The Known World
Edward P. Jones
"I had almost forgotten where I was," Winifred said, meaning the South, meaning the world of human property. (p. 34)
Set in a fictitious Virginia county around 1840, Edward Jones' Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is a story of slavery; specifically, the rare occurrence of slaves owned by free black people. The plot revolves around landowner Henry Townsend, his wife Caldonia, and the events following Henry's untimely death. The novel explores themes of prejudice, the ignorance and brutality of white men, and the potential for every slave to make their own way once free.
Jones' narrative style is non-linear, branching off from events of 1840 to those in the distant past or future. Foreshadowing is frequently used to predict a character's success or failure, or the state of relationships: "Neither Robbins nor Colfax would know it for a very long time but that day was the high point of their friendship." (p. 39) This is used effectively, for example, to show how a child slave becomes a free and independent adult, while keeping the novel firmly set in a period of just a few years' time. And, while many of the characters lack depth, the women in this novel are amazingly strong, single-handedly holding the community together.
I found Jones' literary techniques interesting, and he successfully held my interest. However, I found myself unable to get inside the characters and this detracted from my enjoyment of this book. Not a bad read, but not the great read I'd expect from a Pulitzer winner. ( )