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The Known World by Edward P. Jones
The Known World is set in antebellum Virginia, where Henry Townsend is not only a free black man, but one who owns his own land and his own slaves. Despite the fact that he owns these men, women, and children's lives completely, his aim is to treat them compassionately. His mentor, the most powerful white man in the country, is deeply in love with a slave and their two mulatto children. When Henry dies, his wife Caldonia tries to run the plantation in his absence. Sensing the opportunity, slaves begin the sneak away at night. White patrollers catch the runaway slaves for rewards, occasionally grabbing free black men too. Edward P. Jones's novel tells the story across the span of many years, illuminating the world of slavery through its many contradictions and its cost of humanity and lives. The Known World has received high praise. Jonathan Yardley of the Washington Post calls it "the best new work of American fiction to cross my desk in years."