228 of 236 people found the following review helpful
Hillary Jordan appears to be the real deal, judging from the amazing skill she displays in constructing this novel. She is able to tell a dark and troubling tale in the voices of several of the characters and make it all hang together. Actually, it more than just hangs together, it fits together almost seamlessly. As other reviewers have noted, this story focuses on the Mississippi Delta in the year 1946/47, when returning veterans of WWII knew the world was changing, but their home community did not. The realities of the racism of the time and place are explored thoroughly, but not in a melodramatic or pompous way. This novel received the Bellwether prize, which is the largest USA prize given to unpublished manuscripts and the only one that specifically promotes literature of social change. Barbara Kingsolver reviewed it in the strongest positive terms- no surprise, because it is as good as her work. Like others, I am highly interested in the next thing that Hillary Jordan will write.
93 of 100 people found the following review helpful
on March 3, 2008
Hillary Jordan's first novel is a luminous, lovely and at times achingly painful depiction of America at a time of its greatest glory and shame. Set at the end of World War II, it follows the vastly different homecomings of two returning war heroes--one black, one white--to the Jim Crow south. Jordan uses deftly lyrical writing (judiciously salted with both humor and pathos) and a breathlessly brave approach to tell her story: a diverse chorus of different characters (black and white, male and female) weave their voices together in observations of race and rural farmlife in the 40's. The result is a delicately-choreographed, operatic tragedy that unrolls with graceful inevitability, culminating in a climactic scene that will reverberate for this reader (and writer) for years to come.
Here is a true new talent; a writer with the stylistic grace and social conscience of William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor and the dramatic flair of Pat Conroy and Jodi Picoult. Mudbound will leave you stunned, impressed, painfully touched---and (like me!) eagerly anticipating its author's next book.
141 of 156 people found the following review helpful
In her novel MUDBOUND Hillary Jordan does a good job bringing the language and attitudes of both black and white rural Mississippians living in the years surrounding World War II to life. The story is told by six "voices". Laura's voice is perhaps the one we hear from most frequently. She is a "city" (Memphis) born woman who marries when in her early 30's and had given up on marriage and motherhood. Her husband is Henry, a basically good but also inconsiderate man and it is his dreams of farm life that bring his wife and daughters to live on a remote cotton farm with him and his hateful father. Another voice belongs to Jamie, Henry's much younger charming brother, a returning war hero with a serious drinking problem and some other unresolved issues. Hap is a middle aged black tenant farmer and an almost saintly part time preacher and his voice helps us understand the hopes, desires and choices of many black Southern Americans of that time. His wife Florence is a sharply observant voice who sees much as "granny midwife" to the poorer people in the area and in her other role as housekeeper for Laura and her family. Florence and Hap's son Ronsel is the last voice. Ronsel returns from service in World War II much changed after seeing the greater acceptance of blacks in Europe and other parts of the United States and finds difficulty in accepting the subservient plight of black folks in the Jim Crow Delta.
The beginning and ending of the novel are the weakest parts. The beginning chapter in which we meet Jamie and Henry digging a grave should be compelling but somehow isn't and I had to force myself to continue reading and was fortunately soon rewarded as Laura begins to tell her story. The ending of the book also has problems and is not nearly as strong as the author seemed to have intended. In fact the overall quality of writing in the novel weakens after the tragic climax. There are also some very predictable plot elements that keep the story from seeming as original as it could be. Yet this is a very readable worthy book with some important messages about racism and humanity as well as some real insight in to life in the Delta sixty some years ago.
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Reading this book, I felt like I truly understood what it was to live in a mudbound Mississippi farm post-WW II; the characters were so real it was like they were sitting on the couch beside me, telling me their stories. The first few pages of this book were so beautifully written that I read the entire first chapter out loud to my husband; it was just perfect prose. The narrative is powerful as well: I read the book in just a few days, and was late to church trying to get it finished. Ultimately, it was just short of five stars because the theme of the story -- the desperate unfairness of racism in the South -- has been done before, and the writer didn't seem to have a new perspective on it. Bits of it were somewhat cliched; the racist characters were evil, the African Americans noble victims; racism is bad and destructive and corrupts everyone. All true; but I wish she had pushed herself a bit more, past the cliches of all that has been written before. But there is no question: the writing, the people and the story carry you through the book like a tide. Not quite a classic, but a wonderful debut, and well worth your time.
