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Home » Books » Fiction & Literature » History

The Known World

By Edward P. Jones

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Format: Paperback, 400 pages
Published In: United Kingdom, 05 July 2004
Masterful, Pulitzer-prize winning literary epic about the painful and complex realities of slave life on a Southern plantation. An utterly original exploration of race, trust and the cruel truths of human nature, this is a landmark in modern American literature. Henry Townsend, a black farmer, boot maker, and former slave, becomes proprietor of his own plantation -- as well as his own slaves. When he dies, his widow, Caldonia, succumbs to profound grief, and things begin to fall apart: 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 household, the known world also unravels: low-paid white patrollers stand watch as slave 'speculators' sell free black people into slavery, and rumours of slave rebellions set white families against slaves who have served them for years. An ambitious, luminously written novel that ranges from the past to the present, The Known World seamlessly weaves together the lives of the freed and the enslaved -- and allows all of us a deeper understanding of the enduring multi-dimensional world created by the institution of slavery.

About the Author

Edward P. Jones won the PEN/Hemingway Award and was nominated for the National Book Award for his debut collection of stories, Lost in the City.

Reviews

In a crabbed, powerful follow-up to his National Book Award-nominated short story collection (Lost in the City), Jones explores an oft-neglected chapter of American history, the world of blacks who owned blacks in the antebellum South. His fictional examination of this unusual phenomenon starts with the dying 31-year-old Henry Townsend, a former slave-now master of 33 slaves of his own and more than 50 acres of land in Manchester County, Va.-worried about the fate of his holdings upon his early death. As a slave in his youth, Henry makes himself indispensable to his master, William Robbins. Even after Henry's parents purchase the family's freedom, Henry retains his allegiance to Robbins, who patronizes him when he sets up shop as a shoemaker and helps him buy his first slaves and his plantation. Jones's thorough knowledge of the legal and social intricacies of slaveholding allows him to paint a complex, often startling picture of life in the region. His richest characterizations-of Robbins and Henry-are particularly revealing. Though he is a cruel master to his slaves, Robbins is desperately in love with a black woman and feels as much fondness for Henry as for his own children; Henry, meanwhile, reads Milton, but beats his slaves as readily as Robbins does. Henry's wife, Caldonia, is not as disciplined as her husband, and when he dies, his worst fears are realized: the plantation falls into chaos. Jones's prose can be rather static and his phrasings ponderous, but his narrative achieves crushing momentum through sheer accumulation of detail, unusual historical insight and generous character writing. Agent, Eric Simonoff. (Sept.) Forecast: This is a new tack for Jones, whose collection Lost in the City was set in Washington, D.C., in the 1960s and '70s. Amistad is sending the novel off with a bang-a 10-city author tour, a 20-city national radio campaign-and it should attract considerable review attention. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

'The Known World is an achievement of epic scope and architectural construction, which nonetheless reads like a string of folk tales told by someone slyly watching for your reaction -- tales told by a conjurer who distracts you so well that you never know what hit you.' New York Times'The best new work of American fiction to cross my desk in years.' Washington Post'Jones has woven nothing less than a tapestry of slavery, an artifact as vast and complex as anything to be found in the Louvre. Every thread is perfectly in place ... The first paragraph exquisitely connects, nearly 400 pages later, with the last. Against all the evidence to the contrary that American fiction has given us over the past quarter-century, The Known World affirms that the novel does matter, that it can still speak to us as nothing else can.' Houston Chronicle'An exemplar of historical fiction that will subdue your preconceptions, enrich your perceptions and trouble your sleep.' Newsday'A multifaceted exploration of the culture of slavery ... A major achievement.' Time Out New York'There is grief and fear, genuine affection and envy in this complex and fine novel.' Philadelphia Inquirer

The author of National Book Award nominee Lost in the City, Jones ventures into fiction with this story of antebellum Virginia, where freed slave Henry Townsend has a plantation-and slaves of his own. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

EAN: 9780007195305
ISBN: 0007195303
Publisher: HarperPerennial
Dimensions: 19.8 x 12.9 x 2.6 centimetres (0.28 kg)
Age Range: 15+ years
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1 review(s)
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Nina on
 
Henry Townsend is a freed black man who is mentored by an influential white man. He is also the owner of land and black slaves. At his death, Caldonia, his wife, becomes the owner of all that belonged to Henry. Caldonia and her closest friends and relatives must deal with the problems of living in a white community and owning slaves.

The book has an interesting concept. At times the story can be a little slow to progress. There are also a lot of characters in the book and it can be difficult to keep track. A good read but patience is required.

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