I am in awe… in awe of this incredible and magnificent book by Robert Jones, Jr. His quill is pure poetry and, even though his prose is heartbreaking, it is also breathtaking. I could not put it down. I was transported right there and then, mesmerised by it all.
The story takes place in Mississippi, at the Halifax’s family cotton plantation, whereby you meet different, complex and multi faceted characters; from master and enslaver Paul Halifax, his wife Ruth and their son Tim, through James the overseer, to the enslaved Maggie, Sarah, Puah, Essie, Amos, Adam, Beulah, and their memory: the Ancestors. Each of them sharing with you their point of view regarding life (and lack of) on the plantation, but more importantly deep, private, and painful secrets, and opening up a window through which you get to discover “The Two of Them”.
Samuel and Isaiah.
Two slaves. Two children. Grown into men by force, surviving the hell that is slavery in this place referred to as “Empty”, by loving each other in the secret of the night and the stars.
Their relationship and “forbidden” love brings out mixed emotions in all the characters, from indifference, to anger, to love. Some see them as the best tool for toil, others as a threat to the community’s survival. Despite it all, they choose freedom. The freedom to decide who they love and how.
Through the Ancestors, the words reach out of the page and cradle your head with their strong but invisible hands and your eyes are forced wide open: you are compelled to bear witness to the atrocities of the past, and reflect upon it all. They share their memory and try and instill hope and will that it shall never happen again. They open your heart up to love.
Robert Jones, Jr. transports you with brio to the deep recesses of the protagonists’ souls, “The Prophets”, where he depicts so brilliantly the power of love, the power of freedom; you get engulfed, slapped and submerged with emotions; sharing the enslaved’s innate secrets, what makes them hold on to life, that piece that is theirs and theirs alone, that no one knows about and therefore cannot be stolen away from them, that secret power that fuels their desire to survive, amongst the horrors they all had to endure.
Robert Jones, Jr.’s writing is pure genius, it makes you feel like someone reached down your throat with their bare hand, grabbed your guts and twisted them. You feel it all. Everything in its entirety. The joys, the pains, the disgust, the horrors, the love… everything. This book swallows you whole and spits you out feeling oh so fragile, weak, torn apart but enriched.
Humanity is depicted at its purest and at its worst, recounting how fear makes some of us behave like monsters, trying to bend those who are different to us to fit our established beliefs and expectations of conformity.
Lyrical and powerful, this book is truly a masterpiece, approaching themes so relevant in today’s society, but which won’t prevent it standing the test of time and becoming a classic.
I can only humble myself and say: thank you Mr Jones, Jr. you have shaken me to my core.
Book published on 5th January 2021 by Riverrun, an imprint of Quercus Edition Limited, an Hachette UK Company.
Disclaimer: these opinions are my own – this books touches upon difficult subject and will get the reader faced with depiction of sex, rape, slavery, murder, death, torture.