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Interview: 'The Prophets' Raises Love Above All Else

'I was paying tribute to Black womanhood...I rendered their voices as authentically as I possibly could...'
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  • The Prophets
  • 'I was paying tribute to Black womanhood...I rendered their voices as authentically as I possibly could...'

Publisher's Summary

Instant New York Times best seller

"May this book cast its spell on all of us, restore to us some memory of our most warrior and softest selves." (The New York Times Book Review)

“A new kind of epic.... A grand achievement.... While The Prophets' dreamy realism recalls the work of Toni Morrison...its penetrating focus on social dynamics stands out more singularly.” (Entertainment Weekly)

A singular and stunning debut novel about the forbidden union between two enslaved young men on a Deep South plantation, the refuge they find in each other, and a betrayal that threatens their existence.

Isaiah was Samuel's and Samuel was Isaiah's. That was the way it was since the beginning and the way it was to be until the end. In the barn they tended to the animals, but also to each other, transforming the hollowed-out shed into a place of human refuge, a source of intimacy and hope in a world ruled by vicious masters. But when an older man - a fellow slave - seeks to gain favor by preaching the master's gospel on the plantation, the enslaved begin to turn on their own. Isaiah and Samuel's love, which was once so simple, is seen as sinful and a clear danger to the plantation's harmony. 

With a lyricism reminiscent of Toni Morrison, Robert Jones, Jr., fiercely summons the voices of slaver and enslaved alike, from Isaiah and Samuel to the calculating slave master to the long line of women that surround them, women who have carried the soul of the plantation on their shoulders. As tensions build and the weight of centuries - of ancestors and future generations to come - culminates in a climactic reckoning, The Prophets masterfully reveals the pain and suffering of inheritance, but is also shot through with hope, beauty, and truth, portraying the enormous, heroic power of love.

©2021 Robert Jones, Jr. (P)2021 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

"What a rare marvel this book is. The Prophets fashions an epic so rich in erudition, wisdom, clarity and power, so full of hard-earned yet too-brief joys, that it reaffirms for me literature’s place as both balm and scalpel for the mind and soul. You can feel the decades of thinking embedded not only in these sentences but in how they question and build a world shamefully amputated from textbooks. Rarely is a book this finely wrought, the lives and histories it holds so tenderly felt, and rendered unforgettably true." (Ocean Vuong, author of On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous)

"The Prophets is easily the most superb tutorial in writing and loving I have ever read. I’m convinced Morrison, Baldwin, and Bambara sat around sipping wine one night, talking about the day we'd read an offering like The Prophets. Robert Jones, Jr. is a once-in-a-generation cultural worker whose art thankfully will be imitated for generations." (Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy: An American Memoir)

"I've loved the writing of Robert Jones, Jr., for years, and The Prophets is an absolute triumph, a symphonic evocation of the heights and depths of pain, joy, and love." (R.O. Kwon, author of The Incendiaries)

Editor's Pick

A must-listen for fans of Toni Morrison
Talk about setting a high bar for 2021— The Prophets is a debut novel by a writer with an extraordinary gift for storytelling. Robert Jones, Jr.’s prose is lyrical, challenging, beautiful, and horrifying. This epic historical fiction tells the story of Samuel and Isaiah—two enslaved men in love on a Deep South plantation. They have always been known as an inseparable pair, but as their romantic love is revealed to others, they begin to find themselves in increasing danger. Told from the perspective of an array of characters, the narrative is largely in third person, with each chapter coming from a different perspective. Mixed in are chapters told in first person plural—where the old gods of Africa, watching over the descendants of those who worshiped them, share wisdom and serve as witnesses. This is where I became completely mesmerized by narrator Karen Chilton’s performance. I listened, and relistened, and will surely go back again to reexperience the profound beauty of this masterpiece. —Tricia F., Audible Editor

What listeners say about The Prophets

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lyrical

“The Prophets” by Robert Jones Jr is a lyrical love story of two gay boys during antebellum time in Mississippi. Jones wanted to write a story about gay slaves because none have been written. What was breathtaking to me was his lyrical prose while writing of the evils and horrifying conditions of slavery. His melodious tones make the indignities deeper in the soul.

It took a long time for me to get into the story. I listened to the audible production narrated by Karen Chiton’s soothing voice. It was her voice that kept me listening when I might have given up. Her voice is pitch perfect.

Jones writes a beautiful love story of two souls attempting to find dignity in the hellish conditions they find themselves. The slaves themselves and their lives are the focal of the story. The plantation owners occupy less of the story, as it’s mostly the slaves finding ways to survive unwieldly commands and ridiculous demands. It’s a story of survival.

This isn’t really a hard edged slave story, for me anyway. The prose creates a literary, almost dream-like (at times) story of perseverance during a horrendous time in Black history. It’s difficult to explain how lyrical prose affects blinding cruelty. Jones has written a deeply moving story.

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Brilliant elegant but

Oh I loved the first 80%; I wish Jones had made a different plot decision with Samuel and Timothy. An ambitious and stunning book. Some Morrison; some Angels in America. Lots of originality. But....

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So beautiful

so beautifully written, so beautifully narrated at times the prose just took my breath away.

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Incredible

I loved the story. I cheered, wept and re-read it. I will be recommending this to other people!

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Difficult yet perfect

I agree with so many of the reviews. The narration was soothing, and kept me listening even when it was difficult to understand or difficult to hear. My heart broke - the ending left me wanting more. I could listen to Ms Chilton read all day long.

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Worth reading

The whole book sounds as if it'sPoetry.
Very few books give you a queer Perspective on slavery

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A Great Book

This was spellbinding. The story shatters the soul of the listener, but I loved it.

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Masters

May every person whose one or more ancestors saw fit to be called "Master" now sit themselves in full witness to this exemplary demonstration of true mastery.

Karen Chilton graces this tale with best audiobook narration I've ever heard, on par with JD Jackson and Susan Deneker's narration of James McBride's "The Color of Water" and Cassaundra Freeman's narration of N.K. Jemisin's Inheritance Trilogy.

The Prophets is the love you didn't know you needed; is the healing you didn't know you've been waiting for; is the Truth you never suspected could name itself aloud in the English language.

My deepest heartfelt gratitude goes to every impassioned contributor to this circle; to this story.

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Wonderful!

Beautifully written, beautifully told story. It really touched me and I will never forget it.

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Excellent listen.

I had this recommended by a book-worm friend and I am glad I purchased it. The story was excellent, I went in pretty blind and immediately was deeply engaged in what would happen with the characters. I keep thinking about them days after I finished listening. I very much enjoyed having Karen as a narrator. Her performance brought each character to life. I will be looking into Robert Jones Jr. for future reads as well as keep an eye out for more things narrated by Karen Chilton. Would recommend.