Announcing Our Best Books of 2021

Summary and book reviews of The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr.

The Prophets

by Robert Jones Jr.

The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr. X
The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr.
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Published:
    Jan 2021, 400 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers
Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

A singular and stunning debut 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 enslaved alike, from Isaiah and Samuel to the calculating slave master 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--culminates 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.

Maggie

She woke.

She yawned.

A burial place. This house is a fucking burial place, Maggie whispered, before it was time to go to the other room, the kitchen that she was chained to even though not a single link could be seen. But yes, there it was, snapped around her ankle, clinking nevertheless.

She mumbled the curse to herself, but it was meant for other people. She learned to do that, whisper low enough in her throat that an insult could be thrown and the target would be none the wiser. It became her secret language, living just below the audible one, deeper behind her tongue.

The sky was still dark, but she laid in her hay pallet an extra moment, knowing it could cost her. The Halifaxes each had their own way of communicating their displeasure, some less cruel than others. She could tell you stories.

She climbed out of the pallet and rolled her eyes at the hounds that lay on the floor by her feet. Oh, she slept on the back porch with the animals. Not her choice. Though it ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The Prophets is told from the perspective of slaver and enslaved alike. How did the shift in voice impact your experience reading the novel? Were there any view-points that surprised you the most?
  2. Before Amos's teachings, Isaiah and Samuel were not an aberration—nor was their relationship the result of trauma. Talk about the representation of queer love in The Prophets. How is it contextu-alized within the novel, as well as within the larger canon of Black literature?
  3. Women play a pivotal role in this novel. How do women—such as Maggie, Essie, Be Auntie, Sarah, and Puah—impact the larger community of the plantation? Dis-cuss how femininity and female strength are represented. How do women relate to one another and to ...
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

This is a powerful novel that is sure to garner some awards in 2021. It is a fantastic debut from Jones, who followed the advice of Toni Morrison (as indicated in his acknowledgements) and wrote the book he wanted to read, but could not find (Robert M). This would be a good book club selection, allowing for much discussion of not only the story and the characters, but also the literary techniques the author uses to create a vivid world where hatred, love, desire, self-loathing, loss and other emotions are raw and on full display (Rosemary C). Jones' lyrical language transports you to the time and place and, despite the difficult subject matter, I didn't want to put the book down (Danielle M)...continued

Full Review Members Only (585 words).

(Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Media Reviews

New York Times
[A]n often lyrical and rebellious love story embedded within a tender call-out to Black readers, reaching across time and form to shake something old, mighty in the blood...Jones’s adoration for Toni Morrison shines through the novel, which is both a blessing and a hindrance...The last chapters of The Prophets, however, dispelled some of my frustration with the form of the narrative. The book closes with a brilliantly rendered suite of rebellion and choice that left me in tears.

Washington Post
With this epic novel, Jones, who is known for his blogging and Twitter presence as Son of Baldwin, marks his entry into the literary arena...The greatest gift of this novel is its efforts to render emotional interiority to enslaved people who are too often depicted either as vessels for sadistic violence or as noble, superhuman warriors for liberation...Jones’s debut novel is an important contribution to American letters, Black queer studies and the present moment’s profound reckoning with the legacy of America’s racialized violence.

Northern Virginia Magazine
Kaleidoscopic…Anchored by the love story of two young men, this lyrical story evokes a vast spectrum of emotion and creates an epic that feels epic in scope, but also like each chapter is its own private universe.

Kirkus Reviews
An ambitious, imaginative, and important tale of Black queerness through history.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
With astonishingly real details, Jones creates a convincing picture of slave life.... What is unprecedented in this novel is its presentation of the two gay male slaves, each endowed with his own personality, which never merges with a stereotype...The lyricism of The Prophets will recall the prose of James Baldwin. The strong cadences are equal to those in Faulkner's Light in August...a masterpiece.

Booklist (starred review)
Exquisite...Jones conveys powerful truths with well-chosen words in spare prose...A masterfully told story that will haunt readers from beginning to end.

Library Journal (starred review)
Brims with so much confidence and artful flourish that it's hard to believe it's Jones's first book. Following a line of esteemed authors, he explores the story of enslavement in America and makes it his own…Jones's expertly drawn characters have depth and purpose, and the writing is beautiful despite the subject matter. A work that will resonate with those moved by Charles Johnson's Middle Passage and Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad.

