Monday, August 14, 2006

Slavery: A New Perspective

So much has been written about slavery it's hard to believe that there are still fresh insights out there, but pick up The Known World by Edward P. Jones, and you will find some. This Pulitzer-prize winning novel focuses on Henry Townsend, a freed slave who becomes wealthy enough to own his own plantation, complete with a passel of slaves. All of his property is strictly controlled. When he dies, however, the operation of his estate falls into the hand of his wife, Caldonia, who weakly tries to keep things together. Although the slaves admire the "missus," several see their chance at freedom and take it. Soon, the plantation has dissolved into chaos, with slaves escaping, fighting among the men, and a troublesome overseer trying to procure his freedom by seducing Caldonia. The novel stays mainly with Henry and Caldonia, but it also offers perspectives from every corner of the plantation, from slaves to their owners, to the local sheriff and his patrollers, to various friends and foes of the Townsends. It is a compelling look at slavery, with all of its moral complexities.

While I found this book interesting, I can't say I really liked it. The storyline is very disjointed, although in an artsy kind of way. I found few of the characters to be likable. Make no mistake, the book is extremely well written, it's just not a story you can read casually. Would I recommend reading it? Yes, for the fresh and incredibly interesting view on slavery, no, if you are looking for an easy, well-plotted story.

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