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Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
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Mudbound

by Hillary Jordan

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5***** and a ❤

This is a work of literary fiction that deals with what it means to live in the Jim Crow south just after World War II, when being a war hero isn’t enough to get respect if your skin is black.

The story is told in alternate voices – one character per chapter. We have Laura, a woman from an educated household, a college graduate and “spinster” when she marries Henry McAllan at age 31 in Memphis. Henry is the oldest son of “Pappy” McAllan, a mean, prejudiced cur of a man who sold his wife’s family land at the earliest opportunity and moved in with his married daughter and her banker husband after his wife died. Henry has always longed to be back on the land, farming. And when his brother-in-law dies, and he’s left trying to fix his sister’s life and take on the care of his father, he makes a sudden decision (without consulting Laura) to buy a piece of land near Marietta GA. He plans to rent a house in town for Laura and their girls, but he is taken advantage of and without a lease he has no choice but to move the family onto the farm … a ramshackle building with a leaky roof, no electricity, no phone and no plumbing. Laura accepts her lot as Henry’s wife, but puts her foot down when it comes to having Pappy in the same 2-bedroom house – No. So Pappy is moved to the lean-to (after Henry puts in a floor).

As is typical of the South in 1947, they have sharecroppers on the land. Six families live there when Henry buys the place, but he lets three of them go, keeping the three he feels work the hardest. One of these families is the Jacksons – Hap, Florence and their children: Lilly May (who has a club foot), twins Ruel and Marlon (about age 10), and their oldest Ronsel who is away at war when the novel opens. Ronsel is a shining star in the black community – a handsome, strong, intelligent man who has more schooling than most of his contemporaries. He’s a decorated soldier of the 761st Black Panther Tank Battalion and has seen a different world in Europe, where a black man is accepted based on who he is, not shunned based on his skin.

Florence is a strong woman – physically, mentally and emotionally. She’s a midwife and tends her family and her “ladies” with a no-nonsense competence. She also begins to work for the McAllen’s as a cook and housekeeper, helping Laura partly out of pity but mostly because her family can use the extra money. Hap is a man of his race and generation. He’s strong, works hard and smart, is a preacher, and counsels his children to “know their place” in the white man’s world.

And finally we have Jamie, the youngest McAllen son, who has been a bomber pilot in Europe and returns a changed man … charming as ever most of the time, but drinking to excess to quell his demons. His inability to stand up to his father, and his shame over this is a central force in the book.

When Ronsel returns and begins a vague friendship with Jamie over a bottle of whiskey events are set in motion which can only lead to the inevitable tragedy. The ray of hope in the final chapter is a lifeline the author offers. I’m conflicted about accepting it. ( )
  BookConcierge | Feb 11, 2016 |
Mudbound by Hillary Jordon
324 pages

★★★★

Taking place in the 1940s in the Jim Crow South – this story revolves around two families and is told from the point of view of 6 different people. It’s a difficult to give too much a description without giving away this one.

This is a book I’ve had for years and have never read. I didn’t know what to expect – I’m terribly lazy at reading the synopsis for most books, I just wing it especially if recommended by a trusted group of friends. And what a wonderful and heart-wrenching story this was – from all aspects. I loved the writing and I enjoyed the different views, how one event could be seen so different depending on the person. The characters were well written, they weren’t flat and boy did she really make you hate those characters you were supposed to but there were so many ones to love as well. While it was a novel, it was a good lesson in history. I am glad I finally got around to reading this wonderful book. Worth the read if you have yet to read it.
( )
  UberButter | Feb 9, 2016 |
Recommended by Ms. Thompson
  EDHSLC | Feb 4, 2016 |
No happy endings in this book... ( )
  Cricket856 | Jan 25, 2016 |
Heart-wrenching story of Mississippi South after WWII. Hate and love equally served in this story narrated by it's black and white characters. ( )
  TallReads | Jan 21, 2016 |
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Epigraph
If I could do it, I'd do no writing at all here. It would be photographs; the rest would be fragments of cloth. bits of cotton, lumps of earth, records of speech, pieces of wood and iron, phials of odors, plates of food and of excrement.... A piece of the body torn out by the roots might be more to the point.----James Agee, "Let us Now Praise Famous Men"
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To Mother, Gay and Nana, for the stories
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Henry and I dug the hole seven feet deep.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
In this award-winning portrait of two families caught up in the blind hatred of a small Southern town, prejudice takes many forms-some subtle, some ruthless. Mudbound is the saga of the McAllan family, who struggle to survive on a remote ramshackle farm, and the Jacksons, their black sharecroppers. When two sons return from WWII to work the land, the unlikely friendship between these brothers-in-arms-one white, one black-arouses the passions of their neighbors. As the men and women of each family tell their version of events we are drawn into their lives. Striving for love and honor is a brutal time and place, they become players in a tragedy on the grandest scale and find reemption where they least expect it. -back of book
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 156512569X, Hardcover)

Jordan won the 2006 Bellwether Prize for Mudbound, her first novel. The prize was founded by Barbara Kingsolver to reward books of conscience, social responsibility, and literary merit. In addition to meeting all of the above qualifications, Jordan has written a story filled with characters as real and compelling as anyone we know.

It is 1946 in the Mississippi Delta, where Memphis-bred Laura McAllan is struggling to adjust to farm life, rear her daughters with a modicum of manners and gentility, and be the wife her land-loving husband, Henry, wants her to be. It is an uphill battle every day. Things started badly when Henry's trusting nature resulted in the family being done out of a nice house in town, thus relegating them to a shack on their property. In addition, Henry's father, Pappy, a sour, mean-spirited devil of a man, moves in with them.

The real heart of the story, however, is the friendship between Jamie, Henry's too-charming brother, and Ronsel Jackson, son of sharecroppers who live on the McAllan farm. They have both returned from the war changed men: Jamie has developed a deep love for alcohol and has recurring nightmares; Ronsel, after fighting valiantly for his country and being seen as a man by the world outside the South, is now back to being just another black "boy."

Told in alternating chapters by Laura, Henry, Jamie, Ronsel, and his parents, Florence and Hap, the story unfolds with a chilling inevitability. Jordan's writing and perfect control of the material lift it from being another "ain't-it-awful" tale to a heart-rending story of deep, mindless prejudice and cruelty. This eminently readable and enjoyable story is a worthy recipient of Kingsolver's prize and others as well. --Valerie Ryan

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:31 -0400)

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In 1946, Laura McAllan tries to adjust after moving with her husband and two children to an isolated cotton farm in the Mississipi Delta.

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