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In a crabbed, powerful follow-up to his National Book Award-nominated short story collection (Lost in the City), Jones explores an oft-neglected chapter of American history, the world of blacks who owned blacks in the antebellum South. His fictional examination of this unusual phenomenon starts with the dying 31-year-old Henry Townsend, a former slave-now master of 33 slaves of his own and more than 50 acres of land in Manchester County, Va.-worried about the fate of his holdings upon his early death. As a slave in his youth, Henry makes himself indispensable to his master, William Robbins. Even after Henry's parents purchase the family's freedom, Henry retains his allegiance to Robbins, who patronizes him when he sets up shop as a shoemaker and helps him buy his first slaves and his plantation. Jones's thorough knowledge of the legal and social intricacies of slaveholding allows him to paint a complex, often startling picture of life in the region. His richest characterizations-of Robbins and Henry-are particularly revealing. Though he is a cruel master to his slaves, Robbins is desperately in love with a black woman and feels as much fondness for Henry as for his own children; Henry, meanwhile, reads Milton, but beats his slaves as readily as Robbins does. Henry's wife, Caldonia, is not as disciplined as her husband, and when he dies, his worst fears are realized: the plantation falls into chaos. Jones's prose can be rather static and his phrasings ponderous, but his narrative achieves crushing momentum through sheer accumulation of detail, unusual historical insight and generous character writing.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Henry Townsend, born a slave, is purchased and freed by his father, yet he remains attached to his former owner, even taking lessons in slave owning when he eventually buys his own slaves. Townsend is part of a small enclave of free blacks who own slaves, thus offering another angle on the complexities of slavery and social relations in a Virginia town just before the Civil War. His widow, Caldonia, grief-stricken and more conflicted about slavery than Henry was, fails to maintain the social order. Also caught in the miasma of slavery is Sheriff John Skiffington, an honorable man who, when presented with a slave as a marriage gift, spends the remainder of his marriage, along with his wife, dithering about how to deal with the girl and ends up treating her like a daughter. These are only a few of the deftly portrayed characters in this elegantly written novel that explores the interweaving of sex, race, and class. Jones moves back and forth in time, making the reader omniscient, knowing what will eventually befall the characters despite their best and worst efforts, their aspirations and their moral failings. This is a profoundly beautiful and insightful look at American slavery and human nature. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Good historical story interwoven with some artistic license. Good read.Published 11 months ago by Nancy
You have to read this novel! The characters, style of writing, and historical accuracy make it difficult to put this book down.Published on April 1 2013 by Angela Mayhew
THE KNOWN WORLD tells the story of a little known practice in history-the owning of slaves by black masters. Read morePublished on March 15 2006 by Sharon Blech
I definitely agree with the readers who found this novel a little tedious to get through. Parts of the book were truly inspirational and moving, but for me it didn't make up for... Read morePublished on Aug. 20 2005
"The Known World" is strong and heartbreaking at the same time. Set before the Civil War, the book is about a black slave owner. Read morePublished on July 11 2005 by Dylan Westwood
THE KITE RUNNER is a masterful piece of literature. It reads more like a memoir than a novel thanks to the fine detail and honest emotions. Read morePublished on July 1 2005 by Denni Robinson
"The Known World" is a remarkable novel. I place it in the league of "The Color Purple", "My Fractured Life", and "The Kite Runner. Read morePublished on June 28 2005 by Bess Creshvonich
Many of the characters in this book are unlettered, and unaccustomed to the niceties of punctuation and grammar; but there's no excuse for the writer and editor to be... Read morePublished on July 17 2004 by C. T. Roosevelt