Pulitzer Prize, Fiction, 2004
National Book Critics Circle Award, Fiction, 2004
Henry Townsend, a black farmer, bootmaker, and former slave, has a fondness for Paradise Lost and an unusual mentor, William Robbins, perhaps the most powerful white man in antebellum Virginia's Manchester County. Under Robbins's tutelage, Henry becomes proprietor of his own plantation, as well as of his own slaves. When he dies, his widow Caldonia succumbs to profound grief; and things begin to fall apart: slaves take to escaping under the cover of night, and families who had once found love beneath the weight of slavery begin to betray one another. Beyond the Townsend estate, the known world also unravels: low-paid white patrollers stand watch as slave "speculators" sell free black people into slavery; and rumor of slave rebellions set white families against slaves who have served them for years.
An ambitious, luminously written novel that ranges seamlessly between the past and future and back again to the present, The Known World weaves together the lives of freed and enslaved blacks, whites, and Indians, and allows all of us a deeper understanding of the enduring multidimensional world created by the institution of slavery.
©2003 Edward P. Jones; (P)2003 HarperCollins Publishers
IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, 2005
"A masterpiece that deserves a place in the American literary canon." (Time)
"Flawless rendition....He gives each character color, personality, and heft, without ever vamping or straining for effect." (AudioFile)
"A complex, often startling picture of life in the region....[Jones'] narrative achieves crushing momentum through sheer accumulation of detail, unusual historical insight, and generous character writing." (Publishers Weekly)
"Jones has written a book of tremendous moral intricacy." (The New Yorker)
This is one of the books that seems to have a never ending narrative. After about 4 hours I had no real sense of what was occuring other that the comings and goings of many, many people. My wife calls me the "goal oriented" man, and she is correct, as usual. I look for a theme or direction in a book.
Well written and gently narrated, it just never seems to go anywhere. The patient, poetic souls out there will likely enjoy this audiobook, but for me, I shall never know how it ends...
First the bad news... The book is hard to follow. There are too many characters (which in itself is not that bad)... but the constant shifting between timeframes and characters makes it hard to follow. It took me until well pass the half way point before I can start to follow it ;-(
The good news is that it is actually a very good story. The characters had a lot of depth; and it provides a good glimpse into the world of slavery.
So at the end of the day, 1 star off for a story that do much bouncing around. Otherwise, could have been a 4 (if not 5 star) book.
I completely agree with the other reviewers who said this book was meandering and had too many characters. I loved the premise of the book, but I was so confused trying to make mental notes about which of the approximately 20 characters were related to which and when events happened that it was a major chore to just get through the book. I did enjoy several of the story lines within the book, but the book as a whole lacked cohesion and a sense of purpose.
This novel winds its way through many lives. Too many. It is also hard to follow as it jumps forward and backward in time. The story line is interesting, but poorly developed in my judgement.
I found this book very frustrating, particularly for an Audiobook. The book jumps from character to character, and from scene to scene, from time to time, and place to place so often, that it never has time to capture one's interest in the characters any particular story line. I tried to give the book a chance by listening for 4 hours, and when it had not tied itself together in an interesting way by then, I finally gave up. Perhaps, if one can bear on past the first four hours, one would be able to "get" this book, and why it would be recommended by anyone. I found it confusing, without any consistent story line that would flow on for more than 5 or 10 minutes. The author has so much interesting material. Too bad it did not gel for me. If you do elect to listen to this, buy the book and make a list of all the characters so that you might be able to follow along - and be prepared for the long haul. Too bad, the author had such interesting material to work with.
Jones has written a work of genius about a much overlooked chapter in American history, black slave owners in the antebellum South. Set 20 years before the Civil War, The Known World allows us a glance at this neglected fact of history by entwining the past and future narrations of freed and enslaved blacks, along with those of white slave owners and civilians. Meticulously narrated by Kevin Free, it's a grand, brilliantly written novel that I highly recommend.
Actually 2.5 stars from me - a mixed bag.
This book was highly recommended to me, and I did enjoy it. However, I was annoyed by 2 aspects that some of the other reviewers have alluded to, and I'd like to add my voice to warning you BEFORE you buy. This book desperately needed a good editor. Jones' writing is really good and the plot is impeccable, leading to a wonderful story that I may reread some day. But the good writing is diminished by the fact that an editor never made Jones make decisions about how to best convey what he wanted to convey, whether he wanted to be clear and direct or purposefully convoluted. The result is passages of breathtaking power and beauty amongst a lot of words, not all of which add to the story nor even the narrative style.
I also did not enjoy the reader. I admit that I just said that the author was not always clear where he was going or wanted to go, but the reader didn't help either. I had the impression that I was listening to someone reading the story for the 1st time, unable to put much life or expression into his reading and extremely inconsistent with character voicing (mostly not at all, but sometimes somewhat!)
Has some redeeming historical value, but no plot, no point. It flys back and forth through time and its difficult to follow. Main characters are killed off but you dont really care. I did finish the book but really would not recommend it to anyone. I guess I kept hoping the story would go somewhere it never went.
You say non-linear, I say disjointed. You say complex, I say directionless. You say thoughtful, I say soporific. At last! a book I can/will not finish... read by someone who might want to consider a career change. A (possibly) interesting tale poorly told.
I expected a lot from this book but stopped listening after about 4 or 5 hours. I just didn't get it. It read like boring non-fiction, I'm from the South and I still didn't get it. I actually fell asleep nearly every time I started to listen. I kept waiting for something to happen but it never did, it was like listening to someone read the encyclopedia brittanica.
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