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The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr
Literary fiction

The Prophets

Debut

We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Robert Jones Jr, on your first book!

by Robert Jones Jr

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Quick take

An endangered love between two enslaved men is at the heart of this expansive, devastating, and lyrical debut.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_400

    400+ pages

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_LGBTQ

    LGBTQ+ themes

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Acclaim

    Critically acclaimed

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_GraphicViolence

    Graphic violence

Synopsis

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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Free sample

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The Prophets

Judges

You do not yet know us.

You do not yet understand.

We who are from the dark, speaking in the seven voices. Because seven is the only divine number. Because that is who we are and who we have always been.

And this is law.

By the end, you will know. And you will ask why we did not tell you sooner. Do you think you are the first to have asked that question?

You are not.

There is, however, an answer. There is always an answer. But you have not yet earned it. You do not know who you are. How could you possibly reckon with who we are?

You are not lost so much as you are betrayed by fools who mistook glimmer for power. They gave away all the symbols that hold sway. The penance for this is lasting. Your blood will have long been diluted by the time reason finally takes hold. Or the world itself will have been reduced to ash, making memory beside the point. But yes, you have been wronged. And you will do wrong. Again. And again. And again. Until finally, you wake. Which is why we are here, speaking with you now.

A story is coming.

Your story is coming.

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Why I love it

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.

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Member ratings (8,074)

  • Jill K.

    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.”

  • Maren V.

    Salt Lake City, UT

    Exquisitely written, clearly meant to be sat in and taken in with reverence. It was heavy, difficult, and painful, in a really important kind if way. I didn’t “enjoy” it, but I’m glad to have read it.

  • Lauren G.

    Hollidaysburg, PA

    At first I was very worried about the writing style (I'm picky I suppose ????‍♀️) but as soon as I got attached to the characters, I really struggled to put it down! Robert Jones Jr is a talented man

  • Michael S.

    New York, NY

    “The Prophets” was such a powerful, heartbreaking read about two enslaved men in finding comfort in each other and a commentary about our country’s history of destroying what it doesn’t understand.

  • Morganne M.

    Eagleville, PA

    Incredibly dark story that is written beautifully. Truly in awe of Jones Jr’s writing & character building. However some of the descriptive passages dragged on and slowed the book’s pace considerably.

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