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Mudbound Paperback – March 17, 2009
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Jordan won the 2006 Bellwether Prize for Mudbound, her first novel. The prize was founded by Barbara Kingsolver to reward books of conscience, social responsibility, and literary merit. In addition to meeting all of the above qualifications, Jordan has written a story filled with characters as real and compelling as anyone we know.
It is 1946 in the Mississippi Delta, where Memphis-bred Laura McAllan is struggling to adjust to farm life, rear her daughters with a modicum of manners and gentility, and be the wife her land-loving husband, Henry, wants her to be. It is an uphill battle every day. Things started badly when Henry's trusting nature resulted in the family being done out of a nice house in town, thus relegating them to a shack on their property. In addition, Henry's father, Pappy, a sour, mean-spirited devil of a man, moves in with them.
The real heart of the story, however, is the friendship between Jamie, Henry's too-charming brother, and Ronsel Jackson, son of sharecroppers who live on the McAllan farm. They have both returned from the war changed men: Jamie has developed a deep love for alcohol and has recurring nightmares; Ronsel, after fighting valiantly for his country and being seen as a man by the world outside the South, is now back to being just another black "boy."
Told in alternating chapters by Laura, Henry, Jamie, Ronsel, and his parents, Florence and Hap, the story unfolds with a chilling inevitability. Jordan's writing and perfect control of the material lift it from being another "ain't-it-awful" tale to a heart-rending story of deep, mindless prejudice and cruelty. This eminently readable and enjoyable story is a worthy recipient of Kingsolver's prize and others as well. --Valerie Ryan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Jordan's beautiful debut (winner of the 2006 Bellwether Prize for literature of social responsibility) carries echoes of As I Lay Dying, complete with shifts in narrative voice, a body needing burial, flood and more. In 1946, Laura McAllan, a college-educated Memphis schoolteacher, becomes a reluctant farmer's wife when her husband, Henry, buys a farm on the Mississippi Delta, a farm she aptly nicknames Mudbound. Laura has difficulty adjusting to life without electricity, indoor plumbing, readily accessible medical care for her two children and, worst of all, life with her live-in misogynous, racist, father-in-law. Her days become easier after Florence, the wife of Hap Jackson, one of their black tenants, becomes more important to Laura as companion than as hired help. Catastrophe is inevitable when two young WWII veterans, Henry's brother, Jamie, and the Jacksons' son, Ronsel, arrive, both battling nightmares from horrors they've seen, and both unable to bow to Mississippi rules after eye-opening years in Europe. Jordan convincingly inhabits each of her narrators, though some descriptive passages can be overly florid, and the denouement is a bit maudlin. But these are minor blemishes on a superbly rendered depiction of the fury and terror wrought by racism. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
There were several times when reading this novel was hard to do. As an African American woman and mother of a young adult male, reading about the harrowing times of my people and our sons was a strain. The climatic scene with Ronsel will stay with me for awhile.
I didn't favor one character over another. Each was written true to the time and their respective station in life with no real surprises to their character or actions....just like the story itself.
As the story progresses, we hear shifting narratives. From Jamie, the story is told from his brother’s wife, Laura, Henry and then from the Jacksons, black sharecroppers who work Henry’s land. An unlikely friendship develops between Ronsel Jackson and Jamie McAllan and also between Florence Jackson and Laura McAllan. Their attempts to find acceptance and understanding in each other turn into tragedy as the novel unfolds.
This was quite the page-turner from start to finish. It’s themes of racism and brutality, friendship and family, are just as important in the historical context as they are today. Given the simplicity of the prose, I would say it could pass as a young adult novel – but strictly for high school students given the content.
The novel takes place in Mississippi shortly after the ending of World War II. It is a Mississippi that would shudder in its shoes if it knew that Martin Luther King and a Civil Rights Movement were only 15 years down the road. It is a Mississippi of segregation, racism and hatred, even for black WW II heroes returning from their time overseas.
The chapters are told from the voices of different characters. There is Laura, at first fearful that she will be a spinster, but then finding love of a sort with Henry who marries her and takes her far from her family so that he can fulfill his dream of being a farmer. Henry's voice is that of a man trying to do the right thing under difficult economic and social conditions. Florence is a midwife and Laura's housekeeper, a black woman wise in the ways of the world and understanding that there is a wall too tall between blacks and whites for her to traverse. Hap is Florence's husband. He is working as hard as he can to try and make it as a tenant farmer on Henry's farm. It is an uphill battle all the way with two steps backward for every step forward.
Then there are Jamie and Ronsell. Both are war heroes but one is black and the other is white. Jamie is Henry's brother, many years his junior. Prior to the war, Jamie was light-hearted and easy-going. However, he brings demons back with him from his war experiences. Ronsell, too, is a war hero, having served in a black brigade under General Patton. He is Florence and Hap's son. He, too, carries demons from the war. Both likely have cases of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Ronsell and Jamie become friends and this stirs up a pot best left alone.
In the background without his own voice in the story is Pappy, a mean-spirited, nasty and racist man - - Henry's father. He is even cruel to his own granddaughter. There is not likely a person on earth that Pappy has a nice word for except occasionally Jamie.
This story beautifully and tragically unfolds through the different voices. Mudbound is a book that will not soon be forgotten. It is horrible in its tragedy and beautiful in its telling.
You might think that this tale of misery would falter in the farm's mud, but you'd be wrong. The two soldiers returning from World War II add tension and the ultimate storyline that reveals why her father-in-law is being buried. Along the way, Jordan delves into the world of black southern farmers who dream of owning their own land, where one false step can lead to ruin, and the assumptions whites made about blacks before the civil rights movement came along.
Jordan makes this world come to life, with beautiful descriptions and the inner dialog of the characters.