Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Known World

The Known World by Edward P. Jones was originally published in 2003. My hardcover copy has 388 pages. The first thing I noticed about The Known World was the beautiful, expressive writing. As I continued reading I realized that The Know World is character driven, so the reader has to take the time and care to keep track of all the characters Jones introduces, and the cast of characters is quite large. You also need to know that the chronology is not linear. Edward P Jones is telling us the history of a county and its people during a specific time period and he's presenting this information like a story teller would, with some past history along with some information from the future. In the end, all the lives of the people in Manchester County, Virginia are entangled and their decisions and lives are profoundly affected by slavery. The Known World is heartbreakingly beautiful.
Edward P. Jones won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, 2003 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and was a finalist for the 2003 National Book Award for Fiction for The Known World.
Very Highly Recommended

Synopsis from the publisher:
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.

"The evening his master died he worked again well after he ended the day for the other adults, his own wife among them, and sent them back with hunger and tiredness to their cabins. The young ones, his son among them, had been sent out of the fields an hour or so before the adults, to prepare the late supper and, if there was time enough, to play in the few minutes of sun that were left. When he, Moses, finally freed himself of the ancient and brittle harness that connected him to the oldest mule his master owned, all that was left of the sun was a five-inch-long memory of red orange laid out in still waves across the horizon between two mountains on the left and one on the right." opening, pg. 1

"This was July, and July dirt tasted even more like sweetened metal than the dirt of June or May. Something in the growing crops unleashed a metallic life that only began to dissipate in mid-August, and by harvest time that life would be gone altogether, replaced by a sour moldiness he associated with the coming of fall and winter, the end of a relationship he had begun with the first taste of dirt back in March, before the first hard spring rain." pg. 2

Moses walked out of the forest and into still more darkness toward the quarters, needing no moon to light his way. He was thirty-five years old and for every moment of those years he had been someone's slave, a white man's slave and then another white man's slave and now, for nearly ten years, the overseer slave for a black master." pg. 4

"Henry Townsend - a black man of thirty-one years with thirty-three slaves and more than fifty acres of land that sat him high above many others, white and black, in Manchester County, Virginia - sat up in bed for most of his dying days, eating a watery porridge and looking out his window at land his wife, Caldonia, kept telling him he would walk and ride over again." pg. 5

"He tried always to live humbly and obediently in the shadow of God, but he was afraid that at twenty-six years old he was falling short. He yearned for earthy things, to begin with, and he rendered far more unto Caesar than he knew God would have liked. I am imperfect, he said to God each morning he rose from hid bed. I am imperfect, but I am still clay in your hands, ever walking the way you want me to. Mold me and help me to be perfect in your eyes, O Lord." pg. 29

"The child now took more steps, passing her own room, and came to a partly opened door. She could see John Skiffington's father on his knees praying in a corner of his room. Fully dressed with his hat on, the old man, who would find another wife in Philadelphia, had been on his knees for nearly two hours: God gave so much and yet asked for so little in return." pg. 36

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