This book blew me away! It’s a masterpiece that I will reflect on for a very long time.
“But he did think about the ways in which his body wasn’t his own and how that condition showed up uniquely for everyone whose personhood wasn’t just disputed but denied. Swirling beneath him were the ways in which not having lawful claim to yourself diminished you, yes, but in another way, condemned those who invented the disconnection.”Robert Jones, Jr., “The Prophets”
The story of the Halifax plantation is layered with themes of love, racism, class, slavery, and white privilege. At the heart of the book is the love between Isaiah and Samuel…two enslaved Black men that find solace in each other, something that is increasingly threatened as the dark sides of “Empty” are revealed. The rich cast of secondary characters shine as well as they care for one another and try to ease the burden of life the enslaved exist under at Halifax.
So much of this story cut straight to my heart. Jones’ use of religious undertones – from the names of the characters to the names of the chapters – really made me evaluate the way the Bible and it’s teachings can be misconstrued and weaponized to placate a group of people. While it’s nothing new, it is disheartening to see Biblical truth twisted to meet one’s agenda, and I can understand why many people are being turned off from religion. If someone has only experience religion and Bible teachings in a negative and self-serving manner, there’s no reason to believe that they will find grace, truth, and healing in it.
One of the most emotionally impactful things Jones did in this book was to take his readers to the village that was soon overtaken by these white monsters – something I’ve never read about before. Assumedly fictonal, it quite clearly painted a picture of a happy and celabratory culture that was so completely blindsided by the “missionary” infiltrators, that I also felt gutted after reading it. To trust a “person of God” only to have them obliterate your people and your home is the ultimate betrayal and my heart broke for the King and she had that burden to shoulder as she rocked on a boat, tied down, as they crossed the Atlantic.
As I mentioned above, the cast of secondary characters are well-developed and add such nuance to the story overall. Through them, the reader is able to dive deeper into the journey these enslaved people endured as they came to their new “home” in the swampy woodlands of Mississippi. Each of their stories adds a deep layer that demands the utmost respect for the personal sacrifices that were forced on an entire nation of people. It humbled me, once again, to the atrocities of slavery and just how far we still have to go to reckon that deep stain on our country’s fabric.
Lastly, this book is very slow-paced! I found that it took me several days longer to get through than is typical for other books of this length, and it required a great deal of concentration on my part, but the payoff was more than worth it!
What may be most impressive to me about The Prophets: the fact that this is Jones’ debut! The intricate detail that ties each of these characters together is impressive and, quite honestly, mind-blowing. Jones’ talent as a storyteller is evident and I am so eager to see what he comes up with next!
As a helpful sidenote: I read many reviews before picking this book up that mentioned the wide cast of characters. Some reviewers felt this made the story disjointed and confusing – ofentimes leading to a mediocre review. I took these reviews to heart and immediately set up a piece of paper where I recorded each character, their relationships to others, and any other detail I thought could be defining. This helped tremedously and I believe it allowed me to follow all the nuances; therefore, allowing the story to seep into me and leave me with a favorable opinion! I can absolutely see how this story may have been more difficult for me to appreciate without my notes, so please try this as you head into the story!
“To survive in this place, you had to want to die. That was the way of the world as remade by toubab, and Samuel’s list of grievances was long: They pushed people into the mud and then called them filthy. They forbade people from accessing any knowledge of the world and then called them simple. They worked people until their empty hands were twisted, bleeding, and could do no more, then called them lazy. They forced people to eat innards from troughs and then called them uncivilized. They kidnapped babies and shattered families and then called them incapable of love. They raped and lynched and cut up people into parts, and then called the pieces savage. They stepped on people’s throats with all their might and asked why the people couldn’t breathe. And then, when people made an attempt to break the foot, or cut it off one, they screamed “CHAOS!” and claimed that mass murder was the only way to restore order.”Robert Jones, Jr., “The Prophets”