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4.2 out of 5 stars
The Known World: A Novel
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on December 11, 2014
Good historical story interwoven with some artistic license. Good read.
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on April 1, 2013
You have to read this novel! The characters, style of writing, and historical accuracy make it difficult to put this book down.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 31, 2007
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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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2006
THE KNOWN WORLD tells the story of a little known practice in history-the owning of slaves by black masters. The author weaves together the lives of several families both black and white: he does so with a hypnotic narrative that is at times reminiscent of Faulkner. The reader will deeply care about these wonderful folks and will be left with a sense of longing when the book is finished. I bought this after reading another Oprah selection: NIGHT which was simply fantastic. But THE KNOWN world is obviously set in a different time and with a totally different theme(s), more along the lines of McCrae’s TOUR OF SOUTHERN HOMES AND GARDENS or even possibly some of the works of Berendt. Jones has the power of Faulkner and the edge of Morrison. He's perhaps more readable than either of those, being tempered with a bit of Baldwin's sensitivity to characters. Very good thing. This novel involves you in the lives of an intricate web of characters. Their lives play out over years, over lifetimes, really. The narrator is quite happy to reach forward and back in time at will, giving you information that only a god-like figure could know. I'd be worried about that in the hands of most writers. None of us are gods. But Edward P Jones does an amazing job of providing a full tableau of life in the fictional county he so vividly creates. You believe him completely, and it's easy to trust that he renders both the white and the black characters with a fine-tuned understanding of human strengths and weaknesses. If you’re interested in this type of great writing, themes, and such, I must recommend Baldwin’s GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN and/or the shocking BARK OF THE DOGWOOD, which is set across the centuries and a true look at race and the South not only yesterday, but today. THE KNOWN WORLD is simply fantastic—in too many ways to mention.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 20, 2005
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 the long and boring segments that I had to force myself to drudge through. Jones did an excellent job in the conclusion of his story, but with the subject matter he was drawing from, there is no excuse for the long tracts of monotonous writing.
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on July 11, 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. In addition to the drama and conflict that the premise sets us in, author Edward P. Jones shows an expertise in use of time and plot shift. It's hard to believe it's a debut novel. After reading "The Known World" you'll be inclined to put it in the same category of writing as "The Alchemist", "The Time Traveler's Wife", "My Fractured Life", and "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time."
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 1, 2005
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. On the surface it is the story of a well to do child and his friendship with the son of his father's servant. At heart it is a story about human choices and consequences. Overall it is extremely moving and well written. Other recommendations: THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN NIGHT TIME, MIDDLESEX, MY FRACTURED LIFE, and THE KNOWN WORLD.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 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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