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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, transf 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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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, transf 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.

30 review for The Prophets

  1. 5 out of 5

    Maureen

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ I’m sure we’ve all read books that feel really special, ones that leave a silence in their wake - the ones that stun with their cruelty and their beauty, all at the same time, so let me say right now, that in author Robert Jones Jr, there is a master wordsmith at work, taking the written word and transforming it into something magical. Even more remarkable, is the fact that this is the author’s debut novel! The Halifax cotton plantation in the Deep South (otherwise known as Empty) isn’t ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ I’m sure we’ve all read books that feel really special, ones that leave a silence in their wake - the ones that stun with their cruelty and their beauty, all at the same time, so let me say right now, that in author Robert Jones Jr, there is a master wordsmith at work, taking the written word and transforming it into something magical. Even more remarkable, is the fact that this is the author’s debut novel! The Halifax cotton plantation in the Deep South (otherwise known as Empty) isn’t somewhere you’d choose to be, it’s where unfortunate people have ended up, having been taken from their homeland, sometimes even torn from a distraught mother’s arms. The storyline centres around Samuel and Isaiah, slaves at the cotton plantation. Two young gay men who fall in love, and love (forbidden or otherwise) is very hard to come by in a place that grinds down even the strongest of people. Various characters, both the slaves and the slavers, are given a voice, describing their lives , and their feelings, and out of these many characters, it was Maggie that I personally found to be one of the most interesting. She likes to ‘mother’ Samuel and Isaiah, sneaks extra bits of food for them from the Big House whenever she gets the chance, and gives them the benefit of her great wisdom, and special powers. Maggie is a complex but utterly fascinating character, she has ‘the favour’ (she ‘sees’ things before they happen). She works in the Big House, as cook/housekeeper for Massa Paul and Missy Ruth, neither of whom can be trusted, both devious and cruel personalities. Massa Paul makes Maggie do things she doesn’t want to do - degrading things that she doesn’t understand, whilst Missy Ruth, in the pretence of being a friend, then accused Maggie of theft, which wasn’t true. Still, Maggie gets back at them in her own little ways without them ever suspecting a thing, and that feels so good, it’s the only control she has in life - her one bit of power. Slavery, and its ensuing pain, misery, and hardship, makes one wonder at the fortitude and perseverance required both to live, and to survive, the cruelty and oppression. Though it depicts a terrible time in history, and the bonds of slavery were extremely harsh, this novel lifts it up, characterising as it does, a different kind of bond - the invisible bonds of true love. A truly magnificent and unmissable novel. * Thank you to Netgalley and Quercus Books for an ARC in exchange for an honest unbiased review *

  2. 5 out of 5

    Paromjit

    This is a soul stirring, ambitious, and stunning debut from Robert Jones Jr., an epic and intimate look at the history of slavery and the love that dare not speak its name. Structured by chapters named after books from the bible, this is a lyrical and beautifully written novel, set in the Deep South at a Mississippi cotton plantation. A multitude of characters are given voices, from the best to the monstrously worst of humanity, that coalesce in their devastating impact on the reader, in this mo This is a soul stirring, ambitious, and stunning debut from Robert Jones Jr., an epic and intimate look at the history of slavery and the love that dare not speak its name. Structured by chapters named after books from the bible, this is a lyrical and beautifully written novel, set in the Deep South at a Mississippi cotton plantation. A multitude of characters are given voices, from the best to the monstrously worst of humanity, that coalesce in their devastating impact on the reader, in this most uncomfortable and hard to stomach book. Ultimately, despite depicting the raging inhumanity, the horrors and terrors of being enslaved, all of which comes all too alive through the visceral and vibrant rich descriptions, it is hope, kindness and the miracle of love that captivates. The green shoots and tendrils of love will grow in the most inhospitable and stoniest of ground, nowhere is this more apparent than in the forbidden love of Samuel and Isaiah for each other, a homage to the incredible nature of the human spirit, and the existence, against all the odds, of joy. This is powerful, emotional, spiritual, and unforgettable storytelling, a novel that looks destined to become a classic, and which left me highly anticipating what the author will write next. Without question, a must read. Many thanks to Quercus for an ARC.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    Broken The Prophets is an absorbing novel, with unsettling overtones, profound and deeply moving. Masterfully written in beautiful poetic prose it enriches the soul through the dreams and expression of love amidst the most repressive and abusive life imaginable. “Blessèd be the ones who gaze upon the night and holy are the ones who remember. And memory is not enough! To know from beneath: That is a story only a prophet can tell. But with the world being what it is and the world being what it Broken The Prophets is an absorbing novel, with unsettling overtones, profound and deeply moving. Masterfully written in beautiful poetic prose it enriches the soul through the dreams and expression of love amidst the most repressive and abusive life imaginable. “Blessèd be the ones who gaze upon the night and holy are the ones who remember. And memory is not enough! To know from beneath: That is a story only a prophet can tell. But with the world being what it is and the world being what it forever will be, never without a grieving heart. Here is the fire now: dancing, destroying. But honestly only wanting to be sung to softly sweetly. It is a dying flame shrinking flickering waiting to be extinguished finally by a lullaby. But there are no singers left.” The pain and horror experienced by black slaves will continue to echo through time and books like The Prophets continue to tell their story. The inhumane treatment of people who only dream of survival, and avoiding the wrath and cruel entertainment of plantation owners is appalling. How much further could you descend when you are already at the bottom. Yet slaves continued to survive, continued to find love, continued to share their lives with others, and found a dignity that was so far from the character of their owners, that it bestows unreserved reverence for the generations that suffered. Samuel and Isaiah are slaves on the Halifax cotton plantation, in the Deep South, a place referred to as Empty. The perfect name for a place that strips away your freedom, dignity, peace, happiness and all too evidently, your life. Both men find love with each other and have so much to lose if discovered. Maggie is aware of their relationship and so much of what happens on the plantation. She shares food, advice and as much awareness as possible, especially as she has a gift of foresight. Maggie works in the Big House for Paul and Ruth Halifax, owners who are ruthless, brutal, and cynically manipulative. The great cast of characters are all full of light and shade, and to tell the story from the different character perspectives, gives it a superb observational capacity that is truly epic. The relationships and the subtle yet distinctive interactions, the dialogue, and the menacing overtones achieve an experience that coalesces such beauty and such sadness. The ending is powerful and as it ends it is worth taking a moment to hold this story in quiet reverence. I could not help feeling certain similarities to Sing, Unburied, Sing – not from the storyline perspective, but the emotional impact the story elicits, and the lyrical writing that evokes such vivid images that are forever etched into our minds. The Prophets is a book that is unforgettable and will surely spend considerable time on bestseller lists, and will justly receive nominations and awards recognition for outstanding literature. I would highly recommend this book and I would like to thank Quercus Books, Riverrun and NetGalley for providing me with a free ARC in return for an honest review.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Angela M

