Another first novel

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known.jpgI just finished reading another first novel, but I wasn’t thinking of it as a first novel when I wrote my last post. I had to put aside Edward P. Jones’s The Known World when I started reading the last two (seven day books of course!). I have been meaning to read it for a while. I saw Jones read from his short story collection, Lost in the City, way back when I was in college. As I remember it, the stories were quite good and mostly about Washington, D.C. which is where I was living at the time. The Known World received the Pulitzer Prize and rightly so, it is a fascinating book. It feels like Jones did an enormous amount of research for the book, but according to this PBS interview he didn’t. There are a lot of characters and points of view in this highly emotional book about slavery just before the civil war. Jones moves around in time so that the reader gets to find out what happens to each character without having to tie things up neatly at the end of the story. The book revolves around the character of Henry Townsend, a former slave who was bought out of slavery by his father, but was influenced more by his former owner William Robbins. Townsend builds his own plantation and is one of the few free blacks to own slaves. I guess the fact that free blacks owned slaves shouldn’t have surprised me, but somehow it did. I guess I feel like the parents of Henry Townsend when they learn that he bought his first slave. They don’t feel that they need to explain why it is wrong – it should be common sense to him. The title of the book takes its name from a map in the county sheriff’s office and the book is a kind of map of the different characters. It’s both a physical map, following the characters on their respective journeys and an emotional map looking at how each character feels about or wrestles with their feelings about slavery. This was a great book to end the year on. I’ll need to look into his second book of short stories All Aunt Hagar’s Children.


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