I am not sure I have the words to do this stunning debut novel justice. I know already, even though it’s still early January, that this will be one of my books of the year.
The Prophets examines the love between two slaves, Samuel and Isaiah, and their life on an American cotton plantation known as Empty. Samuel and Isaiah’s love for each other is so pure and simple and yet so complicated. Woven throughout the book, chapters take us further back into black history illustrating the traditions, rituals and beliefs of African ancestors and their unquestioning acceptance of fluidity between gender and sexuality. The strength and wisdom of women is evident through many of the other slaves on the plantation as well as their ancestors.
There are biblical references throughout the book whether it be through character names or chapter titles. The influence of religion and its justification for the atrocity of owning people and the unimaginable treatment meted out makes for uncomfortable reading. The impossible choices – or lack of choices – of slaves are clear as are the impossible situations they find themselves in, with no way of defending or speaking up for themselves. It was harrowing and sobering to read of these fictional experiences which were no doubt reality for many.
In this novel, Robert Jones Jr gives a loud voice you can’t ignore to a people brushed out of history. This book is gripping throughout, but oh my goodness those devastating final chapters where everyone’s stories collide and conclude explosively. The Prophets is simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting, with the hope and promise that love remains and goes on.
I was completely immersed in this compelling book. Told with an air of authenticity, this lyrically written story is powerful, moving and unforgettable.
My grateful thanks to the publishers for sending me an early copy of this book. The Prophets is published by RiverRun (an imprint of Quercus) and is available now in hardback, audiobook and ebook formats. At this difficult time for all retailers, please try to order your copy from a local bookshop. Alternatively, you will find buying options for various retailers on the Quercus website here: The Prophets
From the back of the book
The Halifax plantation is known as Empty by the slaves who work it under the pitiless gaze of its overseers and its owner, Massa Paul. Two young enslaved men, Samuel and Isaiah dwell among the animals they keep in the barn, helping out in the fields when their day is done. But the barn is their haven, a space of radiance and love – away from the blistering sun and the cruelty of the toubabs – where they can be alone together.
But, Amos – a fellow slave – has begun to direct suspicion towards the two men and their refusal to bend. Their flickering glances, unspoken words and wilful intention, revealing a truth that threatens to rock the stability of the plantation. And preaching the words of Massa Paul’s gospel, he betrays them.
The culminating pages of The Prophets summon a choral voice of those who have suffered in silence, with blistering humanity, as the day of reckoning arrives at the Halifax plantation. Love, in all its permutations, is the discovery at the heart of Robert Jones Jr’s breathtaking debut, The Prophets.
About the author
Robert Jones, Jr. is a writer from Brooklyn, N.Y. He earned both his B.F.A. in creative writing and M.F.A. in fiction from Brooklyn College. His work has been featured in The New York Times, Essence, Gawker, and The Grio. He is the creator of the social justice social media community, Son of Baldwin, which can be found on Facebook, Google Plus, Instagram, Medium, Tumblr, and Twitter. He is also currently working on his second novel