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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 (600 )
5 star
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4 star
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3 star
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1 star
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Overall
4.0 (202 )
5 star
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3 star
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2 star
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1 star
 (10)
Story
4.0 (202 )
5 star
 (92)
4 star
 (52)
3 star
 (41)
2 star
 (9)
1 star
 (8)
Performance
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  •  
    Kandace 12-03-15
    Kandace 12-03-15 Member Since 2016
    ratings
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    3
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    Story
    "Great perspective"

    This was a great book! Yes it is a little slow but the detail is necessary to understand the characters. If you are going to read this book go in with an open mind

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kennedy SAN JOSE, CA, United States 04-17-15
    Kennedy SAN JOSE, CA, United States 04-17-15 Member Since 2014
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Fascinating Story ..."

    Fascinating story with rich characters brought to life by Kevin Free. Listen - intently.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Prsilla 08-20-14
    Prsilla 08-20-14 Member Since 2016

    Retired to mountains of California. Sell on eBay as Prsilla. No TV. Volunteer in wildlife rehab. Knit, sew or embroider while listening.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    Story
    "Challenging but Most Worthwhile!"

    Some people had a hard time with this author jumping back and forth in time, linking up all the people. I did at first, thinking, Oh, gosh, now who is this? And what color are these people? And what relationship? There are long scenes in which you simply follow one character. When I found myself not paying enough attention, I just backed up or moved to a different activity for awhile. I have only listened once -- with several back-ups! I want to get the print book. I found Edward P. Jones through the recent marketing trick in which authors told about their own favorite authors. I sifted and took notes, and came out with paydirt like this! I am pursuing African-American authors for new personal reasons. I called the suicide hotline one night recently and a man answered. I told him, "I'm going through something absolutely outrageous and it reminds me of what black people have put up with for a long time and while I'm white, if you're black, I think you can really help me!" A man's soft voice answered, "I am black." I wanted to know how black people cope, how they get up in the morning and feel hopeful. How they deal in their own interior lives with hoo-rah and nonsense coming from unworthy people who nonetheless are in positions of power, people jerking us around in our immediate personal lives, little Nazis. The conversation we had was extremely helpful, freeing me to do the most healing and beneficial thing for myself because "we could come back in ten years and maybe nothing would have changed!" This seems to me at first like giving up. Then I realized I was going into tailspins trying to write letters and getting involved in situations not my own immediate business. Emotional energy is limited.So let's save it for the poetry, music, color.

    Actually, this book inspires me to do some writing, myself. Mr. Jones has a wonderful writing style, telling what a character was thinking about, who did what, who said what, but not many adjectives or even adverbs. When shocking things happen, they simply happen. This makes them more shocking. I have not read Hemingway in a while, but Mr. Jones is spare like Hemingway. And yet he pulls together a rich and colorful "known world". I see patterns of intense jealousy when some people show tremendous talent as well as good work ethic. Still happening! Strong women and weak women. Hierarchies based on energy, intelligence, inspiration -- and color. Men and women praying for all they are worth. The woman weeping as she milks the wonderful cow. The bride who is given a slave girl for a wedding gift and never actually frees her, despite saying she is against slavery! The good white man who had blackouts and might have lived longer except for a bad tooth. The ordinary house with a stairs that didn't creak and the woman living there who always had a tablecloth -- that came from intelligence, industry and refinement. I relished the way a few people got away to fresh vistas and to un-dreamed-of joy and fulfillment.

    I've sent for this author's two short story collections in print because I don't do so well listening to stories and I have a huge wish list anyway. I do hope this author is percolating another good book!

    I found Kevin Free a perfect narrator for this book and many others -- I have him neck and neck with Humphrey Bower, another favorite. He can do Irish and white gentlemen and low-life truly evil good ol'boys and sweet black people and uninspired black people. The reading is seamless. You forget he's reading. Great clarity, no mispronunciations. I had to google his name . . . oooh, dimples too! Thank Heaven we live in a time when talent and industry can be recognized, enjoyed and rewarded.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    mamamijo 07-06-14
    mamamijo 07-06-14

    I am happiest with a story in my ear. I earn my living as a strategist and work hard as a mom of 2 boys. I'm 45, mixed race, Black & Jewish.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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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 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jeff 03-06-13
    Jeff 03-06-13
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    10
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    "An amazing, subtle, complex book"
    What did you love best about The Known World?

    The plot of this book and the characters are complex and subtle enough to completely immerse you in their world which feels so real and compelling. The level of detail makes the story extremely rich without bogging it down at all. A powerful exploration of human nature.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tess Mitchell Gold Coast, Qld Australia 12-03-09
    Tess Mitchell Gold Coast, Qld Australia 12-03-09 Member Since 2017
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    "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 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dr. Christopher Leighton 02-25-07 Listener Since 2006
    ratings
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    2
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    "New narrator"

    A wonderful book, but I could not take the narrator seriously. I ended up turning off the machine and reading the book.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Trish Cape May, NJ United States 11-24-04
    Trish Cape May, NJ United States 11-24-04 Member Since 2002
    ratings
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    "A Gem."

    This is a rich and moving story of the impact of slavery on the people in a small area of Virginia. It makes no moral judgements, just lets the characters speak. Yes, there are many characters and plotlines but each tells an important aspect of a tale that is far more than the sum of its parts. Very highly recommended.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Adele Beeman Culver City, CA, US 10-16-04
    Adele Beeman Culver City, CA, US 10-16-04 Member Since 2013
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    "I tried...I really tried..."

    But I just couldn't grab hold of this story. The author has a wonderful unique way of writing and I certainly appreciated that, but oh goodness... too elongated for me...at least for now. I lasted 2 hours and had to move on to something more contemporary. I will come back to this book because I realize it is a worth while read. But for now I favor stories that are so compelling I just want to lie in bed, close my eyes, and do nothing else but listen.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tammi North Vancouver, BC, Canada 10-10-04
    Tammi North Vancouver, BC, Canada 10-10-04
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    "FIVE STARS"

    If you are looking for light, simple reading - don't read this book.

    BUT, IF YOU WANT a truly quality read that gives you insight into a world you might never have known, you HAVE TO READ!! It's got depth of characters, love, action, adventure, fear, worry .... and it makes you think about today.

    STRONGLY RECOMMENDED.

    2 of 4 people found this review helpful

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