    I read this novel in a way that was different from how I read any other book. I was just under halfway through. So many characters and the biblical references at times eluded me. I’m sure I missed the nuances, to say nothing of the fact that this was so difficult to read. I stopped and moved forward to around the 80% mark and read to the end. This is something I’ve never done, read the ending before the rest. I couldn’t stop thinking about this book and the next day I was compelled to go back to I read this novel in a way that was different from how I read any other book. I was just under halfway through. So many characters and the biblical references at times eluded me. I’m sure I missed the nuances, to say nothing of the fact that this was so difficult to read. I stopped and moved forward to around the 80% mark and read to the end. This is something I’ve never done, read the ending before the rest. I couldn’t stop thinking about this book and the next day I was compelled to go back to the part of the book I hadn’t finished. I don’t think I can adequately describe this book. I could use the typical phrases used to describe so many books about slavery, such as gut wrenching, brutal, haunting, jarring, to describe the abuse and degradation, cruelties beyond what we can imagine, but none of those words seem enough. However, I have no trouble describing the love story between two young black slaves that is at the center of this novel. It’s pure and beautiful. Isaiah’s and Samuel’s relationship thrived with the quiet acceptance of the other slaves, thrived amidst the horrific life on this plantation in Mississippi, thrived in spite of efforts of the plantation owner to use them and other slaves to “breed” more slaves. Their love was accepted until a betrayal by another slave. The multiple points of view of a number of the slaves makes this such an affecting story. I was livid at the degrading treatment that the Master imposes on Maggie, the cook. I cheered for Maggie with her quiet acts of revenge. The use and abuse is hard to read about; all of this so affecting. Without giving anything specific away, I have to say that some of the most impactful moments of the book for me were when the story takes us back to Africa, and especially a character name Kosii and a young boy on a ship . The chains - I don’t have the words. I can only say, you should read this book, all of it. “This is why Isaiah and Samuel didn’t care, why they clung to each other even when it was offensive to the people who had once shown them a kindness: it had to be known. And why would this be offensive? How could they hate the tiny bursts of light that shot through Isaiah’s body every time he saw Samuel? Didn’t everybody want somebody to glow like that ? Even if it could only last for never, it had to be known. That way, it could be mourned by somebody, thus remembered—-and maybe, someday, repeated .” I received a copy of this book from G.P. Putnam’s Sons through Edelweiss.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    I’ve followed Robert Jones Jr. through his Son of Baldwin Facebook account for awhile now, and I’ve always appreciated his takes on anti-Black racism, as well as finding radical joy amidst white supremacy in the United States. I liked his centering of queer Black love between two enslaved men in his debut novel The Prophets. I also enjoyed the complexity he imbued within his female characters. So often in m/m-centered stories women are underdeveloped or used as props in the male characters’ self I’ve followed Robert Jones Jr. through his Son of Baldwin Facebook account for awhile now, and I’ve always appreciated his takes on anti-Black racism, as well as finding radical joy amidst white supremacy in the United States. I liked his centering of queer Black love between two enslaved men in his debut novel The Prophets. I also enjoyed the complexity he imbued within his female characters. So often in m/m-centered stories women are underdeveloped or used as props in the male characters’ self-growth. However, I sensed a lot of Jones Jr. layered themes of race, gender, and sexuality throughout The Prophets. The execution of the novel on a stylistic level decreased my enjoyment. Sometimes the prose felt a bit overwrought, like the descriptions sometimes veered toward abstraction instead of staying grounded in the moment. I also think the back and forth between multiple characters, while effective in showcasing different points of views, made it more difficult to fully connect with the story. That all said, I appreciate this book’s themes and alignment with social justice, and I’m curious about its reception throughout 2021 and beyond given its popularity thus far.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Robin

    I'm sad to say it, but this book really didn't work for me. It's another case of a) important subject matter (the love story of two gay slaves on a cotton plantation) and b) poor, problematic execution. For me, delivery ALWAYS supersedes content. I would rather read a well written story about a grandmother selecting the perfect plum at the grocery store than read an amateurish, messy novel with an elevated, timely subject. I almost don't know where to begin. It's overwritten, it's melodramatic, it I'm sad to say it, but this book really didn't work for me. It's another case of a) important subject matter (the love story of two gay slaves on a cotton plantation) and b) poor, problematic execution. For me, delivery ALWAYS supersedes content. I would rather read a well written story about a grandmother selecting the perfect plum at the grocery store than read an amateurish, messy novel with an elevated, timely subject. I almost don't know where to begin. It's overwritten, it's melodramatic, it's repetitive, it's confusing. It suffers from a lack of complexity in its characterizations. It's laden with chapter names given biblical references many readers (including myself) will likely not understand. It switches point of view so many times to so many characters it will make your head spin. The style is heavy on TELL, very light on show. For every paragraph of action, there are at least ten paragraphs of interior monologue, or narrative summary. Each and every thought is explained down to the nitty-gritty. The author does not assume any insight on the part of his reader - he lays it out, telling the story as though it he is in the pulpit, orating a sermon. The Prophets could have been so much better. It's truly disappointing to read a book that has an important story to tell, a potentially sacred story that needs to be told, and instead find something that required a LOT more work and/or editing before it came to print.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    A coming-of-age of chains..... “Ignorance wasn’t bliss, but degradation could be better endured if you pretended you were worthy of it”. This is the most original, powerful, devastating, and ambitious historical fiction novel I’ve read all year. It took me twice as long to read than other books of this same length. I needed to digest and savior the prose, the issues at hand, (brutality and cruelty of slavery and colonialism, the horrendous abuse, the beauty of two black gay men in love, the pain A coming-of-age of chains..... “Ignorance wasn’t bliss, but degradation could be better endured if you pretended you were worthy of it”. This is the most original, powerful, devastating, and ambitious historical fiction novel I’ve read all year. It took me twice as long to read than other books of this same length. I needed to digest and savior the prose, the issues at hand, (brutality and cruelty of slavery and colonialism, the horrendous abuse, the beauty of two black gay men in love, the painful treatment for both men and women, the ache in my belly I felt for the women, and the religious aspects that pulled at my bones and stretched my limbs). “The Prophets” is fragile, brittle, and sharp...... .....it’s an astounding novel.....written with heart-breaking grace. The characters are compelling and true. I came to the end not just caring about them, but wanting to heal them. The biblical crafting— works as a marvelous tapestry offering authenticity—warmth contrasted with the sadness.... Extraordinary in every sense of the word!!!! From the beginning - the author had me in the palms of his hands. “You do not yet know us”. “You do not yet understand”. “We who are from the dark, speaking in the seven voices. Because seven is the only divine number. Because that is who we are and who we have always been. And this is law”. “By the end, you will know. And you will ask why we did not tell you sooner. Do you think you are the first to have asked that question?” “You are not”. “There is, however, an answer. There is always an answer. But you have not yet earned it. You do not know who you are. How could you possibly reckon with who ‘we’ are?” Paul and Ruth owned the Halifax plantation property. They called it by its rightful name: “Empty”. It was surrounded by dense teeming wilderness—swamp maple, ironwood, silverbell, and pine as far, high, and tangled as the mind could imagine—treacherous waters where teeth, patient and eternal, waited beneath to sink themselves into the flesh, it was the perfect place to hoard captive peoples”. Weeks sailing across the gray ocean— It took a few months to make it to Mississippi. James mother‘s sister‘s son owned a plantation. He had to make his way across untamed land we are people swowled because of the heat and being suspicious of every new face. He was hungry, and exhausted before he arrived at the Helifax plantation. James didn’t know what to make of Paul’s offer to oversee the plantation and watchdog the slaves. James was going to get his own piece of land right near the north edge of the property plus he would have help with his duties. ....Avoid the lash... ....Avoid the whupping ....A plump girl with child ....Trying to make her forget. ....Trying to make her know tain’t a ounce missing ever her beauty. ....She knew men, ones in heat or ones that had something to prove, were senseless. .... The kind ones experienced regret, the cruel sought more cruelty. .... “They left her to lie there in our own stink ‘and’ theirs like doing so what is the gift she was waiting on. And so often, she was just there crying on the outside and hoping that what they left inside her didn’t catch, and if the blood came, then mercy somewhere heard her”. There is a large cast .... ( in no particular order...the reader becomes familiar with the following characters)... Puah - Sarah - Maggie - Beatrice - Essie - Samuel - Isaiah- a toddler named Delia - Be Auntie- Missy Ruth - Amos- Massa - Gabriel - Paul- Elizabeth- Jonah - James - King Akusa - B’Dula - Mama Semjula- Dashi - Yendi - Kosii- Malachi - Zeke - Jonathan - Takumbo - Gussa ( Obosye) - Tagundu- Elewa - Kosongo - Ketwa - Nbinga - Timothy - Jake Davis - Adam - The Table of Contents looks as follows: Judges, Proverbs, Psalms, Deuteronomy, Maggie, Essie, Amos, Genesis, I Kings, Beulah, Puah, Leviticus, O, Sarah, Ruth, Babel, Balm in Gilead, Romans, II Kings, Timothy, Nebuchadnezzar, Maccabees, The Revelations of Judas, Chronicles, Bel and the Dragon, Paul, Adam, Samuel, Lamentations, Songs of Songs, James, Numbers, Exodus, Isaiah, New Covenant, Acknowledgments. Note: the acknowledgments at the end is the most impressive list of ‘acknowledging others’, I have ever read!!!! More tidbits to light a fire under your belly...... “Toubab think all of us weak” .....Disgrace, degradation, brutality, cruelty, extreme physical abuse, ( as well as abuse of the soul in every way)....the toubab somehow imagined nudity to be degrading, so the walkers were always stripped down before they were forced to drag. .....”Relation didn’t matter. Mother, wife, sister, daughter were all equally targeted for the same rage. Father, husband, brother, and son all had the same blank disregard in their eyes—there, behind the glistening fury, was the thing that shook them so thoroughly that they felt the need to destroy anything and anyone who they believed could see it: nothing”. .... “Perhaps it was true then: she ‘could’ float. Like some pure angel, a kind of feather, or her starry sisters, she could free yourself from the confines of the ground itself, call out her own name, be lifted, just a little, up to a more suitable air”. Many people had already died on the plantation: ...The Yazoo who had fought valiantly. ...Choctaw (the native people from Mississippi), ...The kidnapped people, the ones who dropped dead from hard labor. “If Isaiah was born on the plantation, then it had to be 1814. If not, if Isaiah was purchased from another place, and it might have been another ledger, the one from 1818 entitled ‘Virgins’, in which Paul detailed how twenty slaves, chained together, had been brought in on an uncovered wagon from Virginia, which made stops in South Carolina and Georgia, the youngest among them a child of about three or four years of age”. Isaiah and Samuel: “Isaiah threw his arms around Samuel. He held him for a moment before weeping into a shoulder. Samuel held him tight, then he pushed him back so he could see his face. His hands caressed his chest, then moved down to his navel. Samuel and Isaiah had work to do ..... so they grabbed their buckets and tools—but before moving on, Isaiah kissed Samuel, and off they went”. ....”Sometimes, the niggers died. Spoiled, the slavers called it. And he, with a few other men no older than he was, had to unchain the dead, carry their decomposing vacating bodies up the deck, and hurl them over the side of the ship for the sea beasts or the ocean itself to dispose of. He wondered how many niggers had met a similar fate, in death, they had begun to assemble in the deep, designing the shape of their vengeance, which would come in the form of some infinitely black whirlpool or gigantic, crashing tidal wave that would wipe clean the face of the earth like it did in Noah’s time”. “No. If James learned nothing else in the gray orphanage, he learned that God’s heartlessness would never again include mass murder by drowning. The rainbow was His promise that He would be more creative the next time His sadistic impulses got the better of Him. The priests had assured James of this, but only as a confession after they had already leashed themselves on him and could no longer stand his sorrowful”. .....”If James learned nothing else in the gray orphanage, he learned that God’s heartlessness would never again include mass murder by drowning. The rainbow was His promise that He would be more creative the next time His sadistic impulses got the better of Him. The priests had assured James of this, but only as a confession after they had already leashed themselves on him and could no longer stand his sorrowful eyes”. .....”Together, we can be set free, Timothy whispered as he raised his head and closed his eyes. Only together”. Brutality, horrors upon horrors, betrayal, wounded, destruction, hunger, starvation, torturous abuse, rape, shame, guilt, denial..... ......history told like never before, and .......passionate love within. “...For the noose has already been hung ...The bond has already been broken. ... The seen has already been foresaw. ...The then is arriving now. ...And nothing is certain is able to stop the coming. Nothing ...except You”. This book clearly deals with the dark, difficult, and important subject. Thank you Penguin Group Putnam, Netgally, and Robert Jones, Jr.

