by Hillary Jordan

Paperback, 2009

Call number





Algonquin Books (2009), Edition: 2nd Printing, 340 pages


Mudbound takes on prejudice in its myriad forms on a Mississippi Delta farm in 1946. City girl Laura McAllen attempts to raise her family despite questionable decisions made by her husband. Tensions continue to rise when her brother-in-law and the son of a family of sharecroppers both return from WWII as changed men bearing the scars of combat.

User reviews

LibraryThing member DeltaQueen50
I can’t say enough about this spellbounding, intense book. Mudbound examines the lives of both a white farm family and a black share cropper family in the years right after World War II. Both families welcome home a soldier returning from Europe.

Sharing such a common history and bond, these two men gravitate towards each other much to the dismay of both families. Friendships such as these were a secret, fearful thing in the days of Jim Crow. The war had taken these men, broadened their horizons and now had placed them back in a world of dark suspicions, hatred and discrimination.

This is the first novel for Hillary Jordan, and it truly is incredible. Powerful, simplistic writing, characters that are fully developed and real, and a story that will haunt me for a long, long time. The story unfolds as seen through the eyes of different characters, each viewpoint is so evolved and complete that the reader has no difficulty in identifying the storyteller at any given moment. Like an engine coming down the track, we can see where we are coming from and where we are going in this potent story of racism and its’ effects. Mudbound by Hillary Jordan is a wonderful book and I highly recommend it.
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LibraryThing member mrstreme
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan was an exquisite piece of modern Southern literature. In her debut novel, Jordan crafted a story of family, race and farm life set in 1940’s Mississippi. Heart-wrenching, Mudbound will leave any reader stunned by the tragedy of the American South from not too long ago.

The book has several narrators: Laura, a Memphis belle who reluctantly moved to her husband’s farm; Henry, her husband who loved his farm more than anything; Hap, one of Henry’s tenants; and his wife Florence, a superstitious midwife who could smell trouble a mile away. Added to this mix were Jamey and Ronsel – veterans who came home with a restlessness that could not be resolved on the farm.

At the root of this story was the racial injustice prevalent in the 1940’s South. Hap, Florence and Ronsel experience racism every day of their lives– from deferring to their white neighbors to using the back door at the local store. Ronsel, after fighting for his country, could not readjust to the white-centric society. After discovering he fathered a child with a woman in Germany, Ronsel realized that the time to go was now.

However, the white people of this farming community had a different plan for Ronsel, who they found uppity and disrespectful. I don’t want to give away too much, but Ronsel’s ordeal was heart-breaking. He was a character I was rooting for, and I was disgusted with how he was treated by others.

Jordan’s characterization was spot-on. There were characters you loved, ones you felt sorry for and others you hated. It saddens me that racism is part of Southern history, but I believe it’s important to read stories, such as Mudbound, to remind ourselves about this struggle for equality. I highly recommend Mudbound to Southern book lovers everywhere.
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LibraryThing member bookczuk
I am "from off"; transplant to the south, who has now lived here for the majority of my life. There is much that I love about this region, especially the lush beauty of the land. The culture and history interests me, but mostly from the days that predate the European invasion. For it is with that invasion that some of the most mystifying and horrifying elements of southern culture set root. The institution of slavery, then the Jim Crow years and the horrible bigotry and racism that festers in society make my head and stomach hurt. But this book, which captivated me from the start, is set smack dab in the middle of those years, post WWII, when racism and bigotry reigned.

This story, both delicate and brutal, is told from several different viewpoints. I didn't realize that at first, and found myself confused in the beginning because my preconceived idea was that this was Laura's story. But when does anyone's story exist in isolation? Such is the case here as the threads interweave to tell the tale. Though not easy to read because of the subject matter, Jordan's debut novel is a beautifully written story of heartbreak, hatred and survival
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LibraryThing member brenzi
Henry McAllen has a solid job and lives in an urban environment. But he loves the earth and longs to have it fall through his fingers as he farms the Mississippi soil. A wounded WWI vet, he makes the decision to buy a farm and move his wife and two girls to rural Mississippi in the years following WWII.

