Excerpt from The Known World by Edward P. Jones, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Known World

by Edward P. Jones

The Known World
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2003, 400 pages
    May 2004, 416 pages

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The ground was almost soaked. The leaves seemed to soften the hard rain as it fell and it hit his body and face with no more power than the gentle tapping of fingers. He opened his mouth; it was rare for him and the rain to meet up like this. His eyes had remained open, and after taking in all that he could without turning his head, he took up his thing and did it. When he was done, after a few strokes, he closed his eyes, turned on his side and dozed. After a half hour or so the rain stopped abruptly and plunged everything into silence, and that silence woke him. He came to his feet with the usual reluctance. All about his body was mud and leaves and debris for the rain had sent a wind through the woods. He wiped himself with his pants and remembered that the last time he had been there in the rain, the rain had lasted long enough to wash him clean. He had been seized then by an even greater happiness and had laughed and twirled himself around and around in what someone watching him might have called a dance. He did not know it, but Alice, a woman people said had lost her mind, was watching him now, only the first time in her six months of wandering about in the night that she had come upon him. Had he known she was there, he would not have thought she had sense enough to know what was going on, given how hard, the story went, the mule had kicked her on the plantation in a faraway county whose name only she remembered. In her saner moments, which were very rare since the day Moses's master bought her, Alice could describe everything about the Sunday the mule kicked her in the head and sent all common sense flying out of her. No one questioned her because her story was so vivid, so sad--another slave without freedom and now she had a mind so addled she wandered in the night like a cow without a bell. No one knew enough about the place she had come from to know that her former master was terrified of mules and would not have them on his place, had even banished pictures and books about mules from his little world.

Moses walked out of the forest and into still more darkness toward the quarters, needing no moon to light his way. He was thirty-five years old and for every moment of those years he had been someone's slave, a white man's slave and then another white man's slave and now, for nearly ten years, the overseer slave for a black master.

Caldonia Townsend, his master's wife, had for the last six days and nights only been catnapping, as her husband made his hard way toward death. The white people's doctor had come the morning of the first day, as a favor to Caldonia's mother, who believed in the magic of white people, but that doctor had only pronounced that Moses's master, Henry Townsend, was going through a bad spell and would recover soon. The ailments of white people and black people were different, and a man who specialized in one was not expected to know much about the other, and that was something he believed Caldonia should know without him telling her. If her husband was dying, the doctor didn't know anything about it. And he left in the heat of the day, having pocketed 75 cents from Caldonia, 60 cents for looking at Henry and 15 cents for the wear and tear on himself and his buggy and his one-eyed horse.

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From The Known World by Edward P. Jones. HarperCollins Publishers. Used by permission.

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