Author Blurb Ocean Vuong, author of On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
What a rare marvel this book is. The Prophets fashions an epic so rich in erudition, wisdom, clarity, and power, so full of hard-earned yet too-brief joys, that it reaffirms for me literature's place as both balm and scalpel for the mind and soul. You can feel the decades of thinking embedded not only in these sentences but in how they question and build a world shamefully amputated from textbooks. Rarely is a book this finely wrought, the lives and histories it holds so tenderly felt, and rendered unforgettably true.

Author Blurb Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy: An American Memoir
The Prophets easily the most superb tutorial in writing and loving I have ever read. I'm convinced Morrison, Baldwin, and Bambara sat around sipping wine one night, talking about the day we'd read an offering like The Prophets. Robert Jones, Jr., is a once-in-a-generation cultural worker whose art thankfully will be imitated for generations.

Author Blurb R.O. Kwon, author of The Incendiaries
I've loved the writing of Robert Jones, Jr., for years, and The Prophets is an absolute triumph, a symphonic evocation of the heights and depths of pain, joy, and love.

Author Blurb Helen Phillips, author of The Need
In The Prophets, Robert Jones, Jr.'s lens is at once epic and microscopic, equally capable of evoking historical crises and interpersonal ones. Painfully harsh and painfully tender, this inventive, kaleidoscopic love story is a marvel.

Reader Reviews

Ann B. (Kernville, CA)

An epic novel giving clear voice & vivid characters to a buried past
I'll start with the cover of this remarkable debut novel. Its design is on trend, for sure, but it's also perfect for The Prophets, a book that will transcend trend. Look at the silhouettes and the layers and the shades of color. The silhouetted ...   Read More
Danielle M. (East Greenwich, RI)

A Truly Stunning Debut
Let me start by saying there's no way my words will do this book justice. Robert Jones Jr.'s The Prophets is a heartbreakingly beautiful and remarkable book that's both historical and literary fiction. Set on a plantation in the Deep South, slaves ...   Read More
Marianne D. (Crofton, MD)

This is a book meant to be read more than once...
Thank you, Robert Jones, for sharing your brilliant story-telling in a skillfully woven and written tale. Back in June, I helped form a racial justice task force at our church. Over the past many months, I have read books and articles, listened to ...   Read More
Rosemary C. (Golden, CO)

A book of both beauty and horror
Reading this book was an intense experience, but it was mesmerizing. The writing is lyrical and beautiful while telling a story about the horrors of slavery as well as the great love between two slaves. This would be a good book club selection, ...   Read More

Write your own review!

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

A Selection of Writing by Robert Jones Jr.

Robert Jones Jr. The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr. is a work of historical fiction that follows the relationship between Isaiah and Samuel, two enslaved men in love on a plantation in the Antebellum South. While the book is Jones' debut novel, he is an established essayist, blogger and cultural critic. Below are a few notable examples of his published work.

"Let It Burn," which was published in The Paris Review in June of 2020 during protests following the murder of George Floyd, reflects on the general phenomenon of antiblackness in the United States and more specifically on police brutality. Jones points out that the American police force cannot be separated from its origins in Antebellum South networks dedicated to controlling Black people through ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Read-alikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked The Prophets, try these:

  • Tenderness jacket

    Tenderness

    by Alison MacLeod

    Published 2021

    About this book

    More by this author

    For readers of A Gentleman in Moscow and Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, an ambitious, spellbinding historical novel about sensuality, censorship, and the novel that set off the sexual revolution.

  • Bolla jacket

    Bolla

    by Pajtim Statovci

    Published 2021

    About this book

    From the author of Crossing - a National Book Award finalist - comes a dazzling tale full of fury, tenderness, longing, and lust.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member
Search read-alikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more


Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket
    The Office of Historical Corrections
    by Danielle Evans
    In The Office of Historical Corrections, the second story collection from Danielle Evans, readers ...
  • Book Jacket: The Book of Mother
    The Book of Mother
    by Violaine Huisman
    Fictionalizing the life of author Violaine Huisman's own mother, this debut novel is split into ...
  • Book Jacket
    People from My Neighborhood
    by Hiromi Kawakami
    People from My Neighborhood is exactly what it sounds like — an unnamed narrator recounts a ...
  • Book Jacket
    Win Me Something
    by Kyle Lucia Wu
    Kyle Lucia Wu's Win Me Something opens with a young woman named Willa explaining that she did not ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Beasts of a Little Land
    by Juhea Kim

    An epic story of love, war, and redemption set against the backdrop of the Korean independence movement.

Win This Book!
Win Taste Makers

Taste Makers
by Mayukh Sen

America's modern culinary history told through the lives of seven pathbreaking chefs and food writers.

Enter

Wordplay

The Big Holiday Wordplay

Enter Now

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.