The Known World

ISBN: 096513671X
ISBN 13: 9780965136716
By: Edward P. Jones

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About this book

One of the most acclaimed novels in recent memory, The Known World is a daring and ambitious work by Pulitzer Prize winner Edward P. Jones.The Known World tells the story of Henry Townsend, a black farmer and former slave who falls under the tutelage of William Robbins, the most powerful man in Manchester County, Virginia. Making certain he never circumvents the law, Townsend runs his affairs with unusual discipline. But when death takes him unexpectedly, his widow, Caldonia, can't uphold the estate's order, and chaos ensues. Jones has woven a footnote of history into an epic that takes an unflinching look at slavery in all its moral complexities.

Reader's Thoughts

Chris McClinch

This is a book I wouldn't have gotten past page 50 of had I not been reading it for a book club. While the author clearly did his research and posed a fascinating premise--free blacks owning slaves in 1840s Virginia--there wasn't much of a story or a key character or set of characters for you to hang your hat on. As such, I found the book to be much more of a slog than I would have expected with such a fascinating premise. This is one of those books where I want to take the author--who is clearly talented--aside and remind him that the novel is primarily a storytelling medium, and that if you're not telling a story, you're breaking your basic contract with the reader.

Kelly

The Known World might be a little dry for those less experianced with the so called "droning" novels, but for those of us who like to really suck on the marrow of a tome, this one is to keep close to the heart. At first I wondered why it had been given the Pulitzer Prize. The first few parts of the book were rather dry and lacking in salt and sustenance to me. But the farther I got in, the harder it was to get out. I moved with the characters, and somehow, they moved in me. A well thought out work, one to read to an attentive child that wishes to learn more about the hardships in this world.

Heather

I felt that this book was important to read because it deals with a piece of American history that, like Europe's Holocaust, can never be comprehended, but should never be forgotten, either. The story is told from the less common third person omniscient point of view, which made it read more like a history book than a novel in some parts. It's hard to say which, if any, of the characters was the protagonist. This book sets itself apart from other books set in the antebellum South because the slave-owning family at the center of the tale are themselves Black. In an interview at the end of the book, the author says that he got the idea from reading a pamphlet about a Jew who joined the American Nazi party. He said it was hard to envision a member of a group that had such a strong history of oppression actually joining with the oppressors. He was further fascinated to discover that some members of his race had owned slaves and helped to oppress other Blacks in the South. There were definitely some parts of the book that were extremely uncomfortable to read about. The message was not a pretty one, and you could tell that, unlike the fairy-tale characters in Uncle Tom's Cabin, most of Jones's characters were unlikely to see a happy ending in their lifetimes. But there were redeeming stories, and occasional glimpses into a positive future, if not for the characters themselves, for their posterity. Though not an easy read by any means, I highly recommend it to those who take an interest in this particular historical period.

