The Known World By Edward P. Jones

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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 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. Jones has woven a footnote of history into an epic that takes an unflinching look at slavery in all its moral complexities. The Known World

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 consequences 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 consequences 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. The Known World 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 go.

It took me nearly 2 months to finish the book's 388 pages. It should've been a quick read. It is a fascinating place with peculiar problems and characters I cried for on more than one occasion. It should've been a quick read but I kept asking myself this question: 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 been?

Who am I now?

In matters of race, there is always that fool's point, usually made by a white person (though not always) that asks,why 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 go.

This 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 it.

Highly highly recommended. The Known World 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 quote that thought endlessly: in my gothic lit class, my enlightenment class, my victorian lit class... the african and irish lit professors mostly kept their mouths shut on the subject. but the rest - hoo boy - did they love to drag that old chestnut out...

and it makes sense, to a certain degree. but this book doesn't tell you how to read it so much as it presents itself to the reader, like a fat man in a speedo lolling around on an undersized towel saying, look at me ladies, you like it?? this is what you get!! it almost demands that you read it and like it.

but i was disobedient.

every sentence, every paragraph, seemed to be trying to contain multitudes. and i am a fan of thick writing, but the manner in which this book presented itself quickly soured on me. there were too many stories or episodes ending with, years from now, when celia was on her deathbed, she would think back to her third year of marriage,in a scene where she has yet to even be married, or right after two characters are introduced to each other, this would be the last time they would meet until the hailstorm of aught-six - and i am making up all the names and situations here, but you get an idea of the shape of my complaints. it's constant foreshadowing and some of the foreshadowing is just teasing, as the events never come to pass in the novel itself. it's like sitting down to tea with a god in his dotage, rambling and making connections only he can understand; seeing the past and future simultaneously.

hey, karen, didn't you really like that kjaerstaad trilogy, where he basically did what you are complaining about here??

yeah, what? so? shut up - isn't it past your bedtime??

yeah, but sure, that's true. but for some reason, it bothered me here. all i wanted was a straightforward linear narrative about a fascinating subject matter: free black men and women who owned slaves. when i read roll of thunder, hear my cry last summer, the whole transition period between slavery and freedom really excited my brainparts. i dunno. and mister jones was a real sweetheart when he came for the new yorker festival and i waited in line to get a book signed for a friend and i really wanted to like it because it seems like a nice fat sprawling sweeping story the way i like, but i just got lost in the names and the timeline and my confusion turned into apathy.

it's like this guy you date who seems really perfect - he is smart and looks like gabriel byrne and he dotes on you and everything is fun and on paper it all looks great and you know you should really like him, but he just doesn't make you laugh so you run off and leave him for a rockstar. you know?

because i feel like i should like this one because it is award-winning, and my experience with the african-american novel is middling (although i love the african novel, the west indian novel and the afro-canadian novel - go figure) so i feel like as someone who appreciates literature in general, i should totally love this. but it wasn't there for me.

oh, chris wilson, i am sorry. now you are going to want full custody because your baby is being raised among heathens.

years from now, when my and chris wilson's book-baby became the mayor of littleton, he would read this review and a tear of sorrow would come to his eye at my short-sightedness.

come to my blog! The Known World Dear The Known World:

I'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 bit.

I 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 signs were there: the laudatory quotes on your jacket, a shocking and unexpected premise, high marks on goodreads. But something was just off by the end of the first chapter.

Maybe it was the masturbation scene right at the start. Or the characters that I just couldn't get into - I could hardly tell some of them apart. Or the way the narrative seemed to skip all over without any focus. Maybe I just didn't give you enough pages. I'm sure you got better as you went along. I mean, look at all the four- and five-star reviews you've gotten! But every time I picked you up my thoughts turned to the three other books on my bedside table that I'd rather be reading. I haven't actually been unfaithful, but that's just not a healthy basis for a relationship. So after 72 pages, I'm putting you down.

