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The Known World: A Novel [Paperback]

Edward Jones
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (74 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 13 2004

In one of the most acclaimed novels in recent memory, Edward P. Jones, two-time National Book Award finalist, tells the story of Henry Townsend, a black farmer and former 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 death takes him unexpectedly, his widow, Caldonia, can't uphold the estate's order and chaos ensues. In a daring and ambitious novel, Jones has woven a footnote of history into an epic that takes an unflinching look at slavery in all of its moral complexities.

This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more. This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

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.

From Booklist

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.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
The evening his master died he worked again well after he ended the day for the other adults, his own wife among them, and sent them back with hunger and tiredness to their cabins. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This I know Jan. 27 2005
Much has already been said about the basic plot of this book, so I'd like to address the non-linear writing style...imagine yourself as a leaf tumbling down a stream, sometimes hurtling forward, yet frequently caught in little swirling eddies along the edges. If you relax and 'go with the flow' rather than expecting this book to read as you would wish, you will find it to be an astounding and seductive experience on several levels. The viewpoint of this book is equally fluid; through some magic, Jones has you seeing life through the eyes of whatever character he's currently focused upon. There are terrible, ugly, beautiful, sad, heartwarming things that happen constantly throughout this book and somehow, you are always identifying through the protagonist of the moment, whether this be a slave or a slave patroller, frightening as that might be. There is no melodrama here. Somehow, everything is just taken for granted, is, after all, their known world. And, for a brief time, ours as well. We eventually come to take it for granted. We can look back with the smugness of time and condemn slavery and its consequential perverse social structurings. Yet a book like this makes one question our own 'known world,' the social structures and cultural practices we take for granted and assume we are powerless to change. I wonder what our descendents will find equally perverse here...probably our oil addiction which forces us to attempt to control countries half-way around the world rather than simply learning to make do with less here at home. Another great Amazon pick would be Jackson McCrae's THE CHILDREN'S CORNER which is not a book for children, but rather a collection of fantastic stories about being human.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Know thyself June 7 2005
Likened to Jackson McCrae's BARK OF THE DOGWOOD with its themes of race, THE KNOWN WORLD did not initially pique my interest. Fortunately, both books deal with the subject in a new and exciting manner. Read on: Slavery is one of those topics that present day Mississippians may shy away from as a matter of principle. There is the ever-present refrain to "get beyond" race and tout the positive aspects of the New South, the mantra that is often used by both black and white Southerners. I'm not one who believes it, but I did have the crusty misconception when I began THE KNOWN WORLD that there wasn't much more I could learn on the subject of slavery and its effects, both then and now. However, Eudora Welty's photograph on the book's cover helped peak my interest and after the first chapter I didn't need any more encouragement to continue. THE KNOWN WORLD is an entirely surprising testament to why no one, black or white, should refuse to constantly revisit the roots of the here and now.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read May 8 2010
By Heather Pearson TOP 500 REVIEWER
Henry Townsend was born to Augustus and Mildred Townsend, slaves on the plantation of William Robbins in Manchester County, Virginia. We first meet him at the time of his death, around 1855, when he is a just 31 years old. From there we learn how a black man came to be free and how he managed to purchase property as well as the slaves to provide labour for the running of the farm. We also meet the other free black people who surround him and the white people who control Manchester County.
In the opening chapters of this book the reader is diluged with the introduction of the many characters and their connections with each other. Each character is tied with numerous other characters in this story. Their livesweare so tightly woven together that a happening with one resident of that county would affect the lives of dozens of others, black and white alike. I had to reread the first forty of so pages to get all these connections straight, though there is a complete list and description of characters at the back of the book.

Once I got past the introductions, the story flowed quickly and begged not to be put aside. By that point I had no doubt that this story was a fictionalized, though true, historical account. That these were real people who's lives had been documented in the state census and in plantation ledgers. I was truly surprised to find that it was all a work of fiction. Having said that it was fiction I believe that many of the event depicted did occur during the times when slaves were held in the United States. Black people worked as overseers on plantations, that they learned skills that enabled them to earn money with which to buy their freedom, and that there were white people who would never see them as free and equal people.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Elite June 28 2005
"The Known World" is a remarkable novel. I place it in the league of "The Color Purple", "My Fractured Life", and "The Kite Runner." The writing is crystal clear with swelling and spilling emotional conflict: black versus white, black versus black, man versus woman. Few writers can capture the blurred imaginary lines that cultures errect with such accuracy. "The Known World" is a an elite, must read. I also recommend "The Kite Runner", "My Fractured Life", "The Known World" and "1776."
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5.0 out of 5 stars Worthy of all its praise... July 14 2004
Edward P. Jones' first novel "The Known World" is a landmark in American literature. I do not say that lightly. It has a difficult, yet entertaining and understandable writing style, handles its subject matter with historical accuracy and human relateability, and has some of the most genuine and authentic dialogue I have ever read. For once a contemporary American novel is worth the hype. The success of the book is largely due to how successfully it defies the typical novel structure. There is a thin central storyline here, acting as the nucleus of Jones' myriad of slave folk stories and dozens of characters wrapped around it. There are many names in the book, but Jones always informs and re-informs the reader of just who is who and their importance to the overall piece. Also, the book is so beautifully written you'll find it difficult to put down. This is definitely one that will stay with you long after you've finished it, and I don't think I'd be wrong if I said it's one of the best books of at least the last decade.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The Known World
You have to read this novel! The characters, style of writing, and historical accuracy make it difficult to put this book down.
Published 17 months ago by Angela Mayhew
5.0 out of 5 stars Do we really know?
The Known World is a literary masterpiece. In beginning the book, you wonder how hard it will be to read in the manner of mid-19th century country/slave vernacular, but in page... Read more
Published on July 31 2007 by maya j
5.0 out of 5 stars I know this much is true
THE KNOWN WORLD tells the story of a little known practice in history-the owning of slaves by black masters. Read more
Published on March 15 2006 by Sharon Blech
2.0 out of 5 stars Only flashes of brilliance
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 more
Published on Aug. 20 2005
5.0 out of 5 stars Strength of Spirit
"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 more
Published on July 11 2005 by Dylan Westwood
5.0 out of 5 stars What Should Be Known
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 more
Published on July 1 2005 by Denni Robinson
1.0 out of 5 stars reader beware
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 more
Published on July 17 2004 by C. T. Roosevelt
2.0 out of 5 stars Not Much New in the Known World
With all of the broughaha sourrounding this much ballyhooed book, I was expecting something special, something exciting to read. Read more
Published on July 17 2004
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