  8. 4 out of 5

    karen

    NOW AVAILABLE!! fulfilling book riot's 2020 read harder challenge task #11: Read a debut novel by a queer author set on a plantation in antebellum mississippi, this is a story about two slaves—isaiah and samuel—who find respite from the brutality of their lives in their love for each other, and how this relationship brings hope, comfort, or danger to those around them. as far as story, content, and characters go, this book is a mega-star. i had difficulty with some of the author’s prose/style choi NOW AVAILABLE!! fulfilling book riot's 2020 read harder challenge task #11: Read a debut novel by a queer author set on a plantation in antebellum mississippi, this is a story about two slaves—isaiah and samuel—who find respite from the brutality of their lives in their love for each other, and how this relationship brings hope, comfort, or danger to those around them. as far as story, content, and characters go, this book is a mega-star. i had difficulty with some of the author’s prose/style choices, but the parts that i loved far outweighed the parts that i didn’t. it’s a sprawling novel—there are many character POVs, looping back and forth through time and locale. and when he’s writing in the grounded and immediate, it’s superb. however, he also tends towards the abstract and ethereal, the slippery and poetic—not only in the observations/commentary of “the seven,” whose mysterious ancestral/divine presence surfaces throughout the novel, spouting foreshadowy bits of ominous, impressionistic speech—but also in the ordinary/mortal characters, like timothy—artist-son of the slaveowner: He had learned that horrors could be planted like seeds, spring to life if given the right tenderness of soil, water, and shine. Unfurl slowly beneath the earth’s skin, burrowing down even as it stretched upward toward an open sky. Hiding, at first, its center, it could be coaxed to reveal its core, exposing colors vibrant enough to make even animals weep, unveiling fragrances that could seduce even the most ferocious of bees. You would never know it was poison until you touched it or consumed it, but by then it was already too late. You had already been choked, just like the ones before you. And there was no one left unscathed enough to tell the tale, to warn the next person foolish enough to stop and admire, plucked when they should have just left well enough alone. this is probably not the best example of the phenomenon, but it’s the first one i flipped to just now. this kind of writing is not my jam, and it weighed me down with its mooshiness—having to parse so many amorphous clause-riddled sentences for meaning, when so much of the rest of the prose was so sharp and precise: It was worse when the cruelty came from other women. It shouldn’t have been; after all, women were people, too. But it was. When women did it, it was like being stabbed with two knives instead of one. Two knives, one in the back and the other in a place that couldn’t be seen, only felt. the only other complaint i had was that there are a ton of characters; their relationships and motivations so many spinning plates, so it gets a little messy and convoluted in the resolution. long story short—i didn't love all of it, i didn't even understand all of it, but having said that, the most important takeaway here is that the parts that were great were GREAT. because once you get used to his style, it’s such an impressive debut. the female characters are particularly well-rendered, and the way he expands the thematic focus of the typical historical slavery novel to consider not only gender, but also sexuality, is spectacular. i could have read an entire novel about the matriarchal african tribe led by king akusa, and the slave ship passages were excruciatingly powerful. one last quote and then i’m out: 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. definitely one to watch. come to my blog!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Beata

    All praise I have heard of this novel is truly deserved in my opinion. The author, in a compelling way, offers us the tales of slaves and slave owners allowing them to speak for themselves. This is not the first book about life on a plantation I have read but somehow I felt like being given the chance to be with each character closer than before. Their stories are not just accounts of their daily activities but also of what they feel, what they aspire to do, what they long for, how the circumsta All praise I have heard of this novel is truly deserved in my opinion. The author, in a compelling way, offers us the tales of slaves and slave owners allowing them to speak for themselves. This is not the first book about life on a plantation I have read but somehow I felt like being given the chance to be with each character closer than before. Their stories are not just accounts of their daily activities but also of what they feel, what they aspire to do, what they long for, how the circumstances change them, and how they have been mistreated. Some parts, for example the African theme and the voyage, were both beautiful and devastating to me. This novel definitely deserves a second read, or listen, in my case, hence five stars. If you are looking for something more than just historical fiction depicting events, this novel should go on your list. Karen Chilton's reading is superb.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Regina