Don't feel too bad. Focus on all those other, good reviews and maybe we'll meet again someday when the stars all align just right. But probably not.


For more book reviews, come visit my blog, Build Enough Bookshelves. The Known World 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 black slave owners. There are moments when the book does say some interesting things or reveal some unsavory and uncomfortable truths, but it was so hard to engage with as a reader. I mean, I hung in with DFW through the first 600 pages of Infinite Jest where nothing happens -- but because I was fascinated by Hal, Orin, Marathe, Steeply, and Mario and Madame Psychosis who all fascinated me. There were literally dozens of other characters but these all pulled me in. In The Known World, there are also dozens of characters but none that I grew any attachment too. It was as if the author Jones was using a hand-held camera and no stabilizer so that the images were jumpy and out of focus. It reminded me sometimes of how the world seems to my myopic eyes between taking off my glasses in the morning and putting in my contact lenses.

The narration also highly annoyed me. All the parenthetical in 60 years so and so will do such as such were meaningless because I was given neither enough time nor enough detail to give a shit. Further, there is this reference to years later they would all turn into human torches in front of the dry foods store, but no mention afterwards of to what this referred. But the most annoying bit was in using the Canadian journalist frame at about page 130 or so (which then only briefly appears in the narrative 200 pages later in a parenthetical throwaway comment, it is said that the journalist would never marry his heart's desire yet 3 pages later, they marry and that coming to talk to Fern that there was some incomprehensible stuff that happens off-screen that morning (also never adequately explained) and so she was not going to open up to the journalist and yet we still find her filling in details about Henry, Moses and Caledonia 30 pages later. Too much inconsistency - was the editor asleep or stoned and missed these?

So, despite taking on a complex subject, Jones is no Faulkner as his South does not eve approach that of the Great William. He is not as good as Pynchon or DFW is manipulating time and space in a narrative that was 100 or 150 pages too long and felt it, and he is not Alice Walker or Toni Morrison who brought us the most amazing, poignant, and powerful images of slavery and its residual impacts generations later that I have ever read. So, read Beloved or Absalom, Absalom if you want to hear about the South and I expect you will be less frustrated, but every bit enraged at this deplorable institution that is a cancer on the American past. The Known World


The Known World, Edward P. Jones
The Known World is a 2003 historical novel by Edward P. Jones. Set in Virginia during the antebellum era, it examines the issues regarding the ownership of black slaves by both white and black Americans.
تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز سوم ماه ژوئن سال 2017 میلادی
عنوان: دنیای آشنا؛ نویسنده: ادوارد پی. جونز؛ مترجم: شیرین معتمدی؛ تهران، شورآفرین، 1394؛ در 389 ص، شابک: 9786006955049؛ موضوع: درباره دنیای سیاهان امریکای سده نوزدهم میلادی از نویسندگان سده 21 م
داستان «دنیای آشنا»، درباره ی دنیای سیاهان، در آمریکای سده ی نوزدهم میلادی ست. داستان، در سال 1855 میلادی، در مزرعه ی مرد سیاه‌��وستی به نام: «هِنری تاونسند»، می‌گذرد. او یک برده به دنیا آمده، اما حالا یک ارباب است. اربابِ سیاه، به آینده ای با مزرعه ی پنجاه هکتاری، و با سی‌ و سه برده ی سیاه می‌اندیشد. او با برده‌ هایش، همان برخورد را دارد، که اربابِ سفیدپوستش «ویلیام رابینز» با خود او داشت. واژه های داستان با دو شخصیت می‌چرخند: «هنری تاونسند»، اربابِ سیاه، و برده ی سیاه او: «موسا»، هرچند شخصیت اصلی داستان را میتوان «هنری تاونسند» برشمرد، اما او قهرمان رمان نیست، زیرا ویژگی‌های یک قهرمان را ندارد، بلکه شخصیت محوری داستان است، که از زوایای مختلف، مورد کنکاش قرار می‌گیرد. در کنار زندگی «تاونسند»، قصه‌ های عاشقانه، و کمدی شخصیت‌های دیگر نیز، طی چند دهه، روایت می‌شود. «جان فریمن»، منتقد «ایندیپندنت»، درباره ی «جونز» و شاهکارش، می‌نویسد: «جونز در دنیایی آشنا از سبکی موجز بهره می‌گیرد، و هرچه داستان پیش می‌رود، ریتم آن نیز تندترمی‌شود، و لحن نویسنده نیز جان می‌گیرد. «جونز» چنان با زبان بازی می‌کند، و گاه در خلال داستان، گریزی پرشور به گذشته، و آینده‌ می‌زند، که به‌ گونه ای خیره‌ کننده، توان تسلط بر قلمش را به رخ خوانشگر می‌کشد. و چنان آگاهیش را، با شکیبایی درمی‌آمیزد، که به راستی چیزی کم از معجزه ندارد.». «هارپر پرننیال»، منتقد «گاردین» نیز، درباره این شاهکار می‌نویسد: «خواندن دنیای آشنا آسان نیست، اما یک تجربه قدرتمند و فراموش‌ ناشدنی است.». ا. شربیانی The Known World I'm going to have to rave a bit, because this is one of the best books I've read in the past ten years.