BC

** spoiler alert ** Addressing the novel “The Known World,” by Edward Jones, is tough. As a writer and voracious reader, while working my way through the story I found the structure of the novel quite unconventional and unsuccessful—and at times quite irritating—as a means of communicating what might otherwise have been a powerful story with which a reader could in some way connect. And yet when I put down the completed book, I felt I had experienced a compelling tale.In less than 400 pages Jones attempted to tell the story of almost 50 characters; many author’s have trouble successfully spotlighting three or four characters. Jones had on average less than four pages of text to dedicate to each character: any more on any one, and the rest would suffer. (Jones must have understood this to some extent, as he added at the end of the novel a list of characters, including a brief description of each, to assist his readers.) So there already was a multitude of characters, and not much room to say a whole lot about any one of them. Then, it seems Jones took every person’s story, cut each into tiny pieces, mixed them up in a big box, then randomly pulled out fragments and added them to the novel, giving the reader a very disjointed storyline/timeline to follow. Trying to understand who was where, when and how, only detracted from the overall effect the story could have had on me as I read it—the very act of reading it became laborious.Adding to this was Jones’s insistence on inserting so-called present day (for the reader) references. These additions ruined any sense of connection I might have felt existed between the narrator and the story, since it made it apparent that the narrator was here and now (2009, or whenever any reader might open the book) and not even remotely a part of the story or even the setting or era. These snippets only served to detract from the intimacy of the narrator with the story.Hurting the story even further was Jones choice of third person omniscient point of view (POV). With no consistent POV, it was very hard for me to connect or identify with any one character through the entire text. While reading the story, I continued to be disappointed and even irritated at Jones’s method of presentation, right up to the last page.Yet after completion, while still dissatisfied with the final product (I really wanted to KNOW many of the characters, and Jones left me wanting so much more), I found myself contemplating the many characters and plotlines, and realized that while the reading itself was not ‘fun,’ there was still something there.“The Known World” was an intricate story through which Jones created a completely imaginary world. (Jones has stated in several subsequent interviews that he conducted absolutely no research, and that the entire story and every single character, other than actual historical figures, was “crafted in his head.”) And his characters were very consistent. The novel’s title was well chosen: each character acted within the confines of that individual’s known world; very few thought and acted beyond themselves. And yet, all those worlds continually collided—each character in some way was related to, interacted with, or somehow influenced one or more of the others. Jones creation of so many people, and their sometimes tenuous and at other times quite personal ties, was brilliant. Any attempt to plot the relationships and interactions would produce one huge and complex spider web.While completely made up, the plotlines and characters are very believable, based upon what we know of the era, and even upsetting to some, and it all felt very real when I was “in the moment.” While today we know the evils and effects of slavery, Jones was able to present so many characters set perfectly in a time when slavery was both legal and accepted by so many people. Regardless of how any reader may personally feel now, at one time not everyone felt that way. There are many acts that currently are known to be appalling or just outright evil, but at one time were accepted as normal. Thankfully, perspectives change, and we have grown, building upon the knowledge and sentiments of our ancestors. Jones fiction is about such possible forebears, and how some accepted, some rebelled, some pretended and some ran away. Jones instigates numerous emotions through his characters: incredulousness, outrage, sympathy, fear and sadness, to name but a few.In all, the novel grew on me as I was able to let the myriad of fragments come together in my mind well after closing the book. I do believe that the impact might have been greater—and more immediate—if Jones had chosen a more conventional method of storytelling, and limited the number of characters so that each could be more thoroughly developed.

Tom Mockensturm

This is the best book I have read all summer. This story contains the interwoven stories of the people connected to a black farmer and former slave and the chaos and strategy that occurs after his death. I have not read a book this powerful and enlightening about the effects of slavery on all those involved since "Beloved". Pay attention to the character Moses and how he has changed by the end of the story. Jones used this character to symbolize "what slavery had done".

Anne Sanow

I'm going to have to rave a bit, because this is one of the best books I've read in the past ten years.Jones packs in all the historical detail you could want, and of course he's hit on a subject--black slaveowners--that in and of itself is tabloid-sensational. Where lesser writers might lean too hard on the sensational aspect (or rely on it to bolster an otherwise weak narrative), Jones works it into a compelling and powerful story.What makes it so powerful is a mix of fascinating characters who are woven into a series of overlapping plotlines. For me it's the structuring that is so brilliant (geek alert: I actually diagrammed the time shifts in the chapters as an exercise, to see when and how Jones yoked the whole thing together). This less than linear approach might be frustrating to those who just want things to be straightforward, but stick with it: the shifts provide suspense as well as texture, and they propel more than one storyline at once. They do all come together, trust me.I also admire the overarching authorial voice in the novel, which certainly leans toward the formal, but also comes across as aware of the history it's grappling with: here and there Jones projects his voice forward for a moment, or seemingly digresses with factual material and research. Again it's all part of the tapestry and the mix, and I also think that the level of narrative awareness (which never disengages long enough to derail anything) adds another layer to the very idea of history--making the whole historical and contemporary both.And for those of you who can do without all of the above writerly blather (a thousand pardons), you'll find in this book characters who are engaging, ignorant, cruel, earnest, sympathetic, tragic, hopeful, flawed--in short, complicated. Halfway through you'll be fighting off the impulse to skip ahead to learn everyone's fate.Finally, I'll say that this book isn't perfect--there are aspects of what I've described above that sometimes don't work: narrative turns that do seem pointless digressions, a character or two a bit stereotypical or annoying. No matter. This book aims high, as brilliant works of art do, and the result is nothing short of amazing.

