Best Book of the Year
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• Finalist for the National Book Award
• One of the New York Times Notable Books of the Year
• One of the New York Times Best Historical Fiction of the Year
• Instant New York Times Bestseller
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 enslaved alike, from Isaiah and Samuel to the calculating slave master 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—culminates in a climactic reckoning, The Prophets fearlessly reveals the pain and suffering of inheritance, but is also shot through with hope, beauty, and truth, portraying the enormous, heroic power of love.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
This is a historical romance like no other we’ve ever read. On a Mississippi plantation, two enslaved young men, Samuel and Isaiah, secretly find happiness in each other’s arms. But their sliver of joy is threatened by seemingly every aspect of their life in bondage—even sympathetic figures like the kindly housemaid Maggie could potentially cause their ruin. Robert Jones, Jr.’s prodigious debut uses dozens of richly textured characters to tell the story of the two men, from ruthless slave drivers to fellow enslaved people and even African royalty. His lyrical prose, steeped in Biblical allusions, utterly transported us throughout this moving read. We could feel the brutal heat of the cotton fields just as much as we could the strength of Samuel’s and Isaiah’s boundless spirits.
Reviewed by Edmund White, This is a first novel, but I hope it took years and years to write since it is so powerful and beautiful. It is an antebellum story of a flourishing Mississippi plantation some people refer to as "Nothing" and others call "Elizabeth," the name of the owner's mother. This is a love story of two gay enslaved men, Isaiah and Samuel (not their original African names), who've been assigned to look after the horses and who work together in perfect harmony in the barn., With astonishingly real details, Jones creates a convincing picture of slave life, everything from transportation in ships (where those captives who had died from hunger or wounds or disease were just thrown overboard) to the arrival, in this case, at a vast cotton plantation, where they are branded, forced with whipping to work harder and faster, insulted, mocked and, if they're female, raped., Jones's women are all sharply delineated, starting with the "king" of a tribe in Africa, a woman-warrior who lives with her several wives. The main women on the plantation Be Auntie, Sarah, Puah, Essie have their own clearly delineated identities and complex psychologies. What is unprecedented in this novel is its presentation of the two gay male slaves, each endowed with his own personality, which never merges with a stereotype., In fact, Jones's compassionate understanding extends even to the whites (who are referred to as toubab, a Central African locution): "When they approached, she had figured out something that had been like a splinter in her foot: the easy thing to believe was that toubab were monsters, their crimes exceptional. Harder, however, and even more frightening, was the truth: there was no such thing as monsters. Every travesty that had ever been committed had been committed by plain people and every person had it in them." Which is not to say Jones lets his slave owners off easily. They were hypocritical Christians, sadists who raped their chattel, who worked their slaves until they could do no more and called them "lazy": "They stepped on people's throats with all their might and asked why the people couldn't breathe." Whites kidnapped black children and then called slave parents "incapable of love.", The lyricism of The Prophets will recall the prose of James Baldwin. The strong cadences are equal to those in Faulkner's Light in August. Sometimes the utterances in the short interpolated chapters seem as orphic as those in Thus Spake Zarathustra. If my comparisons seem excessive, they are rivaled only by Jones's own pages and pages of acknowledgments. It seems it takes a village to make a masterpiece., Edmund White's most recent novel is A Saint from Texas.
Black Joy is Revolutionary
There’s a saying, “Black Joy is Revolutionary.” Nothing sparks joy more than love — being in it or witness to it. And nothing is more anointed or more deserving of reverence, even if the love may be beyond our own understanding. This book is about Black love and joy. And it is revolutionary.
The spirit in this story will compel you to slow down, to guide you to imagine answers to impossible questions, to fly high for a birds’ eye view, to zero in, to love and to hate, to deny, to refuse to accept all lies going forward, to seek forgiveness as you demonstrate your ability to forgive.
Reads like poetry, cuts like a knife
Incredible writing; a story of brutality, heartbreak, and love. This book will crush you but you will savor it anyway. Must read 💓