His wife Laura is happy living in the city and stunned when Henry makes the decision to move without consulting her. To make matters worse, Henry's mean and racist father will be accompanying them. Laura finds it impossible to learn to love the land and longs to return to the city. Upon seeing the home she is to live in, she remarks:

"To me, it looked no different from the other land we'd passed. There were brown fields and unpainted sharecroppers' shacks with dirt yards. Women who might have been any age from thirty to sixty hung laundry from sagging clotheslines while gaggles of dirty barefoot children watched listlessly from the porch. After a time we came to a shack that was larger than the others, though no less decrepit. It had a deserted air."

Not until the arrival of Henry's brother Jamie, a WWII bomber pilot who is trying to forget those years but is haunted by the demons of his past, does Laura see a reprieve from her discouraging situation.

Hap and Florence Jackson are tenant farmers on Henry's land. Their son, Ronsel, returns from the war to help his parents, and is reminded quickly of the cruelty of Delta justice.

Hillary Jordan's debut novel, winner of the Bellwether Prize for fiction, revolves around these characters, who tell the story from their own points of view. She expertly develops the themes of loss, forgiveness, and the fleeting idea of home and how its meaning changes according to time and circumstance. Jordan also deftly illustrates the idea of man vs. man and man vs. nature with distinct clarity. Laura decides to start her story at the beginning:

"My father-in-law was murdered because I was born plain rather than pretty. That's one possible beginning. There are others: Because Henry saved Jamie from drowning in the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. Because Pappy sold the land that should have been Henry's. Because Jamie flew too many bombing missions in the war. Because a Negro named Ronsel Jackson shone too brightly. Because a man neglected his wife, and a father betrayed his son, and a mother exacted vengeance. I suppose the beginning depends on who's telling the story."

It is impossible to believe that this is Hillary Jordan's first published novel. Her storytelling abilites are only surpassed by her lyrical writing and nothing can prepare you for the stunning conclusion. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member pdebolt
This is a book that will stay with its reader long after the last riveting page has been read. It is deserving of all of the accolades it has received. Each chapter, told by a different character, brings a very clear vision of the time, the people and the prevailing attitudes in rural Mississippi during the mid 1940's. The sparse prose is reminiscent of both Steinbeck and Faulkner. The horrific ending reminded me of The Grapes of Wrath, another novel that has stayed with me after reading it long ago. There is an irony in this book being published during the same year that a black candidate is running for President.… (more)
LibraryThing member jamescanon
A brilliant debut. Jordan has laid down a standard against which generalizations about racism in the South now must measure themselves. We will all be discussing this flawlessly crafted, meticulously observed and provocative novel for years to come.
LibraryThing member Niecierpek
A quick and compelling read. The story is set in Mississippi in the 40s and is narrated in six voices, every one of which manages to be different.
LibraryThing member eleanor_eader
The Mississippi Delta, around the time of the Second World War. Laura is brought to her proud husband’s newly purchased farm, where she struggles to fit into her new surroundings; farmland at the mercy of the weather and the workers. The neighbouring black sharetenants deal with the inherent racism of men brought up to easy violence, violence which spills into Laura’s world with the arrival of Jamie, Henry’s younger brother, and Ronsel, the eldest son of their tenants, both back from the war.

Ronsel is returning not to a hero’s welcome, but to a township full of people anxious to put him in his place – some to fulfil their own sense of propriety, some out of hatred, others for Ronsel’s ‘own good health’. The racism in this novel swings from entrenched and frustrating to harrowing and awful but while it is, in a sense, the theme of the book, it is Laura – the young white mother of two small girls – on whom the focus of the book falls, her relationships with Henry, the husband obsessed with the soil he owns, with Pappy, her sly and bitter father-in-law, with Florence, Ronsel’s mother, who reluctantly comes to work for her and with Jamie, whose charm and warmth – now a shell inside which he suffers the resulting guilt of piloting a bomber during the war – makes Laura respond in ways she cannot even wish to control

The format of ‘Mudbound’ can seem a little clumsy at times; switching from one character’s POV to another necessitates some overlap on events, and sometimes this meshing is a little awkward; where it matters, though, Jordan picks up the threads and makes them work for her rather than against; and this is really the only flaw in this first novel. Overall, it is engrossing.

