In this book I learned that there used to be black slaveholders in the US. I thought that only white people were allowed to own slaves during the time that owning slaves were like owning properties. During that pre-Abolition time. During those sad dark days in the American history.
Black Edward P. Jones (born 1951) wrote this historical epic novel, The Known World
based on the not well known fact that there were some black slaveholders (black people owning black slaves) in the state of Virginia during the time in the US when owning slave is legal. Wikipedia has this to say:
"Slavery in the United States was a form of unfree labor which existed as a legal institution in North America for more than a century before the founding of the United States in 1776, and continued mostly in the South until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1865. The first English colony in North America, Virginia, first imported Africans in 1619, a practice earlier established in the Spanish colonies as early as the 1560s. Most slaves were black and were held by whites, although some Native Americans and free blacks also held slaves; there were a small number of white slaves as well."
Winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Award for Fiction, The Known World
is one of the most memorable reads I had this year. It is not an easy book to read. This 388-page novel left me with a heavy chest each time I closed the book. Each page is gloomy and sad. The novel is well-told with lyrical prose creating a big canvas of imagery in one's mind while reading. In that big canvas are memorable and three-dimensional numerous characters most of them black slaves. No character is downright bad or good. The detailed description of the sceneries of a fictional county called Manchester and the true depictions of the characters are exceptionally striking that I had to slow down in my reading to savor the story and hold on *tugging to them, cheering them on* to each characters. Reading the last page left me with a heavy heart. I would not want to let go of that image of Manchester and say goodbye Please don't go yet
to the characters that I already became part of my literary world. The world that resides in the recesses of my brain. The world that is known only to me populated by people who I met only in my readings.
In terms of writing, Jones extensively use the technique called prolepsis
that I first encountered reading Muriel Sparks' The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
(1961). Jones explained this in the interview (appendix of the book) saying that he is the God of those characters so he knows what happened in the life of each characters from the time he/she was born up to the time his/her death. The most moving example of this use was with the character of the child Tessie
. One fine day of September 1855, their mistress Caldonia
saw the 5-y/o Tessie playing with a wooden toy horse. Caldonia says to the child: That is very nice, Tessie
to which Tessie responded, My papa did this for me
. In January 2002, on her deathbed, the old Tessie asked her caretaker to get the wooden toy horse from the attic. While holding the toy, she breathed her last saying the same thing: My papa did this for me
My heart stopped beating. Tears welled up in my eyes. That scene is just one of the many moving scenes about those slaves in that time of the history in Virginia when black people were traded like they were not human but properties.
I can make this review very long. There are just too many good things I would like to say here but I am afraid that no review can make justice to a book as good as this.