61 of 72 people found the following review helpful
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan is without question one of the best books I have read in some time. The story of two families, one white, one black, in the Mississippi Delta immediately after the end of World War 2, tells a story of racism like nothing I have read before. The story is told by various characters in the book giving a clear picture of the time, the people and the unforgiving conditions of farming in the Mississippi Delta. I was raised and have lived most of my life in small towns in the North and have never encountered any of the racism that I know exists, and existed even more prominently during the time covered in this book. It is important, in my opinion, to make this abominable racism public and the author does that, not sugar coating anything in the exchanges between characters.
I found myself so engrossed in this book that it was almost like I wasn't reading, more like watching a play or a movie. The language flowed so beautifully. The characters were true to what they were portrayed as. I look forward to future books from Hillary Jordan.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan is a stunning debut novel.
I was absolutely blown away by this book. The cover art captured me first. The stark contrast of the ramshackle house against the bountiful cotton field intrigued me. I wanted to know the story of that house and it's inhabitants.
Laura has resigned herself to life as a spinster when she meets Henry McAllan in 1939. She eventually accepts his proposal of marriage and they settle down to urban life in Memphis, Tennessee. Family upheaval and Henry's desire to own a farm lands them, their two children and Henry's sly, cruel father in rural Mississippi on a cotton farm. There is no electricity, no running water and when the river rises, they are cut off from the town. There are tenant farmers on the land as well, black and white. Racial tensions and long held prejudices run deep in the Mississippi Delta.
Mudbound opens with Henry and his brother Jamie burying their father on the farm. Jordan's descriptions paint tangible pictures. " The soil was so wet from all the rain it was digging into raw meat". Laura's description of the farm also paints a vivid picture. "When it rained, as it often did, the yard turned into a thick gumbo, with the house floating in it like a soggy cracker"
From that opening scene, we relive how Henry and Jamie came to be burying their father. Each character has a voice in the telling of the story. Henry, Jamie, Laura, Florence and Hap - the black tenant farmers on the McAllan farm and Ronsel - their son. Ronsel and Jamie have both just returned home from the war. Both men have been changed by their experiences and form an unlikely friendship. In the Jim Crow south, this is unacceptable and drives the story to it's inevitable conclusion.
I could not put this book down. The characters,their lives, emotions and upheaval are so richly painted. The historical facts of the deep south in the late 1940's are woven into this stunning debut novel. Jordan's writing captured and held me until the last page. I cannot wait to read her next novel.
Mudbound evoked strong emotions in this reader. The past is still happening.
Jordan won the 2006 Bellwether Prize awarded to literature of social change. This founder of this prize is Barbara Kingsolver.
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 2008
Jordan's imagination has created a character to compete with Iago. Never since "Othello" have I encountered such unmitigated, inexplicable evil in one of the characters -- (I won't give it away). Some of the characters' choices are so disturbing, you question what you would do in a similar situation -- sure to become a topic among reading club participants certain to choose this book. But when you root for the evil character to get his comeuppance, you question how it is that _you_ are very different from him. You start to feel guilty over rejoicing over this getting his just desserts.
This is one of the best books I've read in my life, (in its fifth decade). I won't stop at saying it will stay with me for a long time; I will say that it will stay with me forever.
Susan Dunlap, Versailles, Kentucky
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on May 19, 2008
This is a well written page turner. It is also depressing and full of despair. Although this book was enjoyable to read because of the engrossing story, it was also depressing to read because it presents the incredible injustice of how blacks were treated in the south. The author does a great job linking the bound life of Laura on the mud farm with the lives of African-Americans, who were trapped in the muck and mire of racism. There is so much darkness in this book that whenever even a glimpse of goodness shines through, you breathe a sigh of relief. A sense of hopelessness prevails throughout the book--a tremendous sense of being stuck. If the writer wanted her readers to feel that, I think she succeeded.
24 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on May 21, 2009
This is a well written book that really sucks you in-I think I read it in about two days. I liked her use of different "voices" throughout the book, which kept the book from seeming too preachy at any one point. However, the further into it I got, the less I liked it. I got the feeling that I had read many bits of this before in other popular fiction-and there they were again. Death, check. Hardship because of foolish husband, check. Incest, check. Woman in a unhappy marriage who has a "fling" that somehow gives her the gumption to go on. That last one is starting to really annoy me. I guess it is currently popular, but I doubt you'd find much popular fiction these days that had a man using a woman in that way, and then talking dreamily about how his affair "clarified" things for him so that he could bravely continue in his unhappy marriage. It's fast paced, and well written, but I would have enjoyed it more if it had stuck more to the better parts of the story, namely the story about Ronsel and he and his family's battles against racism.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on June 10, 2012
This book and I hit it off at first. It's a quick, easy read and I enjoyed the first 2/3 or so. But looking back, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.
