An endangered love between two enslaved men is at the heart of this expansive, devastating, and lyrical debut.
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Author, The Need
I crave books that are simultaneously attentive to the big things and the little things. Books that explore the deepest questions about life and love and death and history and identity—and that animate these questions by way of infinitesimal human interactions. A surprising gesture, a subtle moment of duplicity, an unlikely flash of kindness, conjured so vividly that it haunts me long after I finish reading. In The Prophets, Robert Jones, Jr., nimbly navigates this delicate interplay between the epic and the microscopic, between historical crises and interpersonal ones.
This is a devastating book, an evocation of and reckoning with the deep stain of slavery. But there is, at the center of The Prophets, amid the grief and horror, a refuge: the relationship between Isaiah and Samuel, two young men enslaved on the Mississippi plantation known as Empty. Their passion for each other, the dignity they bestow on each other, the small world they create and protect together, forms the core of the book. Swirling around this powerful love story is a kaleidoscopic array of characters; we enter the worlds and minds of the enslaved, the enslavers, the female kings and male wives in Kosongo territory in the ancestral homeland.
In this awe-inspiring debut, Robert Jones, Jr.,’s inventiveness with form and language is matched by his profound emotional acuity. The Prophets is a courageous book, unflinching in its examination of the most painful and most tender aspects of life and history.
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 the enslaved alike to tell the story of these two men; from Amos the preacher to the calculating slave-master himself 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—culminate in a climactic reckoning, The Prophets masterfully reveals the pain and suffering of inheritance, but is also shot through with hope, beauty, and truth, portraying the enormous, heroic power of love.