booklite: the known world

The Known World
Edward P. Jones

This novel centers on characters who live in, around, and pass through a fictitious place called Manchester County, Virginia. The time is the mid-1800s just before the Civil War. The main characters seem to be the time and place settings because Jones elegantly tells the stories of the townspeople – with all of their interwovenness – with little favor to any of the rich cast of characters or character types.

I was particularly fascinated by how few direct insights into the characters’ thoughts and motivations we receive. Take a character like Henry Townsend, freed from his youth, who comes to follow in the footsteps of his former owner William Robbins by owning and abusing other blacks. Instead of privileging us to Henry’s internal dialogue and struggles, Jones prefers to present Henry’s actions – with color and endless skill, no doubt – for the reader to evaluate on her own. When Henry’s parents question his reasoning for choosing to enslave other blacks, Henry tells them, “Nobody ever told me the wrong of that.” His father, Augustus Townsend, shoots back, “Why should anybody haveta teach you the wrong son?…Ain’t you got eyes to see it without me tellin you?” Again, Jones maintains the privacy of the characters’ quiet, internal places, thereby forcing the reader to frequently consider the broader implications and wisdoms toward which the characters are pointing.

From rogue patrollers to trickster figures, The Known World is an epic hero tale, because it leaves readers to locate the wilderness and heroes on their own.

Read an insightful interview with Edward P. Jones

Purchase The Known World

Read more lengthy reviews here and here


~ by Anayah on April 10, 2007.

3 Responses to “booklite: the known world”

  1. I’m in the middle of reading “Lost in The City”. I really enjoy Jones’ books, especially his short stories which are set in DC. I never finished the known world unfortunately, I lost it before I was able to complete it, but I remember it being heartbreaking.

  2. i bought the book to pass the time while i sat with my granny in the hospital. i didn’t know anything about it or jones and it took me a while to get into it… i wasn’t committed to it until about page 180, but i’m glad i made the leap.

    it’s hard for me to read books of short stories though; i always want more. i guess that’s another thing that makes “the known world” great is that it sort of reads like so many short stories woven through and around each other. have you read “all aunt hagar’s children” as well?

  3. I am from saudi arabia middle east<<i saw opra show <<and i heard your story , and how you got fired from work, then you wrot the novel, i like your novel , and i like your personality, thank you for writing the novel.
    By the way i am in English school,after reading it, i gave it to my novel professor, and he liked it too,

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