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Summary The Known World

One of the most acclaimed novels in recent memory The Known World is a daring and ambitious work by Pulitzer Prize winner Edward P Jones The Known World tells the story of Henry Townsend a black farmer and former. Manchester County Virginia doesn t exist Never has After reading The Known World however you d be forgiven if you thought you could take a tour of it s plantations and slave cemetaries on your vacation to colonial Williamsburg The complicated pre civil war Southern society that Edward P Jones creates feels as real and surreal as any factual history of slavery you ve read It was not so much the story of Henry Townsend a black slave owner and all the people that his death allows us to meet that engaged me It was the world a world where I could taste the soil I might till and the women I might marry and the terrible choices I might be faced with that put it s claws in me and refused to let goIt took me nearly 2 months to finish the book s 388 pages It should ve been a uick read It is a fascinating place with peculiar problems and characters I cried for on than one occasion It should ve been a uick read but I kept asking myself this uestion who would I have been The slave toiling away in the field The overseer unable to see the world for what it truly was The freed man working desperately to free the rest of his family The smart child taken under the wing of the rich white slave owner and convinced that there was nothing wrong with owning another human being The broken black man tortured by his family s wealth built on the backs of men and women that look just like me The slave too proud too strong too powerful to let another take his freedom Who would I have beenWho am I nowIn matters of race there is always that fool s point usually made by a white person though not always that askswhy aren t you over it already Can t we just let it go It is a way to end an uncomfortable conversation The reasons don t matter I know many a person for which the sticky tar baby of race in America is simply a discussion they can t stick their hands in It is too difficult Too raw Too cloudy to be sure that people will remain friends after an honest chat The way I feel when I read books like The Known World is my answer No matter how well adjusted how integrated how loving of my fellow man how multiculti kumbayah I am I m not over it I can t let it goThis fictional world was very real not all that long ago It s effects still ripple through our every day The world I know doesn t exist without itHighly highly recommended

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The Known World

H takes him unexpectedly his widow Caldonia can't uphold the estate's order and chaos ensues Jones has woven a footnote of history into an epic that takes an unflinching look at slavery in all its moral complexiti. This book demands that you read it slowly and intently Like eating a huge Thanksgiving dinner you need to pause and digest before you have the next course At the outset the plot seems to be all over the place bouncing from character to character telling too many stories not telling enough and then seeming to tell too much Ah but then you make a little progress and the rhythm begins to assert itself the stories begin to weave together the minute details begin to become a diorama the picture stops being a blur and comes into sharp focus This isn t one man s story or even the story of one place this is the story of all men and this is the tale of a worldThis book is not so much about race as it is about the abject insanity and evil of the institution of slavery wherever it is found whoever is practicing it In this system there are free black masters holding black slaves some of them well meaning but it does not make the practice any less immoral There are white men who love their black mistresses and the children they bear but it does not remove the fact that they hold a dominion over them that is not borne of love in any of its guises There are also individuals who are victims of the system and others who refuse to be victims of the system even at the cost of their lives I loved many of Jones characters notably Augustus and Mildred Townsend They exemplify what is the best in us I felt sorry for some of them like Sheriff John Skiffington who would like to be better than this society allows him to be and Caldonia Townsend s brother Calvin who wishes to go to New York so that he will not have to bear witness to the cruelties around him cruelties he must realized have escaped him only because of a trick of fortune I despised some of them and I recognized most of them The petty and jealous who must have dominion over someone to feel they have worth the ungrateful and traitorous who would turn upon a friend to put some silver in their own pockets the meek and hopeless who bow to the yoke and try simply to find a corner in which they are allowed to exist the defiant and strong minded who fight with their last breath because to do otherwise is to prop up the indefensible all are hereWhat I loved most about this novel is its genuineness its lack of exaggeration or hyperbole where surely none is needed its emphasis on the day to day injustice of an institution that is accepted as insurmountable or even correct only because it is what is Edward P Jones has leveled an attack at the heart of mankind and defied one to imagine what they would have done what they would have dared to do in such a place and time