    Here’s a glimpse at what will likely happen if The Prophets is picked for the standard 10-person neighborhood book club: One person absolutely loves it and raves about its powerful storytelling, poetic writing, and biblical allusions. This person is probably on Goodreads regularly (Hi friends!!!!) and/or has an English Literature degree. Two people think it was "good" but are glad it wasn’t longer than 400 pages. They’re looking forward to reading something “a little lighter” next. Three people Here’s a glimpse at what will likely happen if The Prophets is picked for the standard 10-person neighborhood book club: One person absolutely loves it and raves about its powerful storytelling, poetic writing, and biblical allusions. This person is probably on Goodreads regularly (Hi friends!!!!) and/or has an English Literature degree. Two people think it was "good" but are glad it wasn’t longer than 400 pages. They’re looking forward to reading something “a little lighter” next. Three people finished the whole thing but are pissed at the person who chose it. They didn’t join a book club to feel like they’re back in college taking Advanced Literary Criticism. Four people read the first 20 or so pages and called it quits, but they still show up to the meeting for the wine and snacks. So which one am I? Honestly, a little of all of them. I do absolutely appreciate the author’s skill and believe that it can be apropos to refer to his debut novel about two enslaved men who fell in love on a Mississippi plantation as “a masterpiece.” Yet the lyricism of the writing is so extreme that it’s not as accessible as, say, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, which is a similar novel in theme and structure and preferable to my mind. I have no doubt that The Prophets will receive many awards and accolades at 2021’s end, so I am glad to have read it. But I’m also looking forward to reading something a little lighter next, something that doesn’t make me feel like I have to write a term paper about its “dreamy realism" once finished. With snacks. 3.5 stars that I'm rounding up for the beauty of the story. But if you choose this for your book club, don't say I didn't warn you!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ceecee

    I have little doubt that this story of forbidden love and betrayal of slaves Samuel and Isaiah will be one of the most talked about books of 2021, probably to critically acclaim and could well be a contender for literary awards, that’s how good the quality of the writing is. The story centres on the Elizabeth Plantation owned by Paul and Ruth Halifax and their son Timothy and is simply known as Empty to the slaves. The story is Biblical, it’s epic and some chapters are Old Testament books whose I have little doubt that this story of forbidden love and betrayal of slaves Samuel and Isaiah will be one of the most talked about books of 2021, probably to critically acclaim and could well be a contender for literary awards, that’s how good the quality of the writing is. The story centres on the Elizabeth Plantation owned by Paul and Ruth Halifax and their son Timothy and is simply known as Empty to the slaves. The story is Biblical, it’s epic and some chapters are Old Testament books whose words are indeed prophetic. It doesn’t just cover events on the plantation but backtracks via chapters like Kings I and II to the arrival in Africa of slave traders and the slave ships. This is one of the most affecting books I have read, it pulls absolutely no punches either on the love between ‘The Two of Them’ or on the barbarity and cruelty of slavery. It makes you ashamed especially when later in the book via Samuel you appreciate the emptiness that is felt inside in order to cope which is similar to Nazi camp survivors descriptions. Words like ‘indifference’ are daggers to the heart. Some sections are hard to read as they are graphic but this story cannot be sanitised. Some parts I have to reread to be sure I’ve understood so I’m not going to pretend it’s an easy read as it’s clearly not but it’s well worth the effort. Although sections are horrifying at the heart of the book it’s a story of deep love and not just between Samuel and Isaiah. There are a lot of characters and my initial thoughts are there are too many but I soon realise I’m wrong. The multiple points of view is very illuminating as we see differing perspectives especially about Samuel and Isaiah. The characters are vivid and come to life before our eyes especially the two men at the centre of the storm but also Maggie and Amos. Some of the voices that echo the loudest are the ‘toubabs’ - Ruth, Paul and Timothy, especially Paul. His voice comes across loud and clear which initially surprises me but it fits with his position at the apex of the plantation slave version of the feudal system. All three toubabs are immoral in more ways than one. The ending blows my mind. It’s devastatingly powerful, jaw dropping and amazing. Overall, this book will live with me for a long time. It’s vivid, the characters come to life, it’s deeply emotional and affecting. It’s lyrical, biblical, magical, and spiritual with the ever present threat, inhumanity, degradation and cruelty of slavery. Yes, it’s a hard book to read but it’s one that should be read. 5 powerful stars. With thanks to NetGalley and especially to Quercus /riverrun and Robert Jones Jnr for the much appreciated arc for an honest review.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    The Prophets lays bare the lives of the men and women on the "Empty" plantation, letting the reader into their minds and hearts. The relationship between Samuel and Isiah and their intense and tender love is the heart of the novel. Resistance reverberates through the pages - Maggie, Sarah, Beulah, Adam, Essie fighting for ways big and small to hold onto a piece of their dignity in the onslaught of their masters' whims and cruelty. Jones uses rich, metaphorical language that at times takes effort The Prophets lays bare the lives of the men and women on the "Empty" plantation, letting the reader into their minds and hearts. The relationship between Samuel and Isiah and their intense and tender love is the heart of the novel. Resistance reverberates through the pages - Maggie, Sarah, Beulah, Adam, Essie fighting for ways big and small to hold onto a piece of their dignity in the onslaught of their masters' whims and cruelty. Jones uses rich, metaphorical language that at times takes effort to untangle. But worth the patience. This book consumed me, shook me, changed me. The easy thing to believe was that toubab [whites] were monsters, their crimes exceptional. Harder, however and even more frightening was the truth: there was no such thing as monsters. Every travesty that had ever been committed had been committed by plain people and and every person had it in them, that fetching, bejeweled thing just beneath the breast that could be removed at will and smashed over another’s head before it was returned to its beating place.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Pedro

    This has to be one of the most incoherent, unauthentic and pretentious novels I’ve ever read. I found the whole thing to be overwritten to the point of ridiculousness. Dull as a Sunday sermon. What’s up in the literary world anyway? Why couldn’t anyone say to this guy “I’m sorry, mate, but this thing you’re presenting me here is just a load of rubbish. How do you expect anyone to see anything worth seeing under such over flowery writing?” But no, instead, they had to tell him something like “Mat This has to be one of the most incoherent, unauthentic and pretentious novels I’ve ever read. I found the whole thing to be overwritten to the point of ridiculousness. Dull as a Sunday sermon. What’s up in the literary world anyway? Why couldn’t anyone say to this guy “I’m sorry, mate, but this thing you’re presenting me here is just a load of rubbish. How do you expect anyone to see anything worth seeing under such over flowery writing?” But no, instead, they had to tell him something like “Mate, this is not very good but there’s gay people in it and all this thing about race is so relevant nowadays that I believe this is going to become the book of the year. It will be out by the beginning of 2021. We have a deal. Congratulations!”. At this point, and especially when considering what’s going on in the world, there’s one thing I think that needs to be clear: a good idea or a relevant subject matter on their own don’t make up for bad storytelling. And jesus, this was bad storytelling! A lot of sections were completely incomprehensible and totally unnecessary; basically, a rambling religious mess! And don’t even get me started about the practically nonexistent character development and the number of times the author decided to change the point of view because even a simple and uneducated guy like me can see that it’s not a good idea to change the point of view so many times if the characters aren’t properly developed or fleshed out. Who’s going to give a damn about what feels like just a draft version of a character? Well, definitely not me. I didn’t care at all about the fact that they were gay, enslaved, raped, beaten and exploited. Not because I’m a heartless bitch but because I read to be entertained and this whole thing was far from entertaining. Let’s just say this story was just an excuse for the author to show off his writing and views about religion, sexuality and race. If I could give the author any advice it would be for him to look for a different editor. Or maybe stick to Sunday school.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Larry H