Qiana

Whether we call this a neo-slave narrative, historical novel, or historiographic metafiction, Edwards's novel is rich and expansive storytelling. It gives me great hope to see how imaginative an author can be in representing the wrenching legacy of slavery and American life. We need more of this kind of innovation in black writing today! I love teaching this novel, too.

Davita Westbrook

Exquisite prose. Fascinating, unique characters. And a unique storytelling style that deftly dances from past, to present to future and back again without losing the reader or sacrificing suspense. An exceptionally well written tale. From a writing perspective, a daunting achievement that may well have me set my pen down for a minute and contemplate my life goal.

Lamia

رواية العالم المعروف تبحر بك في القرن السابع عشر في ولاية فرجينا الإمريكية وما يجاورها من مدن في زمن العبودية والتاريخ الأسود الذي رافق تلك الفترة قبل الحرب الأهلية الإمريكية .لا الرغم من عدم شهرة الرواية إلا إنها حققت ربحا في المبيعات على الرغم من بعدها عن الإثارة وفوز كاتبها "بوليترز" وكذلك تم تصنيفها على إنها رواية تاريخية حيث أمضى الكاتب 10 سنوات في كتابة مادة الرواية وهي واقعية لدرجة كبيرة وتميل للإنسانية ولا ريب في ذلك إذا علمنا بإن جونز هو الابن الوحيد لعامل مطبخ وخادمة في فندق وعملت أمه في شتى الأعمال من أجل إبنها واختفاء والده في صغره. بالرغم من أن امه لا تعرف القراءة أو الكتابة إلا إنها غرست في ابنها حب العلم. وسلوك إبنها في مجال الأدب بشكل عام وانضم في 2010 إلى الهيئة التدريسية في قسم اللغة الإنكليزية للكتابة الإبداعية في جامعة جورج واشنطون الغنية عن التعريف.تبدأ الرواية بمقولة أدوارد بي. جزنز " طالما تساءلت روحي كيف تجاوزت كل شيء"في الصفحات الأولى من الرواية يذكر إحصاءات مانشستر والتي هي أوسع مقاطعة في جينيا لعام 1840 حُر:2191عبد حُر:142هندي أحمر: 136عبد:2191كثرة العبيد لأنهم كانوا إما خدما أو مزاعين في الحقول . الرواية بشكل عام تتطرق إلى السود الأحرار الذين يملكون عبيدًا وكيف قام أغسطس تاونسند بشراء حريته وبعدها عمل بجد من أجل شراء حرية كل من زوجتة وولده الذي إختطف ليعمل ويكون عبدا وفيما بعد يكون هو العبد الحر ( هنري ) الذي يشتري أرضا من سيده السابق ويصلحها وتكون هي الأرض التي نشاهد فيها أغلب المشاهد والأحداث. الشخصيات التي حاول الكاتب وصفها وطريقة معيشتها وطرق التعذيب والعقوبة التي مروا بها والتي تكون أقرب للوحشية والحراسة الليلية التي إستحدثت في عهد المأمور الجديد (جون سكفينغتن) مع مجموعة من الرجال، الذي يلاقي مصرعه على يد ابن عمه في مشهد دموي. والدين الذي يدينون به الذي يتعمد فيه الكهنة على البساطة بعيدا عن العمق. وهذه أحد المشاهد الفضيعة حيث هرب ( إلياس) وعندما وجدوه قطعت أذنه من قبل أحد رجال الدورية الليلية (الهندي الأحمر- أودن) الذي سيصبح فيما بعد مراقب العمال بعد أن يهرب (موسى) الذي كان مراقبا للعمال وساعد عائلته وأليس التي إدعت الجنون على الهرب.يذكر جونز الكندي ( اندرسن فريزر) الذي أجرى حوار بـ(فيرن) المعلمة التي درست السود الأحرار وكانت المادة التب كتب عنها عن "عجائب وغرائب الجنوبيين ، اقتصاد القطن، وحققت نجحا فيما بعد والتي كانت أقرب للسلسلة. تتسارع الأحداث فيما بعد إلى أن نصل الفصل الأخير رسالة الأخ (كالفن) إلى أخته (كالدونيا) والتي يذكر فيها ما الذي حدث له شخصيا في 12 أبريل 1861 وهو نفس اليوم الذي حدثت فيه الحرب الأهلية الإمريكية ولا يذكر فيها أحداث الحرب إنما أمور شخصية وحياته.فيلم وثائقي عن تاريخ العبودية في أمريكاhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDukq...

