The Prophets

Putnam. Jan. 2021. 400p. ISBN 9780593085684. $27. F
DEBUT This first novel 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. At a plantation called Elizabeth, named Empty by the enslaved, two young men named Samuel and Isaiah live together in a barn and take care of the animals. They met as children, and their relationship—an open secret among the residents of Empty—has blossomed into something deeper and more meaningful. But as time passes, Samuel and Isaiah’s love is tested with a challenge coming directly from the big house. Meanwhile, Jones looks back to an African village whose beauty and serenity are disrupted as the villagers are uprooted, chained, and piled onto ships; the narrative’s most harrowing moments (and there are many) describe the gruesome and surreal scene on the slave ships during the passage across the ocean. As the novel comes to a close, Samuel and Isaiah realize they need to take action or they will be sold by the master.
VERDICT 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; highly recommended and especially encouraged for collections with an LGBTQ focus.
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