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The Known World Paperback – 5 Jul 2004

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (5 July 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007195303
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007195305
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.6 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 10,985 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'A very moving epic' Andrea Levy, author of Small Island

'Majestic …[its] cumulative effect devastates' Daily Telegraph

'A moral epic, skilfully and sensitively constructed' Sunday Times

'A powerful experience … rich in character and plot' Guardian

'A masterpiece' Time Magazine

‘Jones immerses us in a world of slaves and slave owners with unerring mastery' Geoff Dyer, Telegraph Books of the Year

An engrossing epic tale. The indications of what's to come mean a sense of doom hang over this beautifully crafted tale, people with luminous characters. It's a moving look at the moral complexities of slavery.' Metro

‘The Known World is an achievement of epic scope and architectural construction, which nonetheless reads like a string of folk tales told by someone slyly watching for your reaction – tales told by a conjurer who distracts you so well that you never know what hit you.’ New York Times

‘The best new work of American fiction to cross my desk in years.’ Washington Post

‘Jones has woven nothing less than a tapestry of slavery, an artifact as vast and complex as anything to be found in the Louvre. Every thread is perfectly in place … The first paragraph exquisitely connects, nearly 400 pages later, with the last. Against all the evidence to the contrary that American fiction has given us over the past quarter-century, The Known World affirms that the novel does matter, that it can still speak to us as nothing else can.’ Houston Chronicle

About the Author

Edward P. Jones won the PEN/Hemingway Award and was nominated for the National Book Award for his debut collection of stories, Lost in the City.

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First Sentence
The evening his master died he worked again well after he ended the day for the other adults, his own wife among them, and sent them back with hunger and tiredness to their cabins. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 12 Feb. 2005
Format: Paperback
The Known World is a vast, all-encompassing novel of epic proportions that sweeps across the landscape of the County of Manchester, Virginia, and presents us with a broad patchwork of life during the slave years of the 1860's. Edward P. Jones' superior storytelling keeps the reader totally engaged as he jumps backwards and forwards in time, gradually revealing the tortured and often grief-stricken lives of the various inhabitants of Manchester County, both black and white.
Slavery is threatened, and the promise of freedom is now hopeful for many blacks. The abolitionist movement is growing, but having free papers still doesn't necessarily mean much, and in a world where people believe in a God they cannot see and pretend the wind is his voice, a piece of paper often means nothing.
Full of heartache, loss, and the enduring power of the human spirit, The Known World focuses on Henry Townsend, who at 31 has achieved the kind of success, that most black folk can only dream of. Building a small fortune, Henry is now free, owns some land, and is married to Caldonia, an accomplished and educated young woman. In his early years, Henry learnt much from Williams Robbins, his white owner, and now he also owns his own slaves, seemingly without conscience.
The novel begins with Henry's quiet death, and then jumps back in time to the events leading up to the accumulation of his wealth and the sometimes-strained relationship with his parents. The story then moves forward to Caledonia's troubled handling of the estate, where she blurs the lines of behaviour, crosses boundaries, and becomes intimate with Moses, Henry's first slave. Moses, who helped Henry build the plantation years before, is now Henry's overseer, but he chooses to work among his fellow slaves.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By maya j on 31 July 2007
Format: Paperback
The Known World is a literary masterpiece. In beginning the book, you wonder how hard it will be to read in the manner of mid-19th century country/slave vernacular, but in page after page, the language just flows, and there is no denying the language is painting a picture of who these people are. There are numerous characters, yet they are so vivid in their representation, it is impossible to get confused as to who did what. Some of the characters you love, and of course, others are just repugnant. As I read The Known World, I felt I could actually hear the singing in the field, smell the smells of the slave barracks, and see the humid, torrid heat of the southern countryside. It's not a typical story about slavery. Former slaves owning slaves is a part of our national footprint I don't think has been written about much. Now, thanks to Edward P. Jones, we possess a manuscript of an amazingly enlightened view of this old world phenomenon. In addition, Edward P. Jones' writing is so eloquent and fluent in the nature of "this world", you wonder if he could have actually lived it. It is a beautiful story that, although sad, is also compelling and makes you feel smug and small in the scheme of this "Known World".
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Patrick Shepherd on 29 Sept. 2003
Format: Hardcover
Blacks owning blacks is not something that one normally considers when one thinks of the conditions in the South prior to the Civil War. But, though rare, it did exist, and this novel explores one such case, and by doing so helps provide a more complete picture of the Known World, another window into that era and by reflection a vision of the current world.
Perhaps most noticeable at the beginning of the book is the style it is told in. This is not a linear narrative with a well-defined protagonist and a clear-cut set of problems. Instead, Jones jumps from character to character, backward and forward in time, sometimes with his focus on an individual, sometimes reading more like an academic treatise documenting historical occurrences - often doing so even within a single paragraph. Because of this style and the sheer number of characters that are introduced or casually mentioned (over a hundred of them), it is very difficult to get quickly engrossed in this work. Not until almost a hundred fifty pages in does a coherent picture emerge and the characters coalesce from names into being people.
But what does finally emerge is a picture of just how 'free' blacks could really be in that time. Though legally able to buy and sell others, the rights of this miniscule class of people did not extend to the full protection of the law - although as clearly shown here, it didn't extend to many others as well: the poor, the half-breeds, even women as a class. Entry into 'society' is clearly denied, even though some of them were well respected for their skills and general level-headedness. And they always had to carry their papers proving their freedom - in a world where only a few were literate, this is quite an irony as well as being degrading.
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Format: Paperback
The Known World, a first novel by Edward P. Jones, won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize and the 2005 IMPAC Award. It joins a long list of novels about slavery, the slave trade and life on the plantations of the southern states of America. The Known World differs from others in this genre, however, in that the slave owners are black and former slaves themselves.

At the start of the novel the reader is introduced to a great many characters in a few pages. You wonder how you will keep up. Especially as these characters confront you with their price tag intact. By stealth, Jones attempts to persuade you to view humans as property... legacy... a commodity that is insurable against accident but not really against age and wear and tear. Where lash marks on a man's back may reduce his potential price by $5 a scar, necessitating other, less visible forms of punishment. You find yourself doing the sums. You can visualize the accounts book. Give a bit here, take a bit there. If that involves splitting up a lifetime partnership, well so be it. Marriages can be inconvenient. The books must balance.

This book is not an easy read, but well worth the effort. Using multiple narrators, many tales are told by different people, so very different points of view are juxtaposed. Time is fluid and, in the manner of oral story-telling, moves back and forth. The reader needs to work a little.

The most startling revelation, that a black slave owner can end up owning his own parents and siblings, shifts the familial dynamics in ways that surprise and shock. Black slave owners inhabit two worlds. To be taken seriously as businessmen and women, they must be seen to be working within established systems.
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