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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This I know
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...
Published on Jan. 27 2005 by Bobby-Ray

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars No surprises here for a multicultural reader
The tragedy of this Edward P. Jones novel is slavery, period. And the woeful tale of this set of characters is subject to yet another version of the American saga which presents one more twist of the knife in the heart of humanity.
How could a black man, a former slave, bought out of slavery by his formerly slave parents, an only and most prized son, emulate his...
Published on Jan. 5 2004 by dikybabe


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This I know, Jan. 27 2005
This review is from: The Known World: A Novel (Paperback)
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, assumed...it 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 A Must Read, May 8 2010
By 
Heather Pearson "Heather" (Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Known World: A Novel (Paperback)
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.

Plot spoiler
One of the most difficult passages for me to read was when Augustus was detained by the slave patrollers and sold back into slavery. The tears were rolling down my cheeks unchecked. It did help when a bit later in the story, Barnum, the only patroller who objected to the enslavement, confesses the events to the sherriff. Barnum knew that what they had done was wrong and he wanted to do the right thing. He called for a stronger law or some sort of "body" that could discern right and wrong to ensure that this didn't happen again.A moment of true insight.

This book provides many opportunities for discussion: interactions between the free and the enslaved blacks, the treatment of the free blacks by the white population, and the very act of slavery then and today.

Winner of the 2003 New York Times Best Book of the Year Award for Fiction
Winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize
Winner of the 2005 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Know thyself, June 7 2005
This review is from: The Known World: A Novel (Paperback)
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Do we really know?, July 31 2007
By 
maya j (Quail Crossing) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Known World: A Novel (Paperback)
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 after page, the language just flows, and there is no denying the language is painting a picture of who these people are. There are numerous characters, yet they are so vivid in their representation, it is impossible to get confused as to who did what. Some of the characters you love, and of course, others are just repugnant. As I read The Known World, I felt I could actually hear the singing in the field, smell the smells of the slave barracks, and see the humid, torrid heat of the southern countryside. It's not a typical story about slavery. Former slaves owning slaves is a part of our national footprint I don't think has been written about much. Now, thanks to Edward P. Jones, we possess a manuscript of an amazingly enlightened view of this old world phenomenon. In addition, Edward P. Jones' writing is so eloquent and fluent in the nature of "this world", you wonder if he could have actually lived it. It is a beautiful story that, although sad, is also compelling and makes you feel smug and small in the scheme of this "Known World".
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Elite, June 28 2005
This review is from: The Known World: A Novel (Paperback)
"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
This review is from: The Known World: A Novel (Paperback)
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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4.0 out of 5 stars A mini-epic with authentic voice and flavor, June 17 2004
By 
Matthew Krichman (Durango, CO) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Known World (Hardcover)
While I won't go so far as to say that this was the best book of the year, as pretty much every book reviewer and prize committee seems to have done, I will say that this is an important work of literature and one that is worthy of reading and re-reading. My only criticism is that it introduces just a few too many characters early in the novel, and this flaw creates confusion during the first half of the book. I found myself at times trying to remember who was who, and how they were all related. But other than that, this is a great book. Many reviewers have compared it to Toni Morrison, for obvious reasons. I actually found that the prose and story were more reminiscent of Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. Like Lonesome Dove, this book maintained throughout a sense of an epic journey, and of a world and lives that had existed long before the story began and would continue to exist long after. The prose is simple and honest, with a sound of period authenticity. As for the characters, many are memorable, but none stood out as a true hero or anti-hero of the novel. If this were a movie, it would be a true ensemble cast with no clear starring role. I think that is what gives the book such a genuine feel. It is not just a story of one man or woman, with lots of other characters circling around the spotlight. Rather, it is a portrait of life in the South prior to the Civil War. The book is not about the characters, per se, but rather about the world in which they live. Jones has done a wonderful job of portraying this world in a way that doesn't seem to glorify or condemn any of it. It would have been easy to fall into that trap of making some sort of political statement with this novel, but Jones cautiously leaves that for the reader to decide. What Jones does, instead, is bring to light a fascinating period of American history, and by focusing on a black slave-owner, he has created an awareness that I think was lacking in American literature.
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5.0 out of 5 stars What would it be like to be owned by a black man in 1840 VA?, June 1 2004
This review is from: The Known World: A Novel (Paperback)
This historical fiction centers on the life of those connected to the plantation of Henry Townsend, a black slave owner in Manchester county, Virginia in the 1840's. The central point in the story is his death. When Henry dies, his widow Caldonia both treats her slaves as family and yet keeps them in bondage. In particular, the overseer, Moses comes undone by this ambivalence. Caldonia invites Moses to have sex with her and Moses assumes she will free him to become her husband. When she doesn't, he tells his wife and child to run away with mad Alice, who got kicked by a mule. Perhaps, Moses reasons, this is what is keeping Caldonia from freeing him. Does Moses' family make it to freedom? Will Moses follow them when he learns Caldonia will not free him? Indeed, where have they gone? While Moses can find his way around the plantation blindfolded, he cannot even tell North from South in the world at large.
While there are many characters in this novel, the quest for freedom and the resources needed to submit to bondage are the more crucial foci in The Known World. For instance, Augustus, Henry's father is shocked when his son buys slaves. He is further shocked when Counsel Simmington eats his free papers and Augustus is sold back into slavery. The story goes on like this exploring various characters, their relationship to one another and the norms of their day. It creates a world that could be real; and a very disturbing world it is.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling and thought provoking, May 5 2004
This review is from: The Known World (Hardcover)
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, assumed...it 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.
Curator, AfroAmericanHeritage dot com
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Peculiar Institution, April 19 2004
By 
C M Magee (Chicago, IL United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Known World (Hardcover)
The Known World feels like a book that took a long time to write. The writing proceeds at a slow but churning pace. Jones meticulously ties each character to one another, to the land, to the curious circumstances of the "peculiar institution" of slavery. We are taught in school that slavery was a black and white affair, but Jones takes great pains to describe a human landscape where such distinctions are blurry: the most powerful man in Manchester County, William Robbins, dotes upon the two children he has fathered with his slave, Philomena; Oden, the Indian, exaggerates his cruelty towards blacks to maintain his tenuous superiority; and Henry Townsend, the gifted young black man at the center of this novel, acquires a plantation full of slaves from which discord flows, imperceptibly at first. The lesson is the messiness of slavery made real by the vivid lives of each character. Over the course of the novel, Jones sketches out each character, from birth to death, using deft flashbacks and flash-forwards that are scattered throughout like crumbs and give the book a marvelous depth. In this sense, the book reminded me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. The book ends before the Civil War begins, and so the triumph of good over evil is not allowed to mitigate the brutal picture of slavery that Jones paints. Perhaps because it was so assiduously researched, this novel feels like history and it feels like life. Here's hoping that Jones' next one doesn't take ten years to write.
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The Known World: A Novel
The Known World: A Novel by Edward Jones (Paperback - May 13 2004)
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