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The Prophets
Cover of The Prophets
The Prophets
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Best Book of the Year
NPR • The Washington Post • Boston Globe • TIME • USA Today • Entertainment Weekly • Real Simple • Parade • Buzzfeed • Electric Literature • LitHub • BookRiot • PopSugar • Goop • Library Journal • BookBub • KCRW

• 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.
Best Book of the Year
NPR • The Washington Post • Boston Globe • TIME • USA Today • Entertainment Weekly • Real Simple • Parade • Buzzfeed • Electric Literature • LitHub • BookRiot • PopSugar • Goop • Library Journal • BookBub • KCRW

• 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.
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  • From the book  
    Maggie

    She woke.
    She yawned.
    A burial place. This house is a fucking burial place, Maggie whispered, before it was time to go to the other room, the kitchen that she was chained to even though not a single link could be seen. But yes, there it was, snapped around her ankle, clinking nevertheless.
    She mumbled the curse to herself, but it was meant for other people. She learned to do that, whisper low enough in her throat that an insult could be thrown and the target would be none the wiser. It became her secret language, living just below the audible one, deeper behind her tongue.
    The sky was still dark, but she laid in her hay pallet an extra moment, knowing it could cost her. The Halifaxes each had their own way of communicating their displeasure, some less cruel than others. She could tell you stories.
    She climbed out of the pallet and rolled her eyes at the hounds that lay on the floor by her feet. Oh, she slept on the back porch with the animals. Not her choice. Though it was enclosed and provided views out onto Ruth Halifax’s garden. Beyond it, a field of wildflowers bursting with every color, but the blues were the ones that were perfect enough to hurt feelings. Several rows of trees marked the end of the field and gave way to sandy ground that opened onto the bank of the Yazoo River. There, the people, when permitted, would scrub themselves down in the sometimes muddy water under the watchful gaze of the man whose name Maggie stopped saying for a reason. On the other side of the river, which seemed farther away than it was, a mess of trees stood so close together that no matter how hard she squinted, she couldn’t see past the first row of them.
    She wanted to hate the fact that she was made to sleep there on the porch, low to the ground on some makeshift bed she piled together herself from the hay she got from Samuel and Isaiah, whom she referred to as The Two of Them. But so often the smell of the field calmed her and if she had to be in the damn Big House with Paul and his family, then it was best she was in the space farthest from them.
    The hounds were Paul’s choice. Six of them that got to know every living soul on the plantation in case any of those souls tried to drift. She had seen it before: The beasts chased people into the sky and managed to snatch them down no matter how high they thought they could float. Them dogs: Ears just a flopping, woofing in that gloomy way that they do, sad eyes and everything. You almost feel sorry for them until they got a hold of your ass and bit it all the way back to the cotton field—or the chopping block, one.
    They whined the minute she sat up and she detested the sound. Why they kept the animals enclosed was beyond her reasoning. Animals belonged outdoors. But then again, the Halifaxes were indoors so that meant all of creation had some right to be inside as well.
    Maggie got up.
                “Go on,” she said to the hounds, unlatching the door that led out to the garden. “Go find a hare or something and leave me be.”
    All six of them ran out. She inhaled deeply, hoping she took in enough of the field to last her through the day. She kept her hand on the door so that it would close quietly. She limped over to another door on the opposite side of the porch and went into the kitchen. It could have been its own cabin given that it was twice the size of even the largest of the shacks people lived in at Empty. Still, she felt cramped in it, like something unseen was pushing her down from every direction.
    ...
Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    August 15, 2020
    An epic attempt to imagine a history of Black queerness from the African past to the antebellum American South. In his debut novel, Jones--perhaps better known to readers as the blogger Son of Baldwin--delivers an ambitious tale of love and beauty in the face of brutality. Samuel and Isaiah are two young men enslaved on a Mississippi plantation known as Empty. Isaiah is haunted by fragmented memories of the mother he was stripped from as a child; Samuel became Isaiah's first friend on the plantation when he was brought there in chains, and their relationship has bloomed into a love affair that sets them apart from the other slaves and disrupts the plantation's functioning. The plantation's owner is Paul, a White man who forces his slaves into having sex so the women will produce new slaves. Samuel's and Isaiah's sexuality throws a wrench in Paul's cruelty, and the consequences of their love send ripples through the novel's vast cast of vividly rendered characters. There's Essie, for instance, the female slave Isaiah can't impregnate and who eventually is raped by Paul. She becomes pregnant with Solomon--whom she can't bring herself to love--and this infuriates Amos, an older slave who loves her and schemes to turn the plantation against Isaiah and Samuel for what he thinks of not only as their selfishness, but their unnatural love. "There was no suitable name for whatever it was that Samuel and Isaiah were doing," he reflects after seeing them coiled together in the barn they share. Jones spins a sprawling story of jealousy and passion that foregrounds Black queerness, asserting that queerness has always been part of the Black experience--not just in the slave past, but the African one as well. The novel stretches itself to the point of disbelief when Jones dips his toe into that African past, and there are too many balls in the air for the details of life on Empty to cohere into a satisfying plot. For all its faults, though, this is an inspired and important debut. An ambitious, imaginative, and important tale of Black queerness through history.

    COPYRIGHT(2020) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from September 14, 2020
    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.

  • Booklist

    November 1, 2020
    The most horrific tales often inspire the most exquisite language. How else to explain The Prophets, a first novel of slavery's brutality, racism, misogyny, and homophobia recounted in prose of limpid beauty? On a Southern plantation eerily named Empty, Sam and Isaiah grow up as friends, then lovers under the watchful and protective eyes of their community. However, when fellow slave Amos decides to ingratiate himself with the plantation owner by becoming a preacher, he slowly yet methodically cultivates suspicion and division, with tragic results. Jones conveys powerful truths with well-chosen words in spare prose. After a night of love-making, Isaiah and Sam ""Reluctantly . . . swept the evidence of their bliss back into a neat pile, nearer to where their misery was already neatly stacked""; the poison of Amos' accusations against the boys ""jumped from one face to the next, like lanterns."" The horrendous hierarchy of oppression is made clear, such as when Puah, a young woman sexually abused by slave and slaver alike, wryly notes that ""Men and toubab [whites] shared far more than either would ever admit . . . They both took what they wanted; asking was never a courtesy. Both smiled first, but pain always followed."" A masterfully told story that will haunt readers from beginning to end.

    COPYRIGHT(2020) Booklist, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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