The known world

Edward P. Jones

Book - 2003

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FICTION/Jones, Edward P.
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Subjects
Published
New York : Amistad 2003.
Edition
1st ed
Language
English
Physical Description
388 p.
ISBN
9780061159176
9780060557546
0060557559
0060557540
Main Author
Edward P. Jones (-)
Review by Booklist Reviews

/*Starred Review*/ Henry Townsend, born a slave, is purchased and freed by his father, yet he remains attached to his former owner, even taking lessons in slave owning when he eventually buys his own slaves. Townsend is part of a small enclave of free blacks who own slaves, thus offering another angle on the complexities of slavery and social relations in a Virginia town just before the Civil War. His widow, Caldonia, grief-stricken and more conflicted about slavery than Henry was, fails to maintain the social order. Also caught in the miasma of slavery is Sheriff John Skiffington, an honorable man who, when presented with a slave as a marriage gift, spends the remainder of his marriage, along with his wife, dithering about how to deal with the girl and ends up treating her like a daughter. These are only a few of the deftly portrayed characters in this elegantly written novel that explores the interweaving of sex, race, and class. Jones moves back and forth in time, making the reader omniscient, knowing what will eventually befall the characters despite their best and worst efforts, their aspirations and their moral failings. This is a profoundly beautiful and insightful look at American slavery and human nature. ((Reviewed September 15, 2003)) Copyright 2003 Booklist Reviews

Review by Library Journal Reviews

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.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

This ambitious first novel by National Book Award nominee Jones (Lost in the City: Stories) looks at slavery from an unusual angle. Henry Townsend is a former slave who was purchased and freed by his own father. Through hard work, he has acquired 50 acres of farmland in Virginia. Given the slave-based agricultural economy, Townsend believes that the logical (and legal) way to work the land is with slaves, and, eventually, he owns more than 30. Although he is less brutal than his neighbors, most of his slaves dream of escaping north. When they try, Townsend must pay the white patrollers to return them or be seen as irresponsible. But as rumors of bloody slave rebellions spread through the South, unscrupulous bounty hunters begin to round up free blacks, Native Americans, and white orphans along with the escapees. By focusing on an African American slaveholder, Jones forcefully demonstrates how institutionalized slavery jeopardized all levels of civilized society so that no one was really free. A fascinating look at a painful theme, this book is an ideal choice for book clubs. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/03.]-Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch. Lib., Los Angeles Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publishers Weekly 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.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

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.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

From National Book Award-nominated author Edward P. Jones comes a debut novel of stunning emotional depth and unequaled literary power Henry Townsend, a farmer, boot maker, and former slave, through the surprising twists and unforeseen turns of life in antebellum Virginia, becomes proprietor of his own plantation—as well 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 under 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 rumors of slave rebellions set white families against slaves who have served them for years. An ambitious, courageous, luminously written masterwork, The Known World seamlessly weaves the lives of the freed and the enslaved—and allows all of us a deeper understanding of the enduring multidimensional world created by the institution of slavery. The Known World not only marks the return of an extraordinarily gifted writer, it heralds the publication of a remarkable contribution to the canon of American classic literature.