(aside #2: worth noting (was hugely interesting to me) - the cover photo of this edition is © [author:Eudora Welty|7973]! i had no idea about her photographic prowess.) ( )
  Booktrovert | Feb 12, 2015 |
The Known World is a 2003 historical novel by Edward P. Jones. Set in antebellum Virginia, it examines the issues regarding the ownership of black slaves by both white and black Americans. The book was published to widespread acclaim from literary critics, with much praise directed at its story and Jones' prose. ( )
  jimwva | Dec 19, 2014 |
Starting this book, I felt immersed in the complexities of relationships between slaves, their owners, and emancipated blacks. We are introduced to a farm in Virginia prior to the War of Secession as it's free black owner dies. It's a picture which doesn't gild any particular group of people-all are susceptible to greed, envy, adultery, etc. I like the non-linear narrative, for the most part, and I get an idea that Jones is making a point about all people having their own stories, their own dramas, as he provides us with details about the lives of even the bystanders, and their antecedents and descendants. However, before the end of the book it became just too much to care about.
There were scenes of magical realism, but they seemed disconnected from the rest of the story. OK, so the point is made that people under stress experience another level of reality.
Here we have a novel of things falling apart. Something of a "rags to riches & back to rags in 2 generations" that we've read elsewhere, this time fleshed out in a different color. ( )
  juniperSun | Nov 12, 2014 |
Original post at Book Rhapsody.

***

The black slaves and their blacker master


There is a tall stack of literature that deals with slavery. There’s Toni Morrison, there’s William Faulkner, there’s even Mark Twain. So when I was looking for something to read, it was only with apprehension when I held this novel, yet another one on slavery. There’s a lot to say about people owning people, but what of black people owning their own black people?

This is a new take on slavery. Why would anyone want to be the master of something that mirrors himself? Although I have no answer for that, I could say that Henry, the blackest master that Virginia ever saw, wants to prove a point. He wants to show people that black people can be better masters than white people. To demonstrate it, he needs to buy slaves, and the available color of slaves that the setting of this novel has to offer is the same as that of his color of skin.

The slaves that Henry bought are confused themselves: what has happened to the world? This isn’t what they know of the world. Blacks aren’t supposed to own blacks, but there you have it. They are slaves to someone who is darker than their blackness.

But the master Henry soon dies, leaving his plantation to his rather passive wife, Caldonia, who insists on treating slaves as humanely as possible. After Henry’s death, the drama and action of the novel bursts like the great surge of water from a broken dam. How well could she handle the plantation? What will the slaves do about it? Will there ever be an end to this twisted kind of slavery?

No, people were viewing an enormous wall hanging, a grand piece of art that is part tapestry, part painting, and part clay structure–all in one exquisite Creation, hanging silent and yet songful on the Eastern wall. It is, my Dear Caldonia, a kind of map of life of the County of Manchester, Virginia. But a "map" is such a poor word for such a wondrous thing. It is a map of life made with every kind of art man has ever thought to represent himself. Yes, clay. Yes, paint. Yes, cloth. There are no people on this "map," just all the houses and barns and roads and cemeteries and wells in our Manchester. It is what God sees when He looks down on Manchester. At the bottom right-hand corner of this Creation there were but two stitched words. Alice Night.

Who is Alice Night? In this novel, she could possibly be the only lucid character despite the madness that keeps her going to every nook and cranny of the county. Her persistent presence is almost ominous that one can only trust her gut and understand her wit at the very end.

And what do we get from her aside from her cryptic monologues? What do we get from this historical tale filled with blunt narratives that still manage to keep the reader gripped with its raw intensity? What do we make of this novel that stretches from each end of two centuries, offering glimpses of the future while tackling the past?

It is almost impossible to provide a quick recap of the novel with the presence of so many well-developed characters, each with a story of his own. My own favorite is that kid Luke, ten years old, who had to die while working on the fields. He didn’t even manage to get beyond the middle part of the novel, and still, he’s the one that I remember when I conjure images from this novel.

I said that he had to die, which could only mean that there’s a grand design behind the scheme of things. He didn’t die for nothing then. When I met the author during a book signing, I asked him why. He said that Luke’s death is essential to break the chains of lies that is bound among the people of that plantation. I was surprised at this because I could no longer remember what lies he is referring to, but what astonishes me is that this death, which was only described in a few jabbing sentences, had a huge impact on the novel’s flow.

It just goes to show that a lot of thinking was given to the architecture of the novel. It is intricate, yes, even daunting for a reader who comes from a background of light reading, but the efforts expended are very rewarding. I don’t want to sound like I’m speaking from my high horse, but I found this novel a fluid and fast-paced read. I was amazed myself. Sure, there were struggles, but these were crowned with the heart-rending dramatizations of faith and hope for humanity.

And this carefully designed world can keel over in the slightest provocation. We think that the world, at least some part of it, is fixed, and that the higher forces placed this and that on its proper place and bestowed the virtue of immutability on every creation. But no, each day, the world spins on a different space, a different time.

What we know is not as secure as we want to imagine. Everything is fleeting. A master dies. A kid is no longer seen in the cotton fields. A couple becomes the root germ of a long line of descendants. A sheriff tries to save a life. A white man takes another life. Another white man falls in love with a black woman. Another black woman turns almost mad. And the mad turns to peace.

I could see this book being included in the general canon of world literature in a few more years. Further, I could imagine it being transferred from the award-winners to the classics shelf. It is destined to be one. ( )
  angusmiranda | Jun 10, 2014 |
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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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Wikipedia in English (1)

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.
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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 5 descriptions

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