Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Known World by Edward P. Jones

This is for Historical Tapestry's blog challenge - K is for Known.

I am willing to bet you have never read a book like this before - unless you've read this one. The Known World is the story of black slave-owners in a fictious Virginia county, but it's also the story of the web of relationships that slavery built and destroyed. There's Caldonia, the newly-widowed mistress of the plantation her husband, a freed slave, built and populated with people still condemned to bondage. There's Moses, the black foreman who helped create that plantation and isn't sure where his heart lies. Plus Fern, the black woman who could have passed for white but never contemplated it, and Mister Robbins, the white slave owner who's both harsh overseer and racial diplomat, and many, many more. As all these characters move through the turbulent antebellum and Civil War periods, it's impossible not to get caught in their wake.

Written in a unique style that dips back and forth between attentive, tuneful omniscence and detached, anthropological chronicling, this book is a wonder. By just the first 7 pages the reader has experienced both:

"He paused before leaving the fields as the evening quiet wrapped itself around him. The mule quivered, wanting home and rest. Moses closed his eyes and bent down and took a pinch of the soil and ate it with no more than if it were a spot of cornbread. He worked the dirt around in his mouth and swallowed, leaning his head back and opening his eyes in time to see the strip of sun fade to dark blue and then to nothing."


"In 1855 in Manchester County, Virginia, there were thirty-four free black families, with a mother and father and one child or more, and eight of those free families owned slaves, and all eight knew one another's business. When the War between the States came, the number of slave-owning blacks in Manchester would be down to five, and one of those included an extremely morose man who, according to the U.S. census of 1860, legally owned his own wife and five children and three grandchildren."

This is a great book, written by a fascinating (and local!) man. I won't be giving away my copy - this one's a keeper.

1 comment:

Rowenna said...

Looks like a really interesting read--must pick it up soon!

Princess Nijma

Princess Nijma