In the acknowledgements of this extraordinary book, Robert Jones Jr. mentions so many names in gratitude, it feels like a lifetime of all those he may have met, been taught by, read, listened to, watched, and this collective speaks to the nature of the work itself. The prophets, the old gods of Africa who survive the slave ships to the plantations of the American South, alive in the blood of people tearing their hands picking cotton, are a group that speak together. Behind every foretelling, foreshadowing is perhaps a better word for them, is a history of multitudes that presents alternative social and religious structures unbound by a Christian, patriarchy of shame.
I appreciate this shift in contemporary literature to embrace the chorus, for individuals are always an expression of the whole and this book is so brilliant at making the horrors of life on a plantation breathe with different facets of one jewel.
Robert Jones Jr. also writes to Toni Morrison in the acknowledgements, wishing she’d been able to read the book, hoping that somewhere in the universe she is able to be pleased with it. I feel certain if she is somewhere and has been able to see this book, she would indeed be pleased with it. He does such a brilliant job of showing what it means to love, how it shines, attracting and repelling others with its magic. The love between two young male slaves in the barn is one of the most beautiful depictions of love I’ve ever read. Their looks and bodies speak without sound, their love creates an awesome hope in the darkness.
I don’t want to say a lot more about this book. It comes out on the 5th January 2021 and you should pre-order it now. This is a book that will be on all the prize-winning lists of next year. All the praise you read about it isn’t hype, it’s true. This book is a majestic epic that asks all sorts of questions of the past and present, that seeks to find new ways of looking at the history of slavery and our connection to the land. The writing is fresh and ancient all at once. The Prophets is a fabulous novel and Robert Jones Jr. a writer whose work I will be waiting to read again with great anticipation.