Each character has been drawn with a flair for finding sympathy in the reader – as Laura herself reminds us, each story begins with another and another, each person’s attitude and reactions in some way built by others before them. The story is mesmerising and tense and I will gladly read Jordan’s next book in the hope of more strong storytelling.
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LibraryThing member jillkennedy
This book was a surprisingly good read! Set in the South just after WWII, it deals with racism, financial and physical struggle, friendship, and love.
Memphis bred, Laura McAllen never expected to marry, but then Henry comes along and treats her with love and kindness. Although she doesn't know what to expect from marriage, she learns and accepts her new husband. Then he drops a bomb - they are moving to a farm in the Mississippi Delta. He never consulted her and she is fiercely angry,but won't show it. She bites her tongue & hopes for the best, but the farm is a disaster and she is devastated. On top of this, her lazy, opinionated, and miserable father-in-law will be living with them as well. She is appalled at the situation, until Jamie, her brother-in-law returns from the war to live on the farm with them. He is the bright light in her life, and she realizes that she is in love with him. Jamie returns her feelings, but is a disaster, emotionally, due to the war. He drinks too much, he sleeps around, but the real issue is that he makes friends with Ronsel, the son of the black share-farmers on their land. Even though Ronsel fought in the war, is polite, and well-behaved man, he is still treated as a lower class citizen in this small Mississippi town. Their friendhip is entirely unacceptable to many of the leading white men in town, including Laura's father-in-law. The events that occur in this book are shocking, yet so close to the truth that it is scary.… (more)
LibraryThing member maggiereads
My name is Mrs. Henry McAllan, but most people call me Laura. For a long time, 31 years, it was Miss. Chappell, and I was okay with that. I earned a college degree in English and began teaching, letting my students pull me through life, never once becoming low for the children I would never have. I was quite comfortable in my old maid(ness).

Henry is handsome, quiet, and college educated. My brother Teddy brought him to dinner because they got along so well at work. At 41 years, Henry was working for the Corps of Engineers building bridges, levees, and airports in the outlying area of Memphis. Well, from the looks I gathered at dinner, he was ready to build a fence around me. How little did I know.

We married, settled down in our own house in Memphis, and I had two little girls. Things again were comfortable until December 25, 1945. On arrival to the annual Christmas dinner at the home of Henry’s sister, Eboline, in Greenville, Mississippi, we were affronted by Pappy, my cantankerous father-in-law who informed us, “Eboline’s husband’s gone and ruint Christmas, killing himself on the eve of Jesus’ birth.”

After weeks of settling Eboline’s affairs, Henry returned home in a new truck. Before I could quiz him, he shocked me with a passionate kiss. This is not my Henry, something was foul. He then blurted out, “I’ve bought a farm!”

The plan was simple. Live in a rental house close to Eboline in Greenville, and Henry would commute to the farm 40 miles away. Pappy would be moving in with us, since Eboline’s move to a smaller house, and I would put up with his criticism of me and the girls.

The rental house was a two-story Victorian with wrap-around porch and azaleas in front. As we climbed the steps, we noticed a light on. While Henry worked the key, a man opened the door from inside, and he wasn’t happy. See, the house was sold to him the previous week which made us trespassers.

Out of 300 dollars and forced to live in one of the sharecropper's houses on the farm, I’m not happy. Matter-of-fact, I’m constantly angry. Dang dirt is in our clothes, laying atop all the furniture, and giving us all tans. Even my tow-colored sweet babies have brown hair. When Henry suggests we call the place “Fair Fields” my mumbled answer becomes family legend. “More like Mudbound.”

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan is one of the best southern novels I have read in years. Better than "The Secret Life of Bees," she has successfully written a racial tale akin to Flannery O’Connor and Erskine Caldwell. The perfect book for discussion, too.
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LibraryThing member Laurenbdavis
Here's something interesting about this earnest, well-meaning book. It was awarded the Bellwether Prize for Fiction, a prize granted to a book that "addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships." It was established in 2000 by Barbara Kingsolver and is funded entirely by her. Which means, of course, that she can probably hand it out to whomever she wishes. But one can't help but wonder if it isn't a conflict of interest when the author thanks Kingsolver in the acknowledgements for "turning the story into a coherent, compelling narrative [if the author does say so herself]; her passionate support of literature of social change; and the generous and much-needed award."


Surely if Kingsolver is awarding an author a prize, it shouldn't be for a book she more or less edited. Just seems wrong.

