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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 wh I know this is a critically acclaimed book a Pulitzer winner and a book tackling a difficult and complex stain on America history slavery and black slave owners There are moments when the book does say some interesting things or reveal some unsavory and uncomfortable truths but it was so hard to engage with as a reader I mean I hung in with DFW through the first 600 pages of Infinite Jest where nothing happens but because I was fascinated by Hal Orin Marathe Steeply and Mario and Madame Psychosis who all fascinated me There were literally dozens of other characters but these all pulled me in In The Known World there are also dozens of characters but none that I grew any attachment too It was as if the author Jones was using a hand held camera and no stabilizer so that the images were jumpy and out of focus It reminded me sometimes of how the world seems to my myopic eyes between taking off my glasses in the morning and putting in my contact lenses The narration also highly annoyed me All the parenthetical in 60 years so and so will do such as such were meaningless because I was given neither enough time nor enough detail to give a shit Further there is this reference to years later they would all turn into human torches in front of the dry foods store but no mention afterwards of to what this referred But the most annoying bit was in using the Canadian journalist frame at about page 130 or so which then only briefly appears in the narrative 200 pages later in a parenthetical throwaway comment it is said that the journalist would never marry his heart s desire yet 3 pages later they marry and that coming to talk to Fern that there was some incomprehensible stuff that happens off screen that morning also never adeuately explained and so she was not going to open up to the journalist and yet we still find her filling in details about Henry Moses and Caledonia 30 pages later Too much inconsistency was the editor asleep or stoned and missed theseSo despite taking on a complex subject Jones is no Faulkner as his South does not eve approach that of the Great William He is not as good as Pynchon or DFW is manipulating time and space in a narrative that was 100 or 150 pages too long and felt it and he is not Alice Walker or Toni Morrison who brought us the most amazing poignant and powerful images of slavery and its residual impacts generations later that I have ever read So read Beloved or Absalom Absalom if you want to hear about the South and I expect you will be less frustrated but every bit enraged at this deplorable institution that is a cancer on the American past

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The Known World

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 A very complex and beautiful compelling book about Henry a former slave who becomes a slave owner his wife Caldonia But they re just the start the book is really a series of stories vignettes about the families friends neighbors community surrounding Henry Caldonia It took me a really long time to get into the book because there are so many characters some important some not the book jumps around in time making it difficult to follow Trust me use the cast of characters at the end of this edition why not place this at the beginning give up your expectations about traditional narrative format you ll LOVE this book as much as I did In life we have our own story kind of playing in our head at the same time we have all these other stories we re hearing the story about your mother s great uncle The story about your brother in law s neighbor The one about your sister s husband s aunt her neighbor the one about your coworker s mother You know all those stories That s what this book is like some characters are important than others so you hear of their stories but minor characters have stories too they sort of appear out of nowhere you get to hear their story then they re gone It s really very cool I particularly loved the story of the womanizing slave who has a vision during a lightning stormtornado becomes the founder of an orphanage And the little tiny story about the family who don t want to give up their cow the woman goes into the barn to milk the cow there s this lovely description of her suirting the cow s milk into a cat s mouth if you ve ever seen a cat eat with true contentment you will recognize the cat body language that Jones describes Toward the end of the book there s a very powerful scene where a character who isn t a particularly good character says there should be a lantern or light of truth in the world an actual place where people can stand tell the truth without fear of retribution where one might be able to right a wrong It s a moment where you think yes this guy could right the wrong by speaking out because his fear of having people think he s on the negro s side iswell wrong But that s his fear in that moment of the book you understand it you think yeah what if he could speak out under that light of truth not have anyone judge him How wonderful would that be While the book depicts the horrors of slavery there are a few characters who are outright despicable there are many shades of gray in Jones vision as well It s a book that will make you think about slavery the myths realities tragedies of it all on top of that it ll make you think about your own life all the people you ve known how complex interesting we all are really It s beautifully written the characters will stick in your head as if you d known them too Oddly I think what I initially disliked most about this book its multitude of characters convoluted timeline is what I ended up really enjoying Another example of a book that made my head expand with some creakiness but I m glad the expansion can still happen

Edward P. Jones ✓ 8 characters

O falls under the The Known eBook #204 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 I m going to have to rave a bit because this is one of the best books I ve read in the past ten yearsJones 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 storyWhat 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 than one storyline at once They do all come together trust meI 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 bothAnd 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 fateFinally 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


10 thoughts on “The Known World

  1. says:

    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 uote that thought endlessly in my gothic lit class my enlightenment class my victorian lit class the african and irish lit professors mostly kept

  2. says:

    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 sla

  3. says:

    I know this is a critically acclaimed book a Pulitzer winner and a book tackling a difficult and complex stain on America history slavery and black slave owners There are moments when the book does say some interesting things or reveal some unsavory and uncomfortable truths but it was so hard to engage with as a reader I mean I hung in with

  4. says:

    This is a complex novel with dense writing a non linear structure and an abundance of characters It reads much like a true historical account of a place Manchester County Virginia and time pre Civil War 1800s This could very nearly have passed for a non fiction book; each character feels so real their personal stories and

  5. says:

    Dear The Known WorldI'll be blunt I'm breaking things off This just isn't working It's not you; it's me Well maybe it's you too a bitI really thought when we got together that we would have a brief but mutually satisfying relationship I'd re

  6. says:

    I'm going to have to rave a bit because this is one of the best books I've read in the past ten yearsJones packs in all the historical detail yo

  7. says:

    In this book I learned that there used to be black slaveholders in the US I thought that only white people were allowed to own slaves during the time that owning slaves were like owning properties During that pre Abolition time Durin

  8. says:

    A very complex and beautiful compelling book about Henry a former slave who becomes a slave owner his wife Caldonia But they're just the start the book is really a series of stories vignettes about the families friends nei

  9. says:

    This book demands that you read it slowly and intently Like eating a huge Thanksgiving dinner you need to pause a

  10. says:

    Basically a book about slavery in the South I enjoy those kind of thing especially The Secret Lives of Bees but with this one it felt like the book had no point While I was reading I kept on going what did I just read Am I really readingunderstanding this book and kept on referring to the back cover of the book No The stor

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