Jones packs in all the historical detail you could want, and of course he's hit on a subject--black slaveowners--that in and of itself is tabloid-sensational. Where lesser writers might lean too hard on the sensational aspect (or rely on it to bolster an otherwise weak narrative), Jones works it into a compelling and powerful story.

What makes it so powerful is a mix of fascinating characters who are woven into a series of overlapping plotlines. For me it's the structuring that is so brilliant (geek alert: I actually diagrammed the time shifts in the chapters as an exercise, to see when and how Jones yoked the whole thing together). This less than linear approach might be frustrating to those who just want things to be straightforward, but stick with it: the shifts provide suspense as well as texture, and they propel more than one storyline at once. They do all come together, trust me.

I also admire the overarching authorial voice in the novel, which certainly leans toward the formal, but also comes across as aware of the history it's grappling with: here and there Jones projects his voice forward for a moment, or seemingly digresses with factual material and research. Again it's all part of the tapestry and the mix, and I also think that the level of narrative awareness (which never disengages long enough to derail anything) adds another layer to the very idea of history--making the whole historical and contemporary both.

And for those of you who can do without all of the above writerly blather (a thousand pardons), you'll find in this book characters who are engaging, ignorant, cruel, earnest, sympathetic, tragic, hopeful, flawed--in short, complicated. Halfway through you'll be fighting off the impulse to skip ahead to learn everyone's fate.

Finally, I'll say that this book isn't perfect--there are aspects of what I've described above that sometimes don't work: narrative turns that do seem pointless digressions, a character or two a bit stereotypical or annoying. No matter. This book aims high, as brilliant works of art do, and the result is nothing short of amazing.

The Known World 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 world.

This 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 here.

