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With lyricism reminiscent of Toni Morrison and James Baldwin, Robert Jones Jr. tells an unflinching story of forbidden love between two enslaved men in Mississippi whose relationship threatens all around them.
In this blinding debut, Robert Jones Jr. blends the lyricism of Toni Morrison with the vivid prose of Zora Neale Hurston to characterise the forceful, enduring bond of love, and what happens when brutality threatens the purest form of serenity.
The Halifax plantation is known as Empty by the slaves who work it under the pitiless gaze of its overseers and its owner, Massa Paul. Two young enslaved men, Samuel and Isaiah dwell among the animals they keep in the barn, helping out in the fields when their day is done. But the barn is their haven, a space of radiance and love - away from the blistering sun and the cruelty of the toubabs - where they can be alone together.
But, Amos - a fellow slave - has begun to direct suspicion towards the two men and their refusal to bend. Their flickering glances, unspoken words and wilful intention, revealing a truth that threatens to rock the stability of the plantation. And preaching the words of Massa Paul's gospel, he betrays them.
The culminating pages of The Prophets summon a choral voice of those who have suffered in silence, with blistering humanity, as the day of reckoning arrives at the Halifax plantation. Love, in all its permutations, is the discovery at the heart of Robert Jones Jr's breathtaking debut, The Prophets.
Author: Robert Jones Jr.
Trade Paperback Published 12 January 2021 400 pages
Read and Reviewed by Hendri:
"In this magnificent debut, Robert Jones Jr. reinvents Toni Morrison and James Baldwin's lyricism to tell the forbidden love story and union of two enslaved black young man in the Halifax Plantation. Samuel and Isaiah might not yet have the language for their same-sex desire. But that is how they always see and tend each other since they first met in the plantation. The barn where they live together is transformed into a space brimming with intimacy, refuge, and hope. Their life also crisscrosses with the other enslaved black women, Maggie and Essie, who must endure the debilitation from their white Master, Paul and his family. This situation quickly escalates into a nightmare when Amos, a well-respected older black man complicit in their people's enslavement, preaches Christianity to guard the deprivation of black slaves as their destiny. Besides Amos's trick to incite and spread hatred toward Samuel and Isaiah for their same-sex intimacy, the erotic interest from the plantation's Master's son, Timothy, to Isaiah and Samuel unexpectedly leads to the violence, revealing the secret that would forever change the relationship between the inhabitants. Dubbed as an instant New York Times Bestseller and the TIME's Best 10 Books You Should Read in January, The Prophets is not only legendary in measure and grandeur in prose but also erotic and poetic in many parts, even when it portrays the harshness of slavery."
'Rarely is a book this finely wrought, the lives and histories it holds so tenderly felt, and rendered unforgettably true.'-Ocean Vuong, author of On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
“Powerful and beautiful…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.” –Publishers Weekly (starred Signature review by Edmund White)
“Brims with so much confidence and artful flourish that it’s hard to believe it’s Jones’s first book. Following a line of esteemed authors, he explores the story of enslavement in America and makes it his own….Jones’s expertly drawn characters have depth and purpose, and the writing is beautiful despite the subject matter. A work that will resonate with those moved by Charles Johnson’s Middle Passage and Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad.” –Library Journal (starred review)