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The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr


The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr
UK Publication Date: 5th Jan 2021
Reviewed by: Book Worm  
Rating: [★★★★]

This ARC was provided by Quercus (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

One word review – Shattering

Synopsis from Goodreads: A singular and stunning debut novel about the forbidden union between two enslaved young men on a Deep South plantation, the refuge they find in each other, and a betrayal that threatens their existence.

Isaiah was Samuel’s and Samuel was Isaiah’s. That was the way it was since the beginning, and the way it was to be until the end. In the barn they tended to the animals, but also to each other, transforming the hollowed-out shed into a place of human refuge, a source of intimacy and hope in a world ruled by vicious masters. But when an older man—a fellow slave—seeks to gain favor by preaching the master’s gospel on the plantation, the enslaved begin to turn on their own. Isaiah and Samuel’s love, which was once so simple, is seen as sinful and a clear danger to the plantation’s harmony.

With a lyricism reminiscent of Toni Morrison, Robert Jones, Jr. fiercely summons the voices of slaver and the enslaved alike to tell the story of these two men; from Amos the preacher to the calculating slave-master himself to the long line of women that surround them, women who have carried the soul of the plantation on their shoulders. As tensions build and the weight of centuries—of ancestors and future generations to come—culminate in a climactic reckoning, The Prophets masterfully reveals the pain and suffering of inheritance, but is also shot through with hope, beauty, and truth, portraying the enormous, heroic power of love.

Book Worm’s Thoughts: This is a beautifully written story about a horrible period in history. I would rate this 3 stars for enjoyment (I will explain why later) but 4 stars for the writing quality and for the fact it is a story that can never be told enough if we are to prevent the horrors of the past from occurring again.

So why the 3 stars for enjoyment? This is due to the narrative style while the writing is beautiful and thought provoking how the story is actually told really confused me to start with it was only in the last half of the book that I found my rhythm and began to follow the ebb and flow. This is not a linear story for the most part it does move steadily forward however almost every chapter overlaps the chapter before but from a different viewpoint (apart from the throwback chapters which are completely in the past) once you realise this reading does get easier. Different characters also have their own throwback sections and it was working out what was current, what was past and what was overlapping that made reading this difficult for me.

I also think I missed out on a lot of subtle messages because I am not religious. I got that the chapter headings related to the bible but beyond that I didn’t know the context of the biblical story to understand the story in the chapter.

This is a book that really makes you think I loved the African sections where we learn of a tribe where everyone is female until they decide otherwise, we see how slavery can be more devastating to female slaves and we see how it is the interference of preachers that dooms Samuel and Isaiah. It was interesting to see the relationships (literally) between owners and slaves and how the owners justify their treatment of the slaves by defining them as less than human.

Some quotes that really struck me:

“I always thought white looked better on niggers than it did on people”

“She also spoke some silliness about a sisterly bond but never once asked Maggie if it was an arrangement she desired.”

“Girl is the beginning, damn it. Everything after is determined by soul.”

“The difficult part was in realizing that all abandoned children seek vengeance. And most will have it.”

Who would like this? I would recommend everyone read this to get another viewpoint on the horrors of slavery and the dangers of defining people by colour, religion, sexuality or any other arbitary criteria. I would also suggest this will be one to watch in 2021.


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