Synopses & Reviews
In one of the most acclaimed novels in recent memory, Edward P. Jones, two-time National Book Award finalist, tells the story of Henry Townsend, a black farmer and former slave who falls under the tutelage of William Robbins, the most powerful man in Manchester County, Virginia. Making certain he never circumvents the law, Townsend runs his affairs with unusual discipline. But when death takes him unexpectedly, his widow, Caldonia, can't uphold the estate's order and chaos ensues. In a daring and ambitious novel, Jones has woven a footnote of history into an epic that takes an unflinching look at slavery in all of its moral complexities.
This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.
"This extraordinary novel [is] the best new work of American fiction to cross my desk in years." Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post Book World
"[S]tunning....With hard-won wisdom and hugely effective understatement, Mr. Jones explores the unsettling, contradiction-prone world of a Virginia slaveholder who happens to be black." Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"[K]aleidoscopic....Jones has written a book of tremendous moral intricacy: no relationship here is left unaltered by the bonds of ownership, and liberty eludes most of Manchester County's residents, not just its slaves." The New Yorker
"Jones's prose can be rather static and his phrasings ponderous, but his narrative achieves crushing momentum through sheer accumulation of detail, unusual historical insight and generous character writing." Publishers Weekly
"[A]mbitious....A fascinating look at a painful theme, this book is an ideal choice for book clubs. Highly recommended." Library Journal
"A profoundly beautiful and insightful look at American slavery and human nature." Booklist (starred)
"Vivid....[An] epic novel." Book Magazine
"An exemplar of historical fiction...[it] will subdue your preconceptions, enrich your perceptions and trouble your sleep....The way Jones tells this story...recalls Cormac McCarthy, William Faulkner and Gabriel Garcia Marquez." Newsday
About the Author
Edward P. Jones, the New York Times bestselling author, has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, for fiction, the National Book Critics Circle award, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and the Lannan Literary Award for The Known World; he also received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2004. His first collection of stories, Lost in the City, won the PEN/Hemingway Award and was short listed for the National Book Award. His second collection, All Aunt Hagars Children, was a finalist for the Pen/Faulkner Award. He has been an instructor of fiction writing at a range of universities, including Princeton. He lives in Washington, D.C.
Reading Group Guide
Questions for Discussion
1. Why is the character of Moses significant to the novel? How would you characterize his relationship with Henry and Caldonia Townsend? What about with his wife and child?
2. What is the significance of the title, The Known World? What "known world" is charted in John Skiffington's map in the jail? What world is charted in The Creation described by Calvin in his letter to his sister Caldonia? What role does the land and its borders play in this book?
3. Who is William Robbins and how does he impact the lives of blacks on neighboring plantations? Did you find his relationships with Henry, Augustus, and Mildred Townsend, and Philomena, Dora, and Louis compelling?
4. What is the significance of the Augustus Townsend character? In what ways is Augustus a victim of attitudes about slavery in the South? In what ways is he a victor? How did you respond to his captivity and its outcome?
5. How would you characterize Jebediah Dickinson? What explains his sudden appearance at the Elston farm? When Fern says of Jebediah: "With him there ... I feel as if I belong to him, that I am his property," what does she mean?
6. Were relationships between parents and children notably different during the era of slavery than in the present day? Consider Caldonia, Calvin, and Maude; William Robbins, Patience, and Dora; and Augustus, Mildred, and Henry in your evaluations.