Having said that, MUDBOUND is certainly a work that addresses issues of social justice, and so if that is the overriding criteria, then I suppose I holds, but it says nothing about the quality of the novel itself, does it?

I enjoyed the book, as a quick read. The multiple points of view is well handled, although by the end I thought the narrative would have been better served by fewer perspectives. So many voices watered down the tension, for me. As well, this story of two brothers and one woman has been told many times before, and better -- I'm thinking of ON THE NIGHT PLAIN by J. Robert Lennon -- so there was little new there. Nor was there much new in the portrayal of racism in the south. Jordan competently describes it, and certainly the climax scene is as horrific and terrifying as one might imagine, but it's not new territory.

I kept thinking there was a deeper, more thoughtful book lurking just under the surface that Jordan didn't quite get to. However, perhaps this is harsh criticism. It is her first novel and frankly, it's much better than THE HELP, which uses 'eye-dialect' and never really strikes a realistic chord when focusing on the African American characters (I understand the film manages this better, but I didn't see it). Jordan does better here, infusing her black characters with dignity and a simmering rage that rings utterly true. Still, Ronsel, one of the POV black characters, makes a decision at the end of the book which is unexplained, and I found that odd.

In spite of this criticism -- that the book should not be awarded a prize from someone so closely associated with it, and that there is little new here -- I think Jordan has a wonderful eye for character detail, and a fine prose style. I'll look for more of her work in the future.
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LibraryThing member alisonb60
I really enjoyed this book and had to finish it quickly to find out what happened to each of the characters. It shows that during that period of history in the deep south it was a disadvantage to be a woman and it was a disadvantage to be black but it was really awful to be a black woman, fortunately the main black woman was a strong character. It also gave a taste of the machinations of the KKK - what a horror! Very well written I thought.… (more)
LibraryThing member LaBibliophille
Mudbound begins in a slow moving way. It seemed rather dull to me at first, and took me a while to get into. In fact, if it hadn’t been a selection for my book club I probably would not have finished it.

It begins with two brothers digging a grave in the pouring rain for their father. We then go to flashback, narrated first by Laura, the daughter-in-law of the deceased. Other characters are gradually introduced, and the stories of the main characters are told through their own voices. In fact, much of the book is the introduction of each of the characters. So, we’re waiting and waiting for the action to begin.

Two of the characters, Jamie and Ronsel, are returning World War II heroes. Jamie was a pilot, and Ronsel was a tank commander. While they have much in common, including what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder, they are separated by the great divide of race which, in 1940’s Mississippi, is all-important. Their experiences during and after the war contribute to the plot advancement of this novel.

Laura and Henry own a farm in Mississippi. While Henry loves farming and farm life, Laura has nicknamed the farm “Mudbound”. She is stuck in a ramshackle farm house with her two young daughters and Henry’s father, Pappy. When Jamie returns from Europe, he joins their household. Ronsel is the son of Florence and Hap, Henry’s tenant farmers.

So the events of the novel lead eventually to the death of Pappy. Unfortunately we never hear Pappy’s voice. He really is the central character. I get that he’s dead from the start of the novel and therefore can make no contribution to the flashbacks. And yes, he is a mean, ornery racist, but if the book were structured differently, we might have had some insight into his character. He remains two-dimensional and dull. I just think the main character should be more interesting.

So-I recommend Mudbound, but not whole heartedly.
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LibraryThing member wandering_star
A story of "rage and lust, of recklessness and selfishness and betrayal" in the Mississippi Delta of the 1940s. The book, which builds towards a climax which we know from the start is going to be tragic, describes the interlinked stories of two families - one being a dull but dependable farmer, his city-bred wife, his cantankerous father and flighty brother, and the other one of their tenant farmers - a black family whose son has just returned, highly decorated, from fighting in Europe. I bought this on the strength of the Barbara Kingsolver puff on its cover, and like The Poisonwood Bible one of its strengths was the sympathy it had for its characters - each one took turns in narrating, which helped the reader to understand the motivations of each one. I particularly liked the character of Florence, the clear-sighted, no-nonsense wife and mother of the tenant farmer family. The weakness of the book was that it didn't feel very original - each element of the story was familiar to me from any number of other books - and so it was a little predictable.… (more)
LibraryThing member Twink
I was absolutely blown away by this book. The cover art captured me first. The stark contrast of the ramshackle house against the bountiful cotton field intrigued me. I wanted to know the story of that house and it's inhabitants.

