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The Known World | [Edward P. Jones]

The Known World

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.
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Publisher's Summary

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

What the Critics Say

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)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.4 (485 )
5 star
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Overall
3.8 (97 )
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1 star
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Story
3.9 (101 )
5 star
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4 star
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3 star
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2 star
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1 star
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Performance
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  •  
    MP 06-08-05
    MP 06-08-05
    HELPFUL VOTES
    41
    ratings
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    "Majestic"

    After a slow beginning, this book is mesmerizing. A sweep of a story, a moral tale, a magnificent depiction of a time and a place and complex relationships among extraordinary people. Also, the narration is truly fabulous. One of the best of the many Audible books I've heard.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Robert Atlanta 09-25-04
    Robert Atlanta 09-25-04 Member Since 2003

    Robert

    HELPFUL VOTES
    167
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    "2004 Pulitzer Prize/Ntl Bk Critics Circle Award"

    Winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and a National Book Critics Circle Award Winner. An excellent book. It is much more than a story of free blacks owning slaves. It is a complex story set in times of American slavery and involves good people, bad people, good people who become bad people, and wonderful things and terrible things happening. The word "Property" is used to describe and call the slaves. An excellent story line, woven in elaborate time warps and beautiful language. Well narrated.

    This book is great literature and carries itself along with well-developed characters with whom you will identify -- painfully so at times. This book is attractive for its quality writing, memorable characters and intriguing story line, not for page-turning suspense.

    This African-American author's first novel.

    Book prizes are no guarantee of a good book, but this book clearly well deserved its awards.

    The last ten minutes of the audio is a fascinating interview with the author.

    13 of 15 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Daniel Charlottesville, VA, USA 09-03-04
    Daniel Charlottesville, VA, USA 09-03-04
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    18
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    "A meandering audiobook..."

    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...

    62 of 75 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jeffrey Delisle 05-28-09

    affectionado

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    4
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    "Hard to follow"

    I listen to audio books during exercise and while driving. This book is structured in a complex way, jumps back and forth in time, and has too many characters to count let alone remember. While I respect the high purposes of the author and the prose, such a book is impossible for me to ingest in audio format. Rather, I would recommend buying the book so you can flip back through the pages for reference.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rachel American Fork, UT, USA 01-28-06
    Rachel American Fork, UT, USA 01-28-06
    HELPFUL VOTES
    12
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    2
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    "Disappointing"

    I was very disappointed with this book, the slow pace, the innumerable characters, the flashbacks and flash fowards were confusing. I also felt there was a lack of character development that would explain some of their actions. Although there were some interesting characters, I would not recomend this book. It was very hard to get through.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Stacey Bailey Exton, PA 10-18-05
    Stacey Bailey Exton, PA 10-18-05
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    "Lacks cohesion and has way too many characters"

    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.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    James santa rosa, CA, USA 03-27-05
    James santa rosa, CA, USA 03-27-05 Member Since 2003
    HELPFUL VOTES
    6
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    1
    1
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    "Lets call the whole thing off"

    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.

    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kristi Petaluma, CA, USA 11-24-04
    Kristi Petaluma, CA, USA 11-24-04
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    1
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    "I didn't get it"

    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.

    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Suzn F Fletcher, VT, US 07-13-13
    Suzn F Fletcher, VT, US 07-13-13 Member Since 2005

    I believe a reviewer should finish a book before submitting a review. What do you think?

    HELPFUL VOTES
    2525
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    Story
    "Depressing, Disjointed, Annoying, Boring"

    There is not much I feel I can add to the wonderful reviews about this novel previously posted on this site except to say that I too am disappointed
    I think I understand why the Pulitzer Prize....the subject matter. But for me this is exactly why I'm so disappointed with this book. It could have been so rich. It could have included characters the reader/listener cared about. But because the story is told in flashbacks and flash forwards and long rambling tangents along with the plethora of characters who come and go, the reader/listener never has chance to become invested in any one of them. All of this makes following the story difficult. Another reviewer considered taking notes just to be able to keep up. I don't want to think myself shallow but I'm not a happy camper. I don't like listening to a book wishing it would end soon so I can start my next book. Not good.

    5 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Paul Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada 08-15-09
    Paul Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada 08-15-09 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
    25
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    25
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    "Would be a great book if I can follow it"

    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.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
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