    The Prophets , a debut novel by Robert Jones, Jr., is haunting, affecting, gorgeously written. This will remain in my mind for a long time. “I ain’t a animal, but I know. I know that when you trapped in a small space, you start getting used to being small. And people, they know, too, and they start treating you like a small thing. Even if you big like you are, Sam. They still treat you like something small.” Samuel and Isaiah are slaves on Empty, the Deep South estate of the Halifaxes. They are The Prophets , a debut novel by Robert Jones, Jr., is haunting, affecting, gorgeously written. This will remain in my mind for a long time. “I ain’t a animal, but I know. I know that when you trapped in a small space, you start getting used to being small. And people, they know, too, and they start treating you like a small thing. Even if you big like you are, Sam. They still treat you like something small.” Samuel and Isaiah are slaves on Empty, the Deep South estate of the Halifaxes. They are in love with each other, and their relationship is often the only thing that can bring them salvation amidst the cruelty and violence and fear they experience on a daily basis. But as with any environment in which people are treated with cruelty, even those in the same plight turn on one another, and when Samuel and Isaiah’s relationship is exposed, it sets off a brutal chain of events. And while their relationship is at the crux of The Prophets , the book also focuses on some of the other slaves, the Halifax family, and a chorus of seemingly otherworldly voices. This is a difficult, emotional book to read at times, and at times the lyricism of Jones’ storytelling and the multiple narrations required slightly more concentration than I'm used to giving while reading. But the power, the beauty, the cruelty of these stories demand to be told, to be read, to be understood, if still not fully comprehended by all. I’m grateful to have read this as a buddy read with my friend, Louis. As always, his perspectives helped round out the experience of reading this, and his friendship and his humor are exceptional. When the “best-of” accolades at the end of 2021 start to get assembled, there’s little doubt that The Prophets won’t be on that list. Check out my list of the best books I read in 2020 at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2021/01/the-best-books-i-read-in-2020.html. Check out my list of the best books of the last decade at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2020/01/my-favorite-books-of-decade.html. See all of my reviews at itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com. Follow me on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/the.bookishworld.of.yrralh/.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tammy

    I’m not intelligent enough to adequately or eloquently convey how remarkable this debut novel is. Two gay teenagers enslaved on a brutal deep south plantation find joy and love with each other. They are betrayed by another slave. Sounds straightforward enough but this novel is so much more. The novel examines the effect of the teens’ relationship on the other characters as well as portraying the exhausting drudgery of enslavement. The slaves’ heartless and inhumane treatment is appalling. Noneth I’m not intelligent enough to adequately or eloquently convey how remarkable this debut novel is. Two gay teenagers enslaved on a brutal deep south plantation find joy and love with each other. They are betrayed by another slave. Sounds straightforward enough but this novel is so much more. The novel examines the effect of the teens’ relationship on the other characters as well as portraying the exhausting drudgery of enslavement. The slaves’ heartless and inhumane treatment is appalling. Nonetheless, at its heart this a book about love. The writing is expressive and emotional. At times, it is dreamlike and at others horrifyingly realistic. The chapter about the proud and culturally rich people who are captured, chained and transported across the sea is particularly monstrous. Some of the books of the bible are used as chapter titles so it helps to know the major themes of the books used because they hint at the chapter’s content. Biblical names are also used as names of the characters so, again, it helps to know who they are. This isn’t an easy read and requires attention as well as concentration. It is well worth the effort and a book that I will reread. It is an experience not to be missed.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Paris (parisperusing)

    "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 kidnap "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." Two enslaved young Black men, born to stardust and shackles, come alive under the flush of midnight, under the sweat ceremonies that spark a nameless love. Secrets are short-lived on the plantation, joy a fleeting illusion. This is the tortured fate of Samuel and Isaiah, whose imperiled desire ends in fire and bloodshed, in voices descending from the heavens. Larger than life in every sense of the word, Robert Jones, Jr. dreams of a compassionate society where queer Black love transcends an epoch of unyielding despair. The Prophets marks the return of a different god, a sage of noble lineage and unparalleled craft. An heir of Baldwin, indeed. Robert has many prizes waiting for him at the end of this epic book. They are truly his to claim.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Eric Anderson

    When I was learning about history in high school I never thought to question where I could find out about the lives of gay people from the past. It strikes me as strange that I didn't question this even though I was out as a teenager and craved to learn more about gay life. But I think the way our received knowledge about the past is framed contributes to why it doesn't even occur to us to ask about marginalized individuals whose stories aren't included amidst the grander narrative. I've deeply When I was learning about history in high school I never thought to question where I could find out about the lives of gay people from the past. It strikes me as strange that I didn't question this even though I was out as a teenager and craved to learn more about gay life. But I think the way our received knowledge about the past is framed contributes to why it doesn't even occur to us to ask about marginalized individuals whose stories aren't included amidst the grander narrative. I've deeply appreciated how some recent novels such as “A Place Called Winter” by Patrick Gale and “Days Without End” by Sebastian Barry introduced gay lives and gay love stories into specific historical settings. These are periods of time in which we know little or nothing about the lives of queer individuals because any records of these identities and relationships were either too dangerous to keep or were purposefully erased. But (of course) gay men existed and loved each other in these times from the past! Since we can't recover what's been lost the only way to reintroduce these lives into the narrative of history is by fictionally imagining them there. In school I certainly had a lot of lessons about the history of slavery in America and the Civil War (although a lot of the shamefully grim reality of what happened was no doubt withheld.) But, again, I didn't think to question where gay lives fitted into these historical accounts. Some might consider it crass or redundant to ask this when so much about the lives of America's African American ancestry was maliciously and purposefully destroyed. Some might even feel exhausted by the prospect of reading another slave narrative when so many books have already covered this heinous but vitally important era of US history. But, as Robert Jones Jr said in a wonderful interview he gave with Brit Bennett: “If there were 20 million enslaved people there are 20 million stories to tell and not every story is told.” So, yes, there is both a desire and need for a fictional story of two enslaved black men who are in love with each other to be told and I'm grateful Jones has done this in his artful and extremely moving debut novel “The Prophets”. The main story literally begins with a roll in the hay as Samuel and Isaiah, two slaves on a remote Mississippi plantation primarily work and reside in relative solitude within the property's barn. If this seems romanticised we're soon made aware of the cruel reality of this hellish place. What it vitally establishes is that there is an intense desire and love between these two men which would otherwise blossom naturally if it weren't for their enslavement. Their relationship is made all the more precarious as the white masters and other enslaved people on the plantation become aware of their romantic and sexual connection. Their reactions to this knowledge vary and Jones conveys in a fascinating way how the judgements made upon them aren't simply moral or religious, but also have to do with the commercial loss of two strong and healthy black men who won't produce babies in the breeding programme designed by the plantation owner. The physicality of their relationship also inspires feelings of admiration, confusion, kinship, desire and envy among the many inhabitants which further complicates the ways these men are alternately befriended, betrayed, used and punished. Equally, Samuel and Isaiah themselves have different ways of admitting, denying or suppressing their desire for each other in these dire circumstances. This story delves deeply into the full complexity of the issues at stake and the emotional snags that would have resulted from a same sex relationship such as this. Read my full review of The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr on LonesomeReader

  18. 5 out of 5

    Dennis

    Please bear with me if I have any typos in this review because I stayed up until 1:30 AM trying to finish this remarkable book. The Prophets will be released on January 5, 2021, and if you don't already have it pre-ordered, jump to it. This book is one of the most profound pieces of literature I've ever had the opportunity to read. I will never forget this book, ever. The premise of The Prophets surrounds two men held in slavery at the Halifax plantation in Mississippi. They're names are Please bear with me if I have any typos in this review because I stayed up until 1:30 AM trying to finish this remarkable book. The Prophets will be released on January 5, 2021, and if you don't already have it pre-ordered, jump to it. This book is one of the most profound pieces of literature I've ever had the opportunity to read. I will never forget this book, ever. The premise of The Prophets surrounds two men held in slavery at the Halifax plantation in Mississippi. They're names are Isaiah and Samuel and they have their own forbidden love between them. At the Halifax farm, we have Paul and his wife Ruth, their son Timothy who is studying for college up North, and their slaves who are working at the plantation. While this story's overarching story involves Samuel and Isaiah's relationship, The Prophets showcases the lives of the people held in slavery and of their oppressors. This book was hard for me to read—not only is the subject matter very hard to digest, but the writing takes a bit to get used to. The book's prose is expertly forecasted and I had to reread a few sections to make sure that I captured everything correctly. This book filled me with so many emotions that it's hard to capture them all in this review. The Prophets is a hard read because it shows the way in which White people not only treated Black people in America's history, but also the way in which they believed Black people to be. The heavy use of derogatory slurs, the belief of Black people to be inferior to White people, and the objectification of people that they had 100% control over—these themes are hard to read. Robert Jones Jr. portrayed this setting exactly as how it should be—without sugar coating a damn thing. The Prophets is more than just a forbidden gay love story and I won't dive into the dynamics of what it's about other than the topics I've already discussed. The Prophets will be a book that will hit home for all of you. I can't help but think of how our society continues to treat Black people in this country. We must do better.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Anna Avian

    This is a hard one to rate. Although I loved the idea of depicting the story of a gay black couple during slavery and there were moments that were so profound, heartbreaking and beautiful, I did not love the way the story was told. The biblical references, linguistic style and constant switching of perspectives made it difficult for me to read. At times I struggled to stay focused and keep track between the plantation and the motherland as the descriptions were swerving more towards the abstract This is a hard one to rate. Although I loved the idea of depicting the story of a gay black couple during slavery and there were moments that were so profound, heartbreaking and beautiful, I did not love the way the story was told. The biblical references, linguistic style and constant switching of perspectives made it difficult for me to read. At times I struggled to stay focused and keep track between the plantation and the motherland as the descriptions were swerving more towards the abstract rather than staying in the moment.