Laura has resigned herself to life as a spinster when she meets Henry McAllan in 1939. She eventually accepts his proposal of marriage and they settle down to urban life in Memphis, Tennessee. Family upheaval and Henry's desire to own a farm lands them, their two children and Henry's sly, cruel father in rural Mississippi on a cotton farm. There is no electricity, no running water and when the river rises, they are cut off from the town. There are tenant farmers on the land as well, black and white. Racial tensions and long held prejudices run deep in the Mississippi Delta.

Mudbound opens with Henry and his brother Jamie burying their father on the farm. Jordan's descriptions paint tangible pictures. " The soil was so wet from all the rain it was digging into raw meat". Laura's description of the farm also paints a vivid picture. "When it rained, as it often did, the yard turned into a thick gumbo, with the house floating in it like a soggy cracker"

From that opening scene, we relive how Henry and Jamie came to be burying their father. Each character has a voice in the telling of the story. Henry, Jamie, Laura, Florence and Hap - the black tenant farmers on the McAllan farm and Ronsel - their son. Ronsel and Jamie have both just returned home from the war. Both men have been changed by their experiences and form an unlikely friendship. In the Jim Crow south, this is unacceptable and drives the story to it's inevitable conclusion.

I could not put this book down. The characters,their lives, emotions and upheaval are so richly painted. The historical facts of the deep south in the late 1940's are woven into this stunning debut novel. Jordan's writing captured and held me until the last page. I cannot wait to read her next novel.

Mudbound evoked strong emotions in this reader. The past is still happening.

Jordan won the 2006 Bellwether Prize awarded to literature of social change. This founder of this prize is Barbara Kingsolver.
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LibraryThing member maura_ea
Excellent story, well written, well paced and full of life!Reading books about oppression is frustrating, because I feel no empathy. I've always felt capable of being able to say, "That's not fair!" and act on it. But then, my generation and culture has very little oppression, on the scale of that was characterized in this book. Sure, women are paid less and people are still judged by the color of their skin - but no one is forced to use the back door or bullied for sitting in the front seat.For that, I can never have enough relief or gratitude for progress.… (more)
LibraryThing member jayne_charles
An easy to read story set in the deep South, against a backdrop of racism. It slips down as easy as a strawberry milkshake, which one one hand is a tribute to the author's skill, on the other hand made me feel I'd had it too easy somehow.
LibraryThing member cbl_tn
Mudbound is the story of two families, one white and one black, and the Delta farmland that both binds and separates them. Following the end of World War II, Henry McAllen moves his wife, his two small daughters, and his hateful father, from a comfortable life in Memphis to a hard and isolated life farming a tract of land in the Mississippi Delta. The farm had several tenant families when Henry purchased it, including the Jackson family. Both families are anxiously awaiting the return of loved ones from Europe. The McAllens wait for Henry's brother, Jamie, a decorated bomber pilot, and the Jacksons wait for son Ronsel, a sergeant in the 761st tanker battalion. Both Jamie and Ronsel eventually return, changed by their wartime experiences. Neither man realizes how little attitudes have changed in this small Southern town, and how their careless disregard of the rules of segregation plant the seed that eventually leads to tragedy for both families.

The author uses multiple narrators to tell parts of the story from their own perspectives, recounting the build-up of events that led to tragedy, so I knew from the beginning that it would not have a "happily ever after" ending. Even though I could see the flaws in each character, I developed a degree of sympathy for each one because I had been given a glimpse of the inner person -- except for Henry's father, Pappy, who is the only adult in either family who was not one of the story's narrators. I never felt any sympathy for him.

One aspect of the book continues to nag at me. The author several times contrasted the racism Ronsel endured among the rural and small town Mississippi whites with the acceptance he found among European women. I wasn't in England or Germany during World War II to see how African American soldiers were treated there. I was in England several decades later, though, and observed how Indian, Pakistani, and West Indian residents were treated by some of the white British citizens. The Jim Crow South did not have a monopoly on racist attitudes. Even though the German women in the novel were more accepting of Ronsel and other African American soldiers, one of the reasons the American G.I.s were in Germany was the persecution of Jews under the Hitler regime. Racism can flourish in any place in any era. Books like this one remind us of its evils and warn us against committing the same sins.
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LibraryThing member arblock
Hackneyed plot? yes. Unidimensional Characters? yes. Simplistic? yes. Strangely Compelling despite all this? yes.