Sonia

Very complex themes and characters. Historical fiction set in virginia, era 1800's. The tale of former slaves being slave owners. Learned some facts, very fascinating. Draw back: hard to remenber all the characters and how they are inter-relate.

Jason

Manchester County, Virginia doesn't exist. Never has. After reading The Known World, however, you'd be forgiven if you thought you could take a tour of it's plantations and slave cemetaries on your vacation to colonial Williamsburg. The complicated pre-civil war Southern society that Edward P. Jones creates feels as real and surreal as any factual history of slavery you've read. It was not so much the story of Henry Townsend, a black slave owner, and all the people that his death allows us to meet that engaged me. It was the world, a world where I could taste the soil I might till and the women I might marry and the terrible choices I might be faced with, that put it's claws in me and refused to let go.It took me nearly 2 months to finish the book's 388 pages. It should've been a quick read. It is a fascinating place with peculiar problems and characters I cried for on more than one occasion. It should've been a quick read but I kept asking myself this question: who would I have been? The slave, toiling away in the field? The overseer, unable to see the world for what it truly was? The freed man, working desperately to free the rest of his family? The smart child, taken under the wing of the rich white slave owner and convinced that there was nothing wrong with owning another human being? The broken black man tortured by his family's wealth built on the backs of men and women that look just like me? The slave too proud, too strong, too powerful to let another take his freedom? Who would I have been?Who am I now?In matters of race, there is always that fool's point, usually made by a white person (though not always) that asks,"why aren't you over it, already? Can't we just let it go?" It is a way to end an uncomfortable conversation. The reasons don't matter. I know many a person for which the sticky tar baby of race in America is simply a discussion they can't stick their hands in. It is too difficult. Too raw. Too cloudy to be sure that people will remain friends after an honest chat. The way I feel when I read books like The Known World is my answer. No matter how well-adjusted, how integrated, how loving of my fellow man, how multiculti kumbayah I am, I'm not over it. I can't let it go.This fictional world was very real not all that long ago. It's effects still ripple through our every day. The world I know doesn't exist without it.Highly highly recommended.

Shannon

I still cannot fathom why this book won awards. I wil grant that it is built around an interesting premise but for me there were just too many flaws. There are a lot of characters that are hard to keep track and not one did I care about and want to know what happened and in fact could not toil my way to the end of the book. When asked at my bookclub if I wanted to know what happened to various characters I actually found that I still didn't care and couldn't even remember them (and I had gone over 3/4 of the way through the book). The writing was choppy with differeng POVs that change too frequently. The lengthy recitations of family trees, population statistics and other historical fodder further interrupt the flow and did not add anything to the narrative and took me out of the story to think about the author and why he felt he needed to cram that in. Perhaps to show off his research?I think there are much better books out there that deal with American slavery.There was the odd pearl of a sentence that was well written and poignant but for me there was too much work to be done to harvest the pearls.

Gwendolyn

This was a great book, very well written and an interesting read. Tackling the complex morale issues surrounding slavery from a new perspective, this book delves into the territory of black owners of slaves. Without preaching, the author successfully navigates barbaric treatments and offers a view into the mental justifications and rationalizations. Characters of great strength, courage and resilience are interspersed on both sides of the issue, as are truly terrible individuals.The author continuously introduces new, inter-related characters which means he constantly has to remind us of who someone is. While a bit extraneous, it didn't detract from the book. This isn't a traditional "story book" where you follow someone's life. The author jumps around from past, present and future glimpses to facilitate quick character development. The downside to this was there weren't "cliff hangers" at the end of chapters that kept me reading non-stop. I recommend this highly as a quality book. It definitely makes you think about how the human psyche can be manipulated, and how laws of the land and society can be used to justify behaviors.