  20. 4 out of 5

    James

    Anyone from historically marginalized groups - people of color, women, LGBTQ, etc. - knows all too well the profound loneliness of seeking out our own stories in the pages of history or on the big screen, only to find erasure and absence. But we also know the disappointment and even embarrassment suffered when these stories are poorly portrayed. I can still recall my own ambivalence when a flurry of films came out in the late 90's that focused exclusively on gay stories and themes. On the one ha Anyone from historically marginalized groups - people of color, women, LGBTQ, etc. - knows all too well the profound loneliness of seeking out our own stories in the pages of history or on the big screen, only to find erasure and absence. But we also know the disappointment and even embarrassment suffered when these stories are poorly portrayed. I can still recall my own ambivalence when a flurry of films came out in the late 90's that focused exclusively on gay stories and themes. On the one hand, after nearly two decades of awkwardly transposing myself into countless hetero Hollywood couplings, I felt a surge of pride and relief to see my own experience finally displayed on the screen. But that was all too frequently followed by anger and frustration at how ineptly most of those stories were told. Most of my gay peers seemed able to shrug off these flaws and still embrace the films for their pioneering, symbolic power. I guess for them, badly written gay stereotypes were still better than no gay characters at all? But I could never quite shake the feeling that our stories demanded and deserved so much better. The Prophets brought all of that frustration from my early college days rushing back. Not because it was insufferably bad (which it was), but because it had the potential, the urgent and desperate NEED, to be so much better. The central narrative here - a love story between Isaiah and Samuel, two young enslaved men on a plantation in the antebellum South - is a bold and radical reclamation of history that is long overdue. The very existence of LGBTQ Black Americans during this dark chapter in American history barely gets acknowledged in the history books - let alone their full, fleshed-out stories. Of course we can always "read between the lines" and use our common sense to know they were there, but their stories still desperately need to be told. I only wish a different writer had taken up the task first! Instead, we're left to settle for this bloated, overwritten mess of a novel that reads more like an amateur submission to a Toni Morrison Parody Contest. The clunky sentences and overstrained use of figurative language had me literally rolling my eyes almost every single page, making it impossible to care about the characters or lose myself in the story. I usually love novels with multiple, shifting points of view, but this author gets carried away to the point of almost comic absurdity. Nearly every chapter introduces a new point of view. It gets so bad that I half expected the next chapter to feature the cousin of a neighbor of the barber of the brother of some asshole who just happened to visit the Halifax Plantation for dinner several years earlier. In a more skilled writer's hands, this could have woven a rich and haunting tapestry of unforgettable characters, but here it just serves to slow down an already frustratingly snail-paced (and predictable) plot. Even with the extra breathing room of their own chapters, most of these characters never escape the confines of crude caricature: There's the "Mammy," the "Uncle Tom," the "Conjure Woman," the not-so-mysteriously light-complected "House Negro," etc. Even Isaiah and Samuel, sweet and endearing as their relationship can occasionally be, are mainly conveyed through the rough, broad strokes of personality contrasts (gentle/passive/authentic vs. rough/angry/closeted) - never as fully developed, multi-dimensional human beings. The white characters here fare even worse, artistically speaking. They are abysmally written to the point of being cringe-worthy. Not because every single one of them is despicably, irredeemably evil - that much is expected and justified in this context. I just wish they’d been written more as complex, conflicted human beings one could actually imagine once walking the earth, not caricatures straight out of some soft-core antebellum porn novel. The seeds for a truly unforgettable and moving novel are here, which is probably why my disappointment cuts deep. Secondary characters like Maggie and Sarah left me longing to see their full potential realized in a more adept writer's hands. I didn't mind all the jumping back and forth in time to pre-colonial Africa and the Middle Passage; just wish the quality of the writing could have matched the author's epic ambitions! One thing I did admire is the clever way this author subverts the whole toxic "homosexuality in the Black community is the legacy of slavery" myth and suggests that it's actually homophobia in the Black community, not homosexuality itself, that is the true legacy of White influence. That was a smart, subtle bit of table-turning I did not expect. Of course I’m only relaying my own personal reading experience here, and don't mean to discourage anyone from giving this book a chance if it’s calling out to them. Some readers find it easier to forgive weak or mediocre writing as long as the characters or subject matter connects with them in some way. Others might not even have a problem with the writing at all, or at least not find it as distracting and groan-worthy as I did. What I’m hoping for now is that a bold and brilliant creative team will come along and adapt this into a TV series or film in a way that can finally do this forgotten history justice.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Marieke du Pré

    A MUST READ!!! Such a beautiful Black queer story, thought-provoking and heartbreaking. Believe me, this is probably one of the most powerful books of 2021! This story is about tough and fierce Samuel, who is willing to die in order to survive, and talkative and cheerful Isaiah, who just wants to live. Both teen slaves on a Mississippi plantation finding refuge and love in each other. Until an older slave starts to turn the other slaves against the boys. There's so much more to this story than B A MUST READ!!! Such a beautiful Black queer story, thought-provoking and heartbreaking. Believe me, this is probably one of the most powerful books of 2021! This story is about tough and fierce Samuel, who is willing to die in order to survive, and talkative and cheerful Isaiah, who just wants to live. Both teen slaves on a Mississippi plantation finding refuge and love in each other. Until an older slave starts to turn the other slaves against the boys. There's so much more to this story than Black queerness. It’s about white dominating Black, straight dominating queer, men dominating women. Women like Maggie, Essie, Puah, Sarah, and Be Aunt, who are being treated like dirt, not allowed to have control over their own bodies and staying so strong at the same time. Robert Jones Jr. did a magnificent job bringing all those characters to life, showing the inhumanity of our history. Reading this book, I could see the images so vividly in my head, and shivers ran time and again down my back, and I cringed and had goosebumps a lot. Although it may seem like a rather painful story, it’s also full of hope and love. The description of the love of those two boys for each other is wonderful: How could they hate the tiny bursts of light that shot through Isaiah’s body when he saw Samuel? Didn’t everybody want someone to glow like that? And how Samuel describes his love for Isaiah: ”They thought we was something dirty, but it won’t nothing like that at all. It was easy, really. He the only one who understand me without me saying a word. Can tell what I thinking just where I looking -or not looking. So when he took my hand ... the first time anybody or anything touch me so, everything in my head wanna say naw, but nothing in my body let me.” This is not an easy read, not only because of the pain and inhumanity throughout the story (it’s sometimes rather graphic) but also because of the more complex writing, showing us a scene and then wandering off in a thought or in the (African queer) past using different points of view. The story is multi-layered. Take your time to understand all those layers and the wandering off. I re-read some parts to understand them fully. This story made my throat tighten and tears welling up in my eyes because this is not only fiction. And I rooted for those two boys so much. I’ll probably re-read this book and find more and more wonderful prose that I didn’t ‘feel’ the first time because the story already hit me so hard. I urge you to read this beautiful story. You won’t be disappointed, just take it easy! I received an ARC from G.P Putnam’s Sons and Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    “The Prophets” by Robert Jones Jr is a lyrical love story of two gay boys during antebellum time in Mississippi. Jones wanted to write a story about gay slaves because none have been written. What was breathtaking to me was his lyrical prose while writing of the evils and horrifying conditions of slavery. His melodious tones make the indignities deeper in the soul. It took a long time for me to get into the story. I listened to the audible production narrated by Karen Chiton’s soothing voice. It “The Prophets” by Robert Jones Jr is a lyrical love story of two gay boys during antebellum time in Mississippi. Jones wanted to write a story about gay slaves because none have been written. What was breathtaking to me was his lyrical prose while writing of the evils and horrifying conditions of slavery. His melodious tones make the indignities deeper in the soul. It took a long time for me to get into the story. I listened to the audible production narrated by Karen Chiton’s soothing voice. It was her voice that kept me listening when I might have given up. Her voice is pitch perfect. Jones writes a beautiful love story of two souls attempting to find dignity in the hellish conditions they find themselves. The slaves themselves and their lives are the focal of the story. The plantation owners occupy less of the story, as it’s mostly the slaves finding ways to survive unwieldly commands and ridiculous demands. It’s a story of survival. This isn’t really a hard edged slave story, for me anyway. The prose creates a literary, almost dream-like (at times) story of perseverance during a horrendous time in Black history. It’s difficult to explain how lyrical prose affects blinding cruelty. Jones has written a deeply moving story.