What 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.
The Known World 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, neighbors & community surrounding Henry & Caldonia. It took me a really long time to get into the book, because there are so many characters, some important & some not, & the book jumps around in time, making it difficult to follow. Trust me, use the cast of characters at the end of this edition (why not place this at the beginning?!) & give up your expectations about traditional narrative format, & you'll LOVE this book as much as I did. In life, we have our own story kind of playing in our head, & at the same time we have all these other stories we're hearing - the story about your mother's great-uncle. The story about your brother in law's neighbor. The one about your sister's husband's aunt & her neighbor. the one about your coworker's mother. You know all those stories? That's what this book is like - some characters are more important than others, so you hear more of their stories, but minor characters have stories too, & they sort of appear out of nowhere, & you get to hear their story, & then they're gone. It's really very cool! I particularly loved the story of the womanizing slave who has a vision during a lightning storm/tornado - & becomes the founder of an orphanage. And the little tiny story about the family who don't want to give up their cow, & the woman goes into the barn to milk the cow & there's this lovely description of her squirting the cow's milk into a cat's mouth, & if you've ever seen a cat eat with true contentment you will recognize the cat body language that Jones describes. Toward the end of the book there's a very powerful scene where a character, who isn't a particularly good character, says there should be a lantern or light of truth in the world, an actual place where people can stand & tell the truth without fear of retribution, where one might be able to right a wrong. It's a moment where you think, yes this guy could right the wrong by speaking out, because his fear of having people think he's on the negro's side is...well, wrong! But that's his fear & in that moment of the book you understand it & you think, yeah, what if he could speak out under that light of truth & not have anyone judge him? How wonderful would that be? While the book depicts the horrors of slavery, & there are a few characters who are outright despicable, there are many shades of gray in Jones' vision as well. It's a book that will make you think about slavery, the myths & realities & tragedies of it all, & on top of that it'll make you think about your own life & all the people you've known & how complex & interesting we all are, really. It's beautifully written & the characters will stick in your head as if you'd known them too. Oddly, I think what I initially disliked most about this book - its multitude of characters & convoluted timeline - is what I ended up really enjoying! Another example of a book that made my head expand, with some creakiness, but I'm glad the expansion can still happen! The Known World 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 time. During those sad dark days in the American history.

Black Edward P. Jones (born 1951) wrote this historical epic novel, The Known World based on the not well known fact that there were some black slaveholders (black people owning black slaves) in the state of Virginia during the time in the US when owning slave is legal. Wikipedia has this to say:

Slavery in the United States was a form of unfree labor which existed as a legal institution in North America for more than a century before the founding of the United States in 1776, and continued mostly in the South until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1865.[1] The first English colony in North America, Virginia, first imported Africans in 1619, a practice earlier established in the Spanish colonies as early as the 1560s.[2] Most slaves were black and were held by whites, although some Native Americans and free blacks also held slaves; there were a small number of white slaves as well.[3]
Winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Award for Fiction, The Known World is one of the most memorable reads I had this year. It is not an easy book to read. This 388-page novel left me with a heavy chest each time I closed the book. Each page is gloomy and sad. The novel is well-told with lyrical prose creating a big canvas of imagery in one's mind while reading. In that big canvas are memorable and three-dimensional numerous characters most of them black slaves. No character is downright bad or good. The detailed description of the sceneries of a fictional county called Manchester and the true depictions of the characters are exceptionally striking that I had to slow down in my reading to savor the story and hold on *tugging to them, cheering them on* to each characters. Reading the last page left me with a heavy heart. I would not want to let go of that image of Manchester and say goodbye Please don't go yet to the characters that I already became part of my literary world. The world that resides in the recesses of my brain. The world that is known only to me populated by people who I met only in my readings.

In terms of writing, Jones extensively use the technique called prolepsis that I first encountered reading Muriel Sparks' The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961). Jones explained this in the interview (appendix of the book) saying that he is the God of those characters so he knows what happened in the life of each characters from the time he/she was born up to the time his/her death. The most moving example of this use was with the character of the child Tessie. One fine day of September 1855, their mistress Caldonia saw the 5-y/o Tessie playing with a wooden toy horse. Caldonia says to the child: That is very nice, Tessie to which Tessie responded, My papa did this for me. In January 2002, on her deathbed, the old Tessie asked her caretaker to get the wooden toy horse from the attic. While holding the toy, she breathed her last saying the same thing: My papa did this for me.

My heart stopped beating. Tears welled up in my eyes. That scene is just one of the many moving scenes about those slaves in that time of the history in Virginia when black people were traded like they were not human but properties.

I can make this review very long. There are just too many good things I would like to say here but I am afraid that no review can make justice to a book as good as this. The Known World