I really can't understand the excitement this book has generated as everything in the book seemed inevitable, it was humourless, and trite. But, I still liked it.
LibraryThing member JoClare
This book carries the reader along a river of emotions as the characters reveal themselves during post World War II America. Although primarily a sorrowful tale of racism, it also relates the story of two families connected by land but separated by culture. Set in the deep south, the story is told by the main characters, each of whom brings their individual view of the world around them to the tale and gives the reader a sobering glimpse of the racial attitudes of the times. I enjoyed this book immensely, it kept me reading into the wee hours, with carefully crafted characters who seemed to come alive throughout the story.… (more)
LibraryThing member spinningjennie
It's rural Mississippi in 1946. Laura McAllan is uprooted from her family and urban familiarity to farm with her single-minded, aloof husband on a remote, cheerless chunk of sodden land. Her home, little more than a glorified shack, has no modern conveniences. She comes to depend on the black sharecropper's wife, Florence, for more than help with the housework -- for more than she would care to admit.

Then Laura's brother-in-law, Jamie, returns home from World War II, like a beacon of light in her hardscrabble subsistence. Florence's son, Ronsel, returns, too, with medals, but to a much colder, ominous welcome by the community. The lingering trauma of battle brings the men together as friends, a relationship that local prejudice will not allow, and eventually leads to tragedy for both families.

This is the best debut I've read in a long, long time. It rings sharp and true and wrenching, and well deserves the Bellwether Prize it received.
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LibraryThing member KayeBarley
I just loved this book. Before I even opened it, when I saw that Barbara Kingsolver blurbed it, and loved it, I knew it would be a winner. Hillary Jordan has written a stunner giving readers a glimpse into 1946 prejudices in the Mississippi Delta. Characters are exeptionally well drawn, and will stay with me for a long time, as will their story.… (more)
LibraryThing member sarahanne
The story of two families, one white and one black, living in Mississippi during and immediately following World War II. The letter I received with my copy compared Mudbound to To Kill a Mockingbird, which seemed a bit ambitious, but I was very pleasantly surprised. The story, which is told from multiple points of view, drew me in irresistibly. I read this book in one sitting. Though it is at times uncomfortable to read, Jordan never devolves into moralizing or preaching and depicts her characters very realistically, none of whom are without some form of prejudice.… (more)
LibraryThing member boltgirl
Mudbound, set in immediate post-World War II rural Mississippi, follows two families attached to a miserable 200 acres of cotton farm that is cut off from what passes as civilization by the caprices of a rising river. One is white, one is black; the story is told from the viewpoints of six different characters.

Within the framework of the entrenched, institutionalized racism of the midcentury deep south, the novel explores the dynamics of power and the bases on which people claim it. The least sympathetic characters baldly assert privilege on the basis of race first and gender second, while others occupy a middle ground where they eschew some of the hard-line rules of race relations but ultimately can't bring themselves to treat black people with the full dignity due human beings. Those who defy the system, one white and one black, are almost destroyed as a result.

A secondary focus of the story is tracing hopes and expectations as they inevitably fail to materialize as envisioned, but instead twist and send lives spiraling in completely different directions. It's only at the very end that the sequence of events makes sense as an unbroken chain of causality, allowing us to look back and recognize the one pivotal moment on which everything else hung.
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LibraryThing member sammimag
Pretty much once I started this book I couldn't put it down. I love how the story is told through so many characters eyes. The story was gripping but oh so sad. In some ways I was expecting a different story than I was given. I was hoping for some kind of inspiration of change in the characters to show some kind of connection with each other despite the color of skin. The story was real, what might have happened on some random farm in the south.

This kind of book has me thinking, Do we want to write books about the past that show such a limited view of what "we" can be? I've decided we do. I think sharing the truth even in fiction is shocking. I'm reminded what we are capable of at our worst and that I would not want to be a part of world like that.
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