Mudbound is about two families living in the Mississippi Delta: one black and one white. It's 1946 and racial tensions are high: the black GIs returning from WW2 are no longer willing to put up with being second-class citizens, but the white population is equally unwilling to allow change. The book is written in the first person from 6 (six!) different viewpoints (and a debut novel at that.... had I not loved Jordan's When She Woke I would never have attempted this), including Ronsel (a black soldier), Hap and Florence (his parents), Jamie (a white soldier), Henry (his older brother) and Laura (Henry's wife). To her credit, Jordan does do a passable job with the multiple narrators, who don't sound too much alike--the streamlined nature of the writing, without much figurative language or description, helps with this, and the dialect works well enough without being impenetrable.
As I said, I liked the story at first; it drew me in quickly and entertained me. But there isn't much more I can say for it. So, then, the problems:
THE PLOT: Terribly predictable (and melodramatic). One-third of the way through I predicted all the dramatic events that would happen in the rest of the book. I was right. And I'm not usually good at that.
THE CHARACTERS: The black family are stock characters of the "sympathetic victims" variety: hardworking, family-values folk. Hap is the forgiving, scripture-quoting preacher. Florence is the closer-to-earth midwife. Ronsel is the bright young guy who's beat down by the system. They have potential but are too stuck in their stock roles and personalities to realize it.
The white family is more complex (they're allowed to have flaws), but not much more. Henry is a simple man who loves farming: exactly the same on the inside as he appears from the outside. His father, Pappy, is the stock evil racist with no redeeming qualities. Laura gets a lot of page time (and her voice feels the most authentic), but she's pathetic; she starts out pathetically grateful to Henry for marrying her at the ripe old age of 31 and despite a few attempts to act for herself, she's still pathetic at the end. Jamie is the most interesting of the bunch: he seems like a basically good guy whose PTSD leads him into destructive behavior, and he's racist in a subtle, Huckleberry-Finn kind of way (at least, the other white characters make him look subtle; more on that later).
THE SETTING: Black and white, in more ways than one. Essentially, the rural South = bad; cities, or anywhere in Europe = good. "Violence is part and parcel of country life," Laura tells us, and to prove the point, Jordan includes a family of bit-part characters whose purpose is solely to rape, murder, and drunkenly shoot off guns (and these are the only farm people we meet aside from the main characters). The Mississippi Delta is full of violent racists, while the Memphis-bred Laura has apparently never even heard of Jim Crow. Europe, meanwhile, is a colorblind paradise; even German women are happy to sleep with black men and have their babies mere months after their own government finished murdering millions of pale-skinned people for not being white enough. (I'm not disputing that such liaisons happened, but I do dispute the "colorblind paradise" portrayal. Read Andrea Levy's Small Island for a more nuanced portrayal of wartime and post-war England; as for Germany, its actions speak for themselves.) Finally, Jordan's failure to get even easily verifiable facts right makes me doubt her overall portrayal. The two closest towns to the McAllens' farm are Greenville and Marietta.... and while Greenville really is a Delta town, Marietta is actually over 200 miles away in the northeast part of the state.
THE MESSAGE: Several underwhelmed reviewers have mocked the Bellwether Prize, which is meant to recognize a book that advances social justice in some way. I think the prize is a good idea. But the Washington Post nailed this one: "the book doesn't challenge our prejudices so much as give us the easy satisfaction of feeling superior to these evil Southerners." The thing is, to advance social justice, you have to be timely. Tackle, say, the drug war's disproportionate impact on minority communities, the poor quality of education in inner-city schools, the location of environmental hazards in minority neighborhoods. There's no end to current social justice issues that Jordan might have written about. Instead, her message is one that even most unreformed racists of today wouldn't dispute: racially motivated hate crimes are bad, folks! It's no wonder most people like this book: its message is so uncontroversial that nobody is uncomfortable with it. But you can't change society by hammering home points everybody already agrees with.
(In fairness to Jordan, her second novel does take on timely, controversial issues; predictably, its reception has been more mixed. But it's much better.)
In the end, I don't hate this book. If you want a quick, unchallenging read about the evils of racism, it may be the book for you. If you're looking for some redeeming social or literary value, though, best look elsewhere.