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Slave who falls under the tutelage of William Robbins the most powerful man in Manchester County Virginia Making certain he never circumvents the law Townsend runs his affairs with unusual discipline But when deat. This is a complex novel with dense writing a non linear structure and an abundance of characters It reads much like a true historical account of a place Manchester County Virginia and time pre Civil War 1800s This could very nearly have passed for a non fiction book each character feels so real their personal stories and histories so authentic The author even goes so far as to tell us what happens to many of them ten twenty or even fifty years in the future And yet Edward P Jones himself states The county and town of Manchester Virginia and every human being in those places are products of my imagination The census records I made up for Manchester were again simply to make the reader feel that the town and the county and the people lived and breathed in central Virginia once upon a time Well consider me duped At first I really thought such a county existed and the data presented were genuine facts As my son passed through the living room I even shouted out some sort of statistic or another and asked if he had ever read about such a thing in his history classes He couldn t recall but it sounded familiar Right because much of this could have been true yet it wasn t The institution of slavery of course was all too real and cruel and that s what this book is about and this is the truth Slavery in all its forms is evil Henry Townsend is a black farmer He is a former slave that with the purchase of freedom and some land becomes a slave owner himself Henry and his wife Caldonia own a small plantation near the border of his former master s much larger one I could not wrap my head around why on earth a freed man would ever want to enslave another human being Henry and other black slave owners like him justify their actions Henry had always said that he wanted to be a better master than any white man he had ever known He did not understand that the kind of world he wanted to create was doomed before he had even spoken the first syllable of the word master Well as the old saying goes the road to hell is paved with good intentions When Henry dies all hell breaks loose and we begin to see the ill fated conseuences of an institution that is immoral and corrupt A narrative that seems to jump around in time and between characters eventually comes together into a whole as conseuences and events snowball out of control Lives are permanently changed Some for the worst others we hope for the better They all become woven together much like the massive tapestry hanging on the wall of another place in another time Each is part of the story Everyone is responsible for the events which passed were allowed to pass despite the huge injustice to humanity This book is not easy to read The structure is challenging and the topic is gloomy albeit important What happens to the people we grow to care for is often horrifying and heartbreaking But it is well written and extremely impactful An important novel which is well worth your time and attention if you are up for the challenge It won t suit everyone but if you are at all interested I encourage you to pick this one up What I feared most at that moment is what I still fear that they would remember my history that I no matter what I had always said to the contrary owned people of our Race


10 thoughts on “The Known World

  1. says:

    there is that old adage that a good book will tell you how to read it and i have no idea to whom that should be attributed only that my undergrad professors seemed to have been born to uote that thought endlessl

  2. says:

    Manchester County Virginia doesn't exist Never has After reading The Known World however you'd be forgiven if you thought you could take a to

  3. says:

    I know this is a critically acclaimed book a Pulitzer winner and a book tackling a difficult and complex stain on America history slavery and

  4. says:

    This is a complex novel with dense writing a non linear structure and an abundance of characters It reads much like a true historical account of a place Manchester County Virginia and time pre Civil War 1800s This could very nearly have passed for a non fiction book; each character feels so real their personal stories and histories so authent

  5. says:

    Dear The Known WorldI'll be blunt I'm breaking things off This just isn't working It's not you; it's me Well maybe it's you too a bitI really thought when we got together that we would have a brief but mutually satisfying relationship I'd read you you'd provide enlightenment or emotional catharsis or entertainment maybe even all three All the

  6. says:

    I'm going to have to rave a bit because this is one of the best books I've read in the past ten yearsJones packs in all the historical detail yo

  7. says:

    In this book I learned that there used to be black slaveholders in the US I thought that only white people were allowed to own slaves during the time that owning slaves were like owning properties During that pre Abolition

  8. says:

    A very complex and beautiful compelling book about Henry a former slave who becomes a slave owner his wife Caldonia But they're just the start the book is really a series of stories vignettes about the families friends nei

  9. says:

    This book demands that you read it slowly and intently Like eating a huge Thanksgiving dinner you need to pause and digest before you have the next course At the outset the plot seems to be all over the place bouncing from character to character telling too many stories not telling enough and then seeming to tell too much Ah but then you make a little progress and the rhythm begins to assert itself the stories begin to

  10. says:

    Basically a book about slavery in the South I enjoy those kind of thing especially The Secret Lives of Bees but with this one it felt like the book had no point While I was reading I kept on going what did I just read? Am I really readingunderstanding this book? and kept on referring to the back cover of the book No The story was simply what I read OK Then ugh I HATE leaving a book unread so I kept on forcing myself to read thru t

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