The Known World

By: Edward P. Jones
2003
Fiction
Subject Matter: African American plantation owners; African-American slaveholders; Plantation life; Virginia; Slavery; Slaves
Rating: 3/5

The Known World book cover

The Known World is a hard one to talk about.

I guess I’ll start by saying that this is a novel about slavery, but not just white-man-owning-black-slaves slavery. This is black-man-owning-black-slaves slavery. So there’s a whole ‘nother level of disturbance to it.

I shouldn’t have to warn you too much what to expect from this kind of book.It’s hard to read, hard to fathom. It makes you angry and frustrated at the way the world worked. It makes you ashamed and grateful and, well, disturbed.

I didn’t love this book.

I think it has a very compelling story. I’m so ignorant that I wasn’t even aware that there were black people who owned slaves, so that was very, very interesting for me. It seemed relatively historically accurate in regard to laws, norms, the ways I’ve always read about plantation life.

But again, I didn’t love this book.

I didn’t feel for the characters. Which is partially because Jones chose to depict sometimes unloveable characters. But I also just never got invested in the story. There’s nothing wrong with it, per se. It just fell a little flat for me.

I didn’t buy some of the scenes. I didn’t buy some of the characters.

Jones does a good job of giving you a well-rounded character list, however. There are slaves, overseers, a Cherokee man, a sheriff, kids, a white slaveowner, a black slaveowner, women. You get a variety of viewpoints.

Maybe I just didn’t get what I was supposed to out of this book. But for me, there’s not much to get aside from the shock factor.

If you’re interested in that era of history or history in general or slavery or conflicts of humanity, then give The Known World a read. But otherwise, it’s not a book that’s going to stagger you with its prose, its storyline, its characters, its imagery. And it’s a long read, so you have to commit.

But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I didn’t give The Known World a chance. Or maybe it’s just not my cup of tea.

I’ll let you decide.

 

*****

 

If you liked The Known World, try these:

Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Salt by Earl Lovelace

The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative by Thomas King

 

Coming up:

Christy by Catherine Marshall

The Complete Adventures of Charlie and Mr. Willy Wonka by Roald Dahl

Plainsong by Kent Haruf

Utopia by Thomas More

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