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The Prophets
by Robert Jones Jr




Overview -
Finalist for the National Book Award

Instant New York Times Bestseller

May this book cast its spell on all of us, restore to us some memory of our most warrior and softest selves. --The New York Times Book Review

"A new kind of epic...A grand achievement...While The Prophets' dreamy realism recalls the work of Toni Morrison...its penetrating focus on social dynamics stands out more singularly." --Entertainment Weekly

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.

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Overview

Finalist for the National Book Award

Instant New York Times Bestseller

May this book cast its spell on all of us, restore to us some memory of our most warrior and softest selves. --The New York Times Book Review

"A new kind of epic...A grand achievement...While The Prophets' dreamy realism recalls the work of Toni Morrison...its penetrating focus on social dynamics stands out more singularly." --Entertainment Weekly

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.

 

Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780593085684
  • ISBN-10: 059308568X
  • Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
  • Publish Date: January 2021
  • Page Count: 400
  • Dimensions: 9.25 x 6.25 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.37 pounds


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BookPage Reviews

The Prophets

Robert Jones Jr.’s remarkable first novel, The Prophets, accomplishes the exceptional literary feat of being at once an intimate, poetic love story and a sweeping, detailed and excruciating portrait of life on a Mississippi plantation.

One of the most outstanding things about this novel is its artistry, both in its language and its use of multiple perspectives. Jones excels at ensemble storytelling, treating each character with compassion while also being brutally unsparing. From one point of view, certain actions seem perfectly reasonable, but another storyline may reveal their harm. In particular, two of these stories are on a collision course. The most important and sympathetic thread involves Samuel and Isaiah, two enslaved boys who grow up as best friends and eventually become lovers. The other involves an older enslaved man, Amos, who decides to take on the role of preacher as a way to attain power for a worthy goal: He wants to protect his female partner from the plantation owner, Paul. Amos negotiates with Paul and offers to use his role as a religious leader to help run the plantation and keep the peace.

Like James Baldwin or Toni Morrison, Robert Jones Jr. gets to the root of some of our culture’s thorniest problems through specific, accurate storytelling.

Those sound like reasonable objectives given the constraints Amos is under, but the exercise of power is never that clean, and a multitude of betrayals, cruelties and tragedies arise from that Faustian bargain. Amos’ new responsibility means encouraging his fellow enslaved people to cooperate with Paul’s plans to force them to have children in order increase his workforce. Samuel and Isaiah’s love violates these plans because they only want to be with each other, but that kind of love doesn’t produce offspring. Thus Amos’ religiosity and Isaiah and Samuel’s love are inherently at odds, and as religion takes hold of the plantation, it makes outcasts of two young men whom the community had long embraced.

Jones grounds his story in history while making it remarkably relevant to life today. The Prophets traces the origins of a host of social ills, such as the use of religion as a tool for social control. Likewise, observations about the intersection of race and gender within this brutal system will sound familiar to contemporary readers. For example, Puah, a teenage girl who must fight every day to protect her body and soul, feels frustrated by the favor that Be Auntie, an influential older woman, extends to the boys and men in their group. Puah concludes, “Men and toubab shared far more than either would ever admit.” The men she refers to are her fellow enslaved people, and “toubab” is a Central and West African word for white people. These are observations about Black men and white patriarchy that Black women still struggle with in the 21st century.

Similarly, Puah grieves for the way that Auntie and other women cast her as being “grown” before her time. That’s another modern-day problem: Black children are judged as adults, and young Black women are sexualized and blamed for their own abuse.

These disparate elements of history, myth making, social observation, criticism and storytelling don’t always fit together as well as the author may have intended. However, what is most notable about The Prophets is that, like James Baldwin or Toni Morrison, Jones gets to the root of some of our culture’s thorniest problems through specific, accurate storytelling, drawn with insight and great skill. Though this is his first book, Jones is already a master stylist, writing gorgeous, lyrical and readable prose about some of the ugliest things that human beings feel and do to one another. Sometimes the prose reads like scripture. At other times, it’s poetry.

This is a beautifully wrought, exceptionally accomplished queer love story about two men finding extraordinary connection in the most hostile and difficult of circumstances. This debut will be savored and remembered.

 

BAM Customer Reviews