karen

there is that old adage that a good book will tell you how to read it. and i have no idea to whom that should be attributed, only that my undergrad professors seemed to have been born to quote that thought endlessly: in my gothic lit class, my enlightenment class, my victorian lit class... the african and irish lit professors mostly kept their mouths shut on the subject. but the rest - hoo boy - did they love to drag that old chestnut out... and it makes sense, to a certain degree. but this book doesn't tell you how to read it so much as it presents itself to the reader, like a fat man in a speedo lolling around on an undersized towel saying, "look at me ladies, you like it?? this is what you get!!" it almost demands that you read it and like it.but i was disobedient.every sentence, every paragraph, seemed to be trying to contain multitudes. and i am a fan of "thick" writing, but the manner in which this book presented itself quickly soured on me. there were too many stories or episodes ending with, "years from now, when celia was on her deathbed, she would think back to her third year of marriage",in a scene where she has yet to even be married, or right after two characters are introduced to each other, "this would be the last time they would meet until the hailstorm of aught-six" - and i am making up all the names and situations here, but you get an idea of the shape of my complaints. it's constant foreshadowing and some of the foreshadowing is just teasing, as the events never come to pass in the novel itself. it's like sitting down to tea with a god in his dotage, rambling and making connections only he can understand; seeing the past and future simultaneously."hey, karen, didn't you really like that kjaerstaad trilogy, where he basically did what you are complaining about here??"yeah, what? so? shut up - isn't it past your bedtime??yeah, but sure, that's true. but for some reason, it bothered me here. all i wanted was a straightforward linear narrative about a fascinating subject matter: free black men and women who owned slaves. when i read roll of thunder, hear my cry last summer, the whole transition period between slavery and freedom really excited my brainparts. i dunno. and mister jones was a real sweetheart when he came for the new yorker festival and i waited in line to get a book signed for a friend and i really wanted to like it because it seems like a nice fat sprawling sweeping story the way i like, but i just got lost in the names and the timeline and my confusion turned into apathy. it's like this guy you date who seems really perfect - he is smart and looks like gabriel byrne and he dotes on you and everything is fun and on paper it all looks great and you know you should really like him, but he just doesn't make you laugh so you run off and leave him for a rockstar. you know? because i feel like i should like this one because it is award-winning, and my experience with the african-american novel is middling (although i love the african novel, the west indian novel and the afro-canadian novel - go figure) so i feel like as someone who appreciates literature in general, i should totally love this. but it wasn't there for me.oh, chris wilson, i am sorry. now you are going to want full custody because your baby is being raised among heathens. years from now, when my and chris wilson's book-baby became the mayor of littleton, he would read this review and a tear of sorrow would come to his eye at my short-sightedness.

Jennifer Uhlich

It is difficult to write about this book without falling into the cliched language of the glowing book review: lyrical, profound, extraordinary. It is all of these things. It is one of the most delicate, lovely prose voices I have read in many a year.It is the only novel I have ever read that brought home to me the institution of slavery. Previous novels I've read all focused on one person's experience, or one family's experience; they put you cringing and weeping into those shoes and made you walk. They were powerful stories but also singular ones, and that tight focus can lull you into the delusion that slavery was an isolated thing, a monstrous but finite period in history that produced specific acts of cruelty. Instead, this novel presents you with the vast panorama of institutionalized human bondage. It shows without comment all the complexities and degrees of bureaucratic cruelty; the nest of knotted, suspect laws that must exist in order to justify one man's possession of another within a Constitution that begins "We the people"; the ways decency and compassion must squeeze through the bars of a poisonous framework just so people can get through their days; a society based on human property, an economy based on human property, a governing structure based on human property; a world where it is natural for one person to own their blood relations, where you can know to the dollar the market worth of your lover, and where freedom is a fragile piece of paper with nothing behind it.At the same time, it is a story; it is, in fact, many stories woven together, and never has the adage about every character being the hero of their own story seemed so poignant. As for the ending? No spoilers, save that in a sense it does not end, because none of this has ended. But it was not what I expected, and it was utterly right.As a writer, I was humbled by this book. As a human being, I am grateful for it.

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