  23. 4 out of 5

    lark benobi

    The words that come to mind for me to describe this novel include "sincere," "thoughtful," "important," and "it's about time." I loved the ease of the relationship between Isaiah and Samuel--the total lack of shame--that begins this novel. I loved the way religion enters into the story as a perverse mockery of love, as the opposite of love. That felt just about right to me. My relationship with the language on the page was a rocky one though. The language is too formal for me to fully embrace thi The words that come to mind for me to describe this novel include "sincere," "thoughtful," "important," and "it's about time." I loved the ease of the relationship between Isaiah and Samuel--the total lack of shame--that begins this novel. I loved the way religion enters into the story as a perverse mockery of love, as the opposite of love. That felt just about right to me. My relationship with the language on the page was a rocky one though. The language is too formal for me to fully embrace this novel. I also grew impatient with its pacing, and with the stuffed-full feeling I got from it. Many scenes and points of view felt unnecessary. If this were another book on another topic it would have been easier for me to say: 'this story would have benefitted from a strong editorial hand.' But the topic of what it must have been like to be gay and enslaved is such a terrible blank space in our literary imagination that I was rooting for this book as I read it, and when I couldn't love it, I reframed the reading experience, where it was less about the novel, and more about Robert Jones Jr. and his fierce need to tell his story, his way. The author wasn't writing to please me, or to cater to my preference to have things happen more directly in the fiction I read. And I find myself unable to dismiss this novel as a rough work-in-progress, which I might have easily done if the story had been some old evergreen plot about middle-class adultery, or a white boy's coming of age tale. I feel that this novel needs to be read in the context of being the first of its kind. The sincerity of the author and the importance of the topic--the unbelievable enormity of the story Jones is trying to tell--puts the novel in a different evaluative category for me. Where I come out on this novel is--it isn't a novel. It's a heartfelt message in a bottle, a story that, while it may not be perfectly told, is still important to read, because it's being told for the first time in a literary context.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Vanessa

    2.5 Stars Ok, don’t get me wrong, this author is definitely a wonderful writer and I am very confident that this is just the beginning of his long and prosperous career as an author. As soon as I read the blurb for this book, I HAD to read it. But I feel like I needed to go take a Bible study course in order to understand all of the biblical references in this book, for one. Second, there were way too many different POVs. It kept me from being able to fully invest in any of the characters. Fina 2.5 Stars Ok, don’t get me wrong, this author is definitely a wonderful writer and I am very confident that this is just the beginning of his long and prosperous career as an author. As soon as I read the blurb for this book, I HAD to read it. But I feel like I needed to go take a Bible study course in order to understand all of the biblical references in this book, for one. Second, there were way too many different POVs. It kept me from being able to fully invest in any of the characters. Finally, the abstract writing was just too much for me. It overshadowed the parts of the writing that were actually moving the story forward. All this figurative language...I felt like I was back in HS English class trying to interpret Shakespeare for the first time. That's not necessarily a criticism. For those who enjoy this type of prose, this book may totally work for you. Me, on the other hand, I struggled between trying to decipher just what the heck characters were talking about metaphorically versus what was really happening on the page. I wanted to love this book. I did enjoy the parts with Samuel and Isiah and wanted so much more. I love the premise of the story with gay love happening in a time of slavery. But in the end, I was confused and really did not feel like I had a grasp on the story. I finished it still not really knowing what the heck it was I read.

  25. 5 out of 5

    BookOfCinz

    WOW! Absolutely Stunning! I ain’t a animal… I know that when you trapped in a small place, you start getting used to being small. And people, they know too, and they start treating you like a small thing. Even if you big like you are. I have a lot of thoughts on this novel and I hope to get through them all. First let me say Robert Jones Jr. can write. I am blown away that this is his debut novel and I cannot wait to read everything he writes next. What a well-executed, perfectly done novel. In WOW! Absolutely Stunning! I ain’t a animal… I know that when you trapped in a small place, you start getting used to being small. And people, they know too, and they start treating you like a small thing. Even if you big like you are. I have a lot of thoughts on this novel and I hope to get through them all. First let me say Robert Jones Jr. can write. I am blown away that this is his debut novel and I cannot wait to read everything he writes next. What a well-executed, perfectly done novel. In The Prophets we are taken to the 1830s on a plantation where two enslaved men Isaiah and Samuel are in love with each other but so much impede their love. Their goal is to have a bit of freedom, that is a lot to ask for as a Black man on a plantation. Themes of colonialism, identity, colourism, slavery, white privilege, love, motherhood, religion and revenge are perfectly executed. Yes, I will be the first to stand here and say that I am tired of reading stories about enslaved people and what they went through. Reading these recounts, while it is historical fiction still weighs me down. I finish these books feeling exhausted. So yes, nothing about this read was light- well expect for that one part in the book where a white man shit himself- that, that was hilarious! I cannot say I have read a historical fiction set on a plantation that surrounds the love of two Black Men. It is already so hard being Black on a plantation, much less one where the enslaver is a religious zealot and there is the whole crab inna barrel mentality of the other enslaved people who cannot seem to let others have the little joy they can squeeze out in a very joyless world. These were people after all. There was, therefore, some kind of happiness to be found in someone else being humiliated for once. When I tell you the fear I felt for these men being found out was palatable and that goes back to how great the writing is in this book. There was the use of religion which was found throughout the book, through the naming of the chapters to the characters in the book, I felt it was impeccably executed. I enjoyed how the author explored religion in the context of a plantation. How religion was used to placate some, and used as a weapon against others. How the enslaved individuals responded to the religion of their enslavers was even more interesting. One aspect that I could not get enough of was Jones taking us to a remote village where white people arrived for the first time. I thought it was great that it was told from the view of the tribe members- we got such a unique look into their lives and customs and I wanted so much more from there. Yall… do you know white women been white womening since the beginning of time? I freaking loved how Jones explored how dangerous bored white women can be, especially on a plantation setting. I think Sara Collins did such a great job of doing that in The Confessions of Frannie Langton and to see it again and how it was done really wowed me. How identity was explored I felt was nuance and deeply moving. We hear from a Adam who is the son of the enslaver and an enslaved person. He walks us through what life on the plantation is like for him, how he wasn’t wanted and fit in anywhere. How lonely it was just existing in his skin. Beyond impactful. While the story surrounded Isaiah and Samuel, I loved how the other characters on the plantation got to tell their stories and move the plot along. I particularly loved hearing from Maggie and wanted to hear a lot more from her, but I know she had the potential to outshine the others. Yes, I did enjoy this book a lot but I felt at some points the book was a bit over written and I found myself thinking, “alright Jones, I get it you can write but move it along and tell me know wah guh happen next nuh!” There were a lot of characters and setting so it took awhile to get my footing, it would be great to an index of characters but that may just be me. I do think the book could have been 30-50 pages less but that may just be me. Last thing… the ending, it felt so rush…. So rushed! I can definitely see this being a favourite for a lot of people and I absolutely enjoyed it! What a great debut!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    I had an inkling that this book was going to be something special, but I didn't realize just how much. Everything about it is beautiful down to the cover art. What a masterful and lyrical story - something that every person who enjoys Literary Fiction should pick up. This is more character than plot based, but told through many varying perspectives and with elements of fantasy as well. No book review I could write will do this justice. All I know is that it will be on many best lists; including I had an inkling that this book was going to be something special, but I didn't realize just how much. Everything about it is beautiful down to the cover art. What a masterful and lyrical story - something that every person who enjoys Literary Fiction should pick up. This is more character than plot based, but told through many varying perspectives and with elements of fantasy as well. No book review I could write will do this justice. All I know is that it will be on many best lists; including mine. Thank you to Putnam Books and Robert Jones. Jr for the gifted finished copy to read and provide an honest review. Review Date: 01/03/2021 Publication Date: 01/05/2021

