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The Known World Audiobook

The Known World

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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

3.6 (610 )
5 star
 (192)
4 star
 (150)
3 star
 (135)
2 star
 (78)
1 star
 (55)
Overall
4.0 (212 )
5 star
 (98)
4 star
 (51)
3 star
 (36)
2 star
 (17)
1 star
 (10)
Story
4.0 (211 )
5 star
 (95)
4 star
 (56)
3 star
 (43)
2 star
 (9)
1 star
 (8)
Performance
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  •  
    Daniel Charlottesville, VA, USA 09-03-04
    Daniel Charlottesville, VA, USA 09-03-04
    HELPFUL VOTES
    146
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    43
    18
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    5
    0
    Overall
    "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...

    63 of 77 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David Trabuco Canyon, CA, USA 09-06-06
    David Trabuco Canyon, CA, USA 09-06-06
    HELPFUL VOTES
    5
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    16
    1
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    "Does Writer Have ADD?"

    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.

    5 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    RB Utah USA 03-04-05
    RB Utah USA 03-04-05 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
    64
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    494
    12
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    1
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    Overall
    "The Known World, a novel about slavery in America"

    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.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Melissa Graham, NC, USA 03-04-05
    Melissa Graham, NC, USA 03-04-05 Member Since 2002
    HELPFUL VOTES
    73
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    13
    6
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    5
    0
    Overall
    "Flashes of brilliance"

    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!)

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Coulee Scottsdale, Arizona 07-14-05
    Coulee Scottsdale, Arizona 07-14-05 Listener Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
    12
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    32
    4
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    "Lost in the Wandering"

    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.

    6 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jolie Elder Mableton, GA United States 04-01-12
    Jolie Elder Mableton, GA United States 04-01-12 Listener Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
    7
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    7
    2
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    1
    0
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Tough Mental Workout; Good Book Club Discussion"

    If you prefer an enjoyable linear tale told in inventive language from the single viewpoint of a well-developed and beloved protagonist, this book is NOT it. It is a mental workout both in the complexity of the narrative and the number of characters.

    It is in many ways a portrait of a group of connected people in antebellum Manchester County, Virginia. If you can take notes while you listen, so much the better. This is one case where I wish a .pdf of the dramatis personae were included in the download, because there are many, many characters and it is important to keep track of them and their relationships to each other. If you do listen, pay special attention to William Robbins in the beginning, Henry Townsend, and Moses at the end.

    While I didn't enjoy the book, mostly because I had to work too hard and would get confused about character relationships, it did generate good discussion at our book club. There is much here to consider about the practice of slavery and how it varied based on the behavior of the masters as well as the slaves. There are racial and class components to the story, and it is very interesting how the characters of African ancestry had their own stratified society. There is plenty of complex human interaction worthy of discussion.

    I am guessing that part of why the book won a Pulitzer Prize is the subject matter, number of characters, complexity of relationships amongst those characters, and non-linear mode of story-telling. The book did not contain surprising turns of phrase or intriguing metaphors. In fairness, the simplicity of the language is in keeping with the subject matter and time period of the story. Much of the story is told in flashbacks and flash forwards and tangents. This non-linear quality also makes following the story difficult. Again, you feel as if you need to take notes.

    I liked Kevin Free's performance very much and would gladly listen to him again. That said, the book itself is written from the perspective of a disinterested observer. While at least some of the characters are interesting, I didn't find myself connecting emotionally with any of them. At least that level of disconnect made it easier to listen when the inevitable bad stuff happened in the story. Since I tend to prefer books in which I strongly care about a beloved main character, plots I can follow while I listen and go about my day, and intriguing language or word choices that are aesthetically delightful; I'm not inclined to purchase other works by Edward P. Jones.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Paul Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada 08-15-09
    Paul Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada 08-15-09
    HELPFUL VOTES
    43
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    144
    30
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    1
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    Overall
    "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.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jeffrey Delisle 05-28-09
    HELPFUL VOTES
    11
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    112
    6
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    0
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    Overall
    "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 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jessica Kayenta, AZ, USA 10-03-08
    Jessica Kayenta, AZ, USA 10-03-08
    HELPFUL VOTES
    6
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    36
    6
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
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    Overall
    "good yarn"

    This is a marvelously told story of interwoven characters.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Stacey Bailey Exton, PA 10-18-05
    Stacey Bailey Exton, PA 10-18-05 Member Since 2017
    HELPFUL VOTES
    60
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    124
    9
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
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    Overall
    "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 4 people found this review helpful

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