The prophets A novel

Robert Jones, 1977-

Book - 2021

"A singular and stunning debut novel about the forbidden union between two enslaved young men on a Deep South plantation, the refuge they find in each other, and a betrayal that threatens their existence"--

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Love stories
Romance fiction
New York : G. P. Putnam's Sons [2021]
Physical Description
pages cm
Main Author
Robert Jones, 1977- (author)
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* The most horrific tales often inspire the most exquisite language. How else to explain The Prophets, a first novel of slavery's brutality, racism, misogyny, and homophobia recounted in prose of limpid beauty? On a Southern plantation eerily named Empty, Sam and Isaiah grow up as friends, then lovers under the watchful and protective eyes of their community. However, when fellow slave Amos decides to ingratiate himself with the plantation owner by becoming a preacher, he slowly yet methodically cultivates suspicion and division, with tragic results. Jones conveys powerful truths with well-chosen words in spare prose. After a night of love-making, Isaiah and Sam Reluctantly . . . swept the evidence of their bliss back into a neat pile, nearer to where their misery was already neatly stacked; the poison of Amos' accusations against the boys jumped from one face to the next, like lanterns. The horrendous hierarchy of oppression is made clear, such as when Puah, a young woman sexually abused by slave and slaver alike, wryly notes that Men and toubab [whites] shared far more than either would ever admit . . . They both took what they wanted; asking was never a courtesy. Both smiled first, but pain always followed. A masterfully told story that will haunt readers from beginning to end. Copyright 2020 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Life can be grim at the Southern plantation the enslaved there have dubbed Empty, but at least Isaiah and Samuel, who tend the animals, have each other. Their loving relationship is quietly accepted by their community until the desire to curry favor with white folks in the Big House sets one old man to preaching the gospel. With flashbacks to Africa before the slave traders arrived; a buzzing debut. [See "Summer/Fall Bests," p. 25; LJ review, p. 60.] Copyright 2020 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Reviewed by Edmund WhiteThis is a first novel, but I hope it took years and years to write since it is so powerful and beautiful. It is an antebellum story of a flourishing Mississippi plantation some people refer to as "Nothing" and others call "Elizabeth," the name of the owner's mother. This is a love story of two gay enslaved men, Isaiah and Samuel (not their original African names), who've been assigned to look after the horses and who work together in perfect harmony in the barn.With astonishingly real details, Jones creates a convincing picture of slave life, everything from transportation in ships (where those captives who had died from hunger or wounds or disease were just thrown overboard) to the arrival, in this case, at a vast cotton plantation, where they are branded, forced with whipping to work harder and faster, insulted, mocked and, if they're female, raped.Jones's women are all sharply delineated, starting with the "king" of a tribe in Africa, a woman-warrior who lives with her several wives. The main women on the plantation—Be Auntie, Sarah, Puah, Essie—have their own clearly delineated identities and complex psychologies. What is unprecedented in this novel is its presentation of the two gay male slaves, each endowed with his own personality, which never merges with a stereotype.In fact, Jones's compassionate understanding extends even to the whites (who are referred to as toubab, a Central African locution): "When they approached, she had figured out something that had been like a splinter in her foot: the easy thing to believe was that toubab were monsters, their crimes exceptional. Harder, however, and even more frightening, was the truth: there was no such thing as monsters. Every travesty that had ever been committed had been committed by plain people and every person had it in them." Which is not to say Jones lets his slave owners off easily. They were hypocritical Christians, sadists who raped their chattel, who worked their slaves until they could do no more and called them "lazy": "They stepped on people's throats with all their might and asked why the people couldn't breathe." Whites kidnapped black children and then called slave parents "incapable of love."The lyricism of The Prophets will recall the prose of James Baldwin. The strong cadences are equal to those in Faulkner's Light in August. Sometimes the utterances in the short interpolated chapters seem as orphic as those in Thus Spake Zarathustra. If my comparisons seem excessive, they are rivaled only by Jones's own pages and pages of acknowledgments. It seems it takes a village to make a masterpiece.Edmund White's most recent novel is A Saint from Texas. Copyright 2020 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

"A singular and stunning debut novel about the forbidden union between two enslaved young men on a Deep South plantation, the refuge they find in each other, and a betrayal that threatens their existence"--

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Two enslaved young men on a Deep South plantation find refuge in each other while transforming a quiet shed into a haven for their fellow slaves, before an enslaved preacher declares their bond sinful. A first novel.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

Best Book of the YearNPR • The Washington Post • Boston Globe • TIME • USA Today • Entertainment Weekly • Real Simple • Parade • Buzzfeed • Electric Literature • LitHub • BookRiot • PopSugar • Goop • Library Journal • BookBub • KCRW • Finalist for the National Book Award• One of the New York Times Notable Books of the Year• One of the New York Times Best Historical Fiction of the Year• Instant New York Times Bestseller A singular and stunning debut novel about the forbidden union between two enslaved young men on a Deep South plantation, the refuge they find in each other, and a betrayal that threatens their existence. Isaiah was Samuel's and Samuel was Isaiah's. That was the way it was since the beginning, and the way it was to be until the end. In the barn they tended to the animals, but also to each other, transforming the hollowed-out shed into a place of human refuge, a source of intimacy and hope in a world ruled by vicious masters. But when an older man—a fellow slave—seeks to gain favor by preaching the master's gospel on the plantation, the enslaved begin to turn on their own. Isaiah and Samuel's love, which was once so simple, is seen as sinful and a clear danger to the plantation's harmony. With a lyricism reminiscent of Toni Morrison, Robert Jones, Jr., fiercely summons the voices of slaver and enslaved alike, from Isaiah and Samuel to the calculating slave master to the long line of women that surround them, women who have carried the soul of the plantation on their shoulders. As tensions build and the weight of centuries—of ancestors and future generations to come—culminates in a climactic reckoning, The Prophets fearlessly reveals the pain and suffering of inheritance, but is also shot through with hope, beauty, and truth, portraying the enormous, heroic power of love.