An endangered love between two enslaved men is at the heart of this expansive, devastating, and lyrical debut.
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Why I love it
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.
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Wadmalaw island , SC
“Fierceness should always be tempered with kindness...” “There could never be peace, only moments in which war wasn’t overwhelming.” “My son, some people’s hearts, they just...beat the wrong way.”
Brick , NJ
This is a book I never would have chosen on my own but am so grateful to have read. I learned so much and felt other’s pain so deeply. This contains parts of history we aren’t taught, but need to know
Such a beautiful, heart-wrenching, cruel story of forbidden love and its hardships. Masterful writing and detail. I felt so many emotions—anger, sadness, joy—I felt it all. A moving, poignant story.
Lancaster , OH
What a gorgeous story of love, loss and redemption. I can’t say I loved the ending but sometimes you just don’t get the ending you want. The story was gorgeous and the characters were spellbinding.
Wow! This book was beautiful and heartbreaking but ends with a bubble of hope in the darkness. The lyrical prose with which he writes is stunning. This is by far one of the best books I’ve ever read.
Jones Jr. has a gift—his writing is equal parts breathtaking and devastating, a combination that begs to be savored. This story has beauty, too, but is heartbreaking by nature. Would always recommend.
Starting out, I thought the writing style might not be for me. I read short chunks and took frequent breaks. As the story and characters developed I couldn’t put it down. Beautiful and heartbreaking!
This book is stunning. It’s lyrical, dripping with symbolism and ties in many different elements: the horrors of slavery, religion/faith, what it means to be human... This is the best of lit fiction.
Mountain Grove , MO
The word count does not exist in order to properly tell you of the experience I had while reading The Prophets. The message in these words, the way it will make you feel—is indescribable. Pick it up.
Harrisburg , PA
I'll say it now book of the year. This book was so poetic and told the story is such a unique and thought evoking way. I could read this book over and over and find a new and deeper meaning each time.
Beautiful. Compelling. A true work of art. I found myself researching history & symbolism immediately following, which is how I know a book truly has made an impact. Hard to get into but 100% worth it
New York, NY
I felt sad, angry, and encouraged knowing that this was fiction but still so true to my blood’s experience. Beautifully written. A refreshing perspective and narrative(s). Loved it. We are a wonder.
I savored the compelling, exquisite prose and remarkable storytelling. I loved Samuel and Isaiah, and how their love had the power to transcend their circumstance. But their story is just the surface
Amazing book! I'm thinking book of the year! The perspective of each character was poetic and raw. The book is from many points of view but the author paints a picture that is thorough and cohesive.
Hudson , OH
This is a fiction book full of hard, painful, raw, and gut-wrenching truth. Don’t rush this reading. Robert Jones Jr paints a vivid picture of past horrors that we need to understand and recognize.
Toms River, NJ
As a white person, I will never be able to fully appreciate the gravity and power of this book, its portrayal of generational traumatic memory. An instant American classic and must-read for everyone.
A lyrical tale of forbidden love told through the perspectives of the many people who bare witness to it. It's a slow read with a lot of pain, but there is something magical and hopeful about it too.
Like Toni Morrison? Then I need you to pick up The Prophets immediately. It's a chorus of love and anguish. I know it’s early, but this is already a top-tier contender for my favorite read of 2021.
Santa Fe, NM
I already know that this will be in my top two books of 2021, and it was only February when I finished it. Brilliant characters with vivid perspectives, even from those I hated. I loved this book!!!
Wow - this was an incredible read, although it was very slow and challenging. I think an understanding of the bible is essential here to fully grasp the brilliance of this novel, which I don't have.