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jessica | JustReadingJess

    The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr. is an impactful story about the forbidden love between two enslaved men. Isaiah and Samuel love each other, but their love is being questioned and called sinful. Isaiah and Samule have a special love that their friends help them hide to keep them safe. Then, the slave owner finds out about their relationship and has to decide what he is going to do. The Prophets is a moving story. I was invested in Isaiah and Samuel’s life and relationship. There are side storie The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr. is an impactful story about the forbidden love between two enslaved men. Isaiah and Samuel love each other, but their love is being questioned and called sinful. Isaiah and Samule have a special love that their friends help them hide to keep them safe. Then, the slave owner finds out about their relationship and has to decide what he is going to do. The Prophets is a moving story. I was invested in Isaiah and Samuel’s life and relationship. There are side stories throughout the book. The story is told from the slave and slave owner’s perspectives. There are many tense and difficult moments in The Prophets that are important while not always easy to read. The Prophets is filled with good characters fighting for what they believe in. The Prophets emphasizes the power of love and strength to never give up. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Karen Chilton and thought she did a great job. There were some parts that were uncomfortable to hear out loud but overall the audiobook is worth listening to. Thank you Libro.fm, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, and Penguin Random House Audio for The Prophets. Full Review: https://justreadingjess.wordpress.com...

  28. 4 out of 5

    Melissa Crytzer Fry

    What a gut-punch of a book this was. But, how beautiful and simultaneously horrifying the content. The lyrical writing showcases love in such a beautiful way, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever read. As a result, it’s hard not to come away from the book feeling something good, despite so much bad. The characters are so well developed and emotionally rich, you can feel their heartaches, triumphs, and determination as your own. I also enjoyed the mystical elements in this story that spoke to spirituali What a gut-punch of a book this was. But, how beautiful and simultaneously horrifying the content. The lyrical writing showcases love in such a beautiful way, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever read. As a result, it’s hard not to come away from the book feeling something good, despite so much bad. The characters are so well developed and emotionally rich, you can feel their heartaches, triumphs, and determination as your own. I also enjoyed the mystical elements in this story that spoke to spiritualism and ties to country and home, and – even more – to a people’s collective, emotional memory. The strength of women (and fallibility of men) was an undeniable theme – and powerful, so powerful. And the slave ship scenes: harrowing, hard to read … rightfully so. Some examples of the lovely language: Surrounded by dense, teeming wilderness—swamp maple, ironwood, silverbell, and pine as far, high, and tangled as the mind could imagine—and treacherous waters where teeth, patient and eternal, waited beneath to sink themselves into the flesh, it was the perfect place to hoard captive peoples. How he had grown from the boy whose mouth wasn’t yet big enough to hold a bounty of rainbows. Yes, even now he noticed the reality flickering between them. It was like the finest of spiderwebs with a tenuous amount of dew trembling on the strands of it, suddenly snatched away and then reconstructed within the blink of an eye, delicate Water done wore away at her stone, and the next thing she knew, she was a damn river when she could have sworn she was a mountain. If you enjoy purple prose, this book will delight the senses. While I found the language beautiful, it did – at times (and mostly during the Ancestor chapters) – get a bit heavy handed and interfered with my engagement in the story. That said, I believe the lyricism was intended, as it succeeded in creating a dreamlike quality that helped showcase the divine amid the monstrousness of slavery. My friend Tammy’s review indicates that an understanding of Biblical characters and verses enhances the reading of this book, as the chapters showcase Biblical names. And I am disappointed in myself for not having been a better Biblical scholar when I was younger, as I think I would have gotten even more from the story. That said, it was not lost on me the juxtaposition of Christian chapter headers against the atrocities of human ownership that were committed in the name of Christianity. And, yet, in the end, this is a love story at its very core. Undeniably so. A tender and gut-wrenchingly beautiful love story to a people, of two characters, of a host of characters with a shared history. Many thanks to Putnam for the free copy in advance of publication.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mina

    I would describe Robert Jr. debut novel as deeply profound and moving which captivated me with its rich poetic prose & biblical allusions. Despite all this, the book was a hard read as it was very unsettling, but really what book about slavery isn't.. I am going to commend the author because he managed to bring to life a monumental concept- Two men in love in the age of slavery and he did so quite beautifully. The book tells the unique story of two characters Isaiah and Samuel and as expected the I would describe Robert Jr. debut novel as deeply profound and moving which captivated me with its rich poetic prose & biblical allusions. Despite all this, the book was a hard read as it was very unsettling, but really what book about slavery isn't.. I am going to commend the author because he managed to bring to life a monumental concept- Two men in love in the age of slavery and he did so quite beautifully. The book tells the unique story of two characters Isaiah and Samuel and as expected their love was met with confusion, quiet acceptance and of course anger and hate. As I mentioned, this was a hard read for me- the derogatory slurs, the objectification of black people, the pain I could feel bleed out of the pages. It was hard. I must say that I also struggled with the authors writing style in very deep prose took abit of getting used to though I have to admit for people who enjoy such, they will have no problem flowing with it. I highly recommend 'The Prophets' I am most definitely going to come back to this in the near future because the book has alot to give which I have not wrapped my head the first time around.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Oscreads

    Memories are a powerful thing. “The Prophets” by Robert Jones, Jr. illustrates the randomness of memories and the power that accompanies them. Throughout this incredible debut novel, memories are depicted in different forms. There is blood memory, the memories that our bodies carry, memories of the land, and the memories that our mind holds. The strong cast of characters in this novel are all in certain ways of dealing with memories and their different shapes. What follows is an epic story that Memories are a powerful thing. “The Prophets” by Robert Jones, Jr. illustrates the randomness of memories and the power that accompanies them. Throughout this incredible debut novel, memories are depicted in different forms. There is blood memory, the memories that our bodies carry, memories of the land, and the memories that our mind holds. The strong cast of characters in this novel are all in certain ways of dealing with memories and their different shapes. What follows is an epic story that is almost impossible to put down. Following mainly the love between two men in the antebellum South, “The Prophets” reminds us of what Morrison introduced with “Beloved” which is a picture of slavery that is beyond the suppression that was endured. As mentioned, this is a love story between two men who love each other fiercely. It is a layered novel that I can only describe as an experience within itself. You have to read it to know what I’m talking about. At once tender and at other times sharp, Robert Jones, Jr. makes his introduction to the literary world with a novel that is revolutionary in every sense. From the writing to the plot, it is sublime. Reading it I heard those echoes from Morrison and Baldwin’s books. I saw Morrison in these characters and Baldwin in the prose which only managed to generate chills that traveled across my body. At the same time, I heard a new literary voice that I’m super excited about. Overall, I loved my experience with this novel and I would do it all over again if I could. I can continue talking about it but I would spoil the book lol. If you can, please give this novel a read.

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