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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

Critic Reviews

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

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Hard to keep up

Would you try another book from Edward P. Jones and/or Kevin Free?

No, I don't think so.

What was most disappointing about Edward P. Jones’s story?

My husband absolutely loved reading this book, which is why I got it. I think the story is a really intriguing one, but I just couldn't keep up with all of the characters and the plot line while listening to it. I also found the voices that the narrator used really annoying. You also have to be emotionally prepared for the subject material, and as an African American woman, this was hard for me.

How did the narrator detract from the book?

The voices of the characters just grated on me. I don't know if it's possible to use two actors -- one male and one female -- to narrate a book, but I think in this case, that would have been ideal.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Very tedious

When this book started I was captured within the poetic descriptions and rich visuals the words conjured, but by about half way through I was wondering if there was ever going to be a point of any kind. Worse still I realised I had actually heard it before some time ago and had managed to forget the entire experience, something I didn't think was possible for me with any book.
I found myself board and desperate for something exciting to happen. It didn't.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful