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by Edward P. Jones

Henry Townsend, a black farmer, bootmaker, and former slave, has a fondness for Paradise Lost and an unusual mentor -- William Robbins, perhaps the most powerful man in antebellum Virginia's Manchester County. Under Robbins's tutelage, Henry becomes proprietor of his own plantation -- as well as of his own slaves. When he dies, his widow, Caldonia, succumbs to profound grief, and things begin to fall apart at their plantation: slaves take to escaping under the cover of night, and families who had once found love beneath the weight of slavery begin to betray one another. Beyond the Townsend estate, the known world also unravels: low-paid white patrollers stand watch as slave "speculators" sell free black people into slavery, and rumors of slave rebellions set white families against slaves who have served them for years.

An ambitious, luminously written novel that ranges seamlessly between the past and future and back again to the present, The Known World weaves together the lives of freed and enslaved blacks, whites, and Indians -- and allows all of us a deeper understanding of the enduring multidimensional world created by the institution of slavery.

Download The Known World epub
ISBN: 0060557540
ISBN13: 978-0060557546
Category: Literature
Subcategory: Genre Fiction
Author: Edward P. Jones
Language: English
Publisher: Amistad; 1st edition (September 2003)
Pages: 388 pages
ePUB size: 1360 kb
FB2 size: 1670 kb
Rating: 4.9
Votes: 174
Other Formats: lrf azw docx lrf

Anyone about to read this novel should know that there is not an unitary plot that follows a set of characters to a finality. Thus, you feel like it is very disjointed or fragmented, and you may even stop reading it because you can't settle in for a good, fluid read. You should know that it comprises a series of linked short stories or vignettes, and if you are knowledgeable of styles, be warned that it is a post-modernist novel, i.e., a novel in which there is a fragmented narrative, a kind of narration or narrator that isn't reliable, and this is especially true when trying to understand what the "known world" is to the slaves. Yes, it is a novel about slavery, but particularly about black slaveowners. Around 1860 28% of free blacks owned slaves as compared to 4.8% of southern whites so this is a very legitimate subject. However, the novel and its sources are not based on actual history. Only the 1806 Act passed in Virginia that is referenced is historically correct. Everything else is imaginary, made up, and the novel itself becomes a kind of metahistory of slavery. You don't read it to further your knowledge of historical slavery. You read it for its vivid fictional depictions of groups of slaves and the white functionaries they encounter. You read it because the stories are memorable. There is, of course, the brutality of slavery, but most readers know about that so you read to dwell in the humanity of the various groups of slaves, most of them families. The title of the book is "The Known World" so read this novel to learn what that means: what is knowledge, what or who generates it, can it be trusted, how does it impact individual slaves. With a theme to follow like knowledge, you will greatly enjoy the book, far more than if you just read the words on the page as it won't pick up steam for you. If you like the notion of short stories then read the author's two collections. I rate this novel all five stars but with the caveat laid out above. It would not, however, have been my choice for a Pulitzer Prize, but who knows what the competition was. The author himself does not give very enlightening interviews, but it is helpful to know that his beloved mother was completely illiterate. That fact obviously plays a big underlying role in the novel. This is not a novel you buy at the airport before a flight. That's not fair. Give it your full attention with a question,for it to answer such as I have suggested above.
This is not a book that "grabs you" or "pulls you along"; it was tedious work to navigate the text, but part of that was due to its depth and the richness of its characters and setting. To give it a lower rating would be unfair, as my own personal difficulty reading it was perhaps a product of my current state as a reader: needing hooks/wittiness, rather than prepared to do the necessary work this book required.

Still, the work paid off--the injustices resonate more and more as the book continues on, and it's historicism lends it a gravity that does indeed matter. Most importantly, it is a reminder that history is not simple, and that people are not simple, and that far too often the world is not just.

I cannot say that the entire reading experience was enjoyable, but I am glad that I continued to the finish line.
My daughter was reading this book in her high school English class and I decided to reread it so that I could discuss it with her while she was planning her paper. I listened to this on tape when it first was published, which was a few years ago. I was stunned all over again by how great this novel is. The sections are not chronological, but follow certain thematic arcs, often going back over information we already have gleaned from other chapters. I did not find this confusing at all, but felt rather that I was getting different versions of the same tale, as if from different points of view.

If anyone has a doubt about the insanity of the institution of slavery, this is the book to read. The narrative approaches the subject in a totally neutral and objective way, quoting the laws of the time and describing events without judgment, much the same way as Primo Levi approached his descriptions of Auschwitz. The calm and even-handed prose makes the reality of slavery all the more appalling. Here's something I didn't know: Northern insurance companies insured slaves. This was horrifying to me.
Well written and quite interesting. Wonderful job of character development. I think that before I read the book, which I read as a member of a local book club that reads fiction and non-fiction books based on American history, I knew that some free blacks in the pre-Civil-War South owned slaves, I hadn't ever thought about how that would have worked on of the effect it had on both the black slaves and black slave owners.
The book jumps back and forth though time, which means you have to pay attention as you read, but then that's what one should always be doing when one reads anyway.
Recommended book!
The older I get the more I realize how inadequate my history education was. By reading historical fiction, I have been intrigued to explore little known facts from history. This book was no exception. I had never heard nor ever considered the fact that there were black slave owners in America. But, apparently there were.

This book follows the lives of a freed black man and the slaves he owned. The writing style is also unusual. When a character is mentioned in the story, not only does the author tell what is currently happening in the story, but also flashbacks and flash forwards of that character’s life and experiences. With so much movement in the story and so many characters, it was difficult at times to follow the storyline and keep everyone straight.

I liked getting to know some of the characters, and the ones such as Moses stood out in a curious way. None of the characters were truly likable for me except maybe Alice who acted a little crazy.

I’m glad I read this book - it opened my eyes and mind to learn about a little known bit of American history
I didn't care for this book. I found it hard to follow the various characters and very depressing. It was a book club book to read. I ended up not going past about 70 pages.