Scot's Reviews > The Known World

The Known World by Edward P. Jones
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's review
Feb 07, 2008

really liked it
Read in February, 2008

This is historical fiction that explores a fascinating phenomenon in the practice of slavery in 19th century America: what life was like for all involved when people of color owned slaves themselves.

The author brings two wonderful touches to his writing style: 1) a practice of sometimes stopping and focusing on one item or person and then flashing forward or backward in time to relevant connections before proceeding on with the story 2) strains of magical realism, when everyday life gives way to other possibilities that the characters who experience them are forced to (or quite naturally) accept. What does bother me, though, is that while reading merrily along, caught up in the story, I came across one definite anachronism that could not have historically occurred in the time and place he described (even allowing for magical realism). This pulled me out of the world the book created, and made me begin to wonder how well researched both the historical setting and cultural complexities really were. I know this is historical fiction, but I want the author to know the true context so well that all those details, backgrounds, and minor elements ring true and valid, even if the characters are all made up. While I'm getting an artful fiction narrative, which I certainly did here, I want to also be sure I'm always gaining true and useful insights into how slavery with black masters actually operated in Virginia. Having aired that one caveat, I nevertheless applaud this work of art, and can see why it won the Pulitzer Prize.
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