The Known World
Edward P. Jones
Harper Collins Amstad
September 2, 2003
Buy This Book
"National Book Award Winner Edward P. Jones illuminates history in antebellum Virginia."
"[Jones] gifts each character with a past, a present, and a future."
"The Known World refuses to simply describe slavery's brutal realities, but instead seeks to pierce, to change, to break apart our every preconception."
National Book Award Winner Edward P. Jones illuminates history in antebellum Virginia with his complex and compelling novel, The Known World. The death of black slave owner Henry Townsend, and the unraveling of his plantation, serves as the heart of the story.
Through the lives of the slaves and both black and white slave owners, The Known World explores the nuances in "owning" another person. Faces and names, loves and losses, give new meaning to the historic definition of "property."
Henry Townsend, a black man whose entire family worked to pay for their freedom, succumbs to the temptation of power and in turn enslaves others. It''s a horrifying examination of the self-justification in man''s desire to propel himself above his brother.
Jones weaves the narrative through an omniscient viewpoint, pausing within scenes to delve within timelines. He gifts each character with a past, a present, and a future. Even minor personalities carry back story, a device that slows the novel''s pace, but creates more to savor.
Through Jones'' multi-layered characters, we suffer the weight chains, taste dirt at dawn, and agonize through the slash of a hobbler''s knife. Yet, against the novel''s darkest moments, the simplest expressions of freedom glimmer. A new whittled doll, blueberries in springtime, the birth of a child.
The Known World refuses to simply describe slavery''s brutal realities, but instead seeks to pierce, to change, to break apart our every preconception. It succeeds. And our worlds, known and unknown, become broader and perhaps wiser for the journey.