Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Book review: The Known World

I just finished reading The Known World, a Pulitzer prize-winning novel by Edward P. Jones. The story takes place in Manchester County, VA, twenty years before the Civil War, and centers upon slavery. There's a twist: the plantation and slaves in the story are owned by a black man, Henry Townsend, a former slave himself. Henry Townsend's father bought his own freedom and worked to buy his wife and son from their white owner, but the owner, recognizing the intelligence of the boy, holds on to him for as long as possible. As a result, Henry grows distant from his parents and becomes a protege of his owner. Years later, Henry is the owner of a successful plantation and a community of slaves, and upon his death, his widow inherits the farm and the "property." I didn't especially love the writing style of A Known World, but the plot and the wide range of characters make the book a fascinating read. The book is character-driven and not overly preachy, but the injustice and cruelty of the system are obvious throughout the novel and do come to the surface in a couple of disturbing incidents. I definitely recommend The Known World.

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