Book Reviews

The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr.

A novel about the forbidden union between two enslaved young men on a Deep South plantation, the refuge they find in each other, and a betrayal that threatens their existence.

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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After finishing this book, I’m left in absolute awe at the beautiful writing and hauntingly heartbreaking story between the pages. This debut by Robert Jones Jr is unlike anything I’ve ever read and I honestly cannot wait to see what they does next! The Prophets masterfully weaves together beauty and shattering pain. After reading, I’m sure this book will stick with you for a long time. 

This story features several POVs, both enslaved and their slavers, making each character one that you will remember distinctly.

Several months ago I saw this tweet:

And while reading, the words of this tweet haunted me. I’m positive there are things that black people endured that we will never know. For me, The Prophets highlights elements of this, while also giving voice to black queer people who’ve been silenced throughout history, and continue to be silenced to this day. The bond highlighted between Samual and Isaiah is so incredibly beautiful; despite their devastating situation, the two find peace in each other. 

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, they screamed “CHAOS!” and claimed that mass murder was the only way to restore order. -p 301

Ultimately, this is easily a five star read and one that I will never forget. Without a single doubt, this is the best historical fiction book I’ve ever read. I’m so eager to share it with friends and family and discuss it with them! If you get the chance to read this one, do it! It is one you surely won’t want to miss.

PUBLICATION DETAILS: G.P. Putnam’s Sons; January 5th, 2021; 9780593085684; Historical Fiction/LGBTQ+

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