Saturday, February 5, 2011

Book Review: The Known World

Today I'm reviewing The Known World, by Edward P. Jones. I find this a perfect choice for my first book review as this feature on my site is somewhat "unknown" to me.

I found this book at the used book section of the library in my hometown. I was home on vacation when my dad suggested that I check out their recent haul of books going for 50 cents apiece. I might have put this one down except that I noticed a little gold badge on the cover that said "Winner of the Pulitzer Prize." OK, I figured, I guess it might not be all that bad. It turned out to be one of the most extraordinary books I have read in years. 

In short, this book is about the moral consequences and complexities of slavery. Despite the heavy topic and frequent sense of tragedy, the story was told in a masterful, precise style that actually left me feeling uplifted. 

This book is for literature carnivores who love to rip apart the meat of characters and plots. I would not recommend this book to literature vegetarians who want leafy descriptions of places, clothes, and appearances and to only digest one or two main characters at a time. 

I would recommend this book to anyone who appreciates stories full of mythology, well-developed characters, and intertwining plots. Each character had a story and motivation for his or her actions, down to minor characters that I only met for one paragraph or one sentence. Events that happened earlier in the book had consequences for later events, but in indirect ways that gave me an appreciative "Aha!" moment instead of a brick over the head. In one case, one character does something dishonest early on. It's set aside until hundreds of pages later, when his moral unreliability limits his ability to vouch for someone else who's in trouble, thus affecting the other character's fate and setting another course of events into action.

The book was told in a non-linear fashion, and what was special about this book was that there was plenty of foreshadowing and suspense, but it was executed precisely enough to give me a sense of longing, but not enough to completely ruin the surprise. The author gave enough information for me to understand what was going on until when he described it more later. For example, in the very beginning, he goes through a few pages of describing a major character before even saying his name or saying what year it is. By that time, I was hooked and I wanted to know more about who the characters were and when the events were taking place. 

At times, the book is biblical and allegorical in nature, and at those times, I did feel that I was missing out on some allusion or metaphor. There were also times when I lost track of some of the characters, but a "who's who" guide in the back of the book was a handy reference. On further re-reading, I want to take more notes about each of the characters so I can remember them better. Despite this, for most parts of the book, there is something to meet the reader at her own level. 

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

1 comment:

Ceska said...

I was expecting much more but found it was very boring for long parts. I kept reading hoping the book would redeem itself but that never happened. While some parts were interesting though.