Full disclosure: I read The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr. back in March and I am just now getting around to my review for this. Why? This story honestly still has me a bit speechless and I truly don’t think my words could do this book any justice. It is such a stunning, magical and epic story about slavery, plantation life, Black queerness, and more. The amount of detail that goes into setting is unlike any book I’ve read before and the intricate character development is incredible.
BOOK DESCRIPTION: 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.
I’ll be perfectly honest. This is a complex read and requires a LOT of focus. Not just because of the heavy subject matter or the time period hopping, but because of the characters and how they’re connected to one another. When I started this book, I was not in the right head space for something like this and struggled a bit keeping up with who was who, finding myself re-reading many passages. I feel that in order to really appreciate this book, not only do you have to be in the right head space, but you must be intentional about reading it at a slow and thoughtful pace with little distraction and allowing yourself time to digest everything. It absolutely is not meant to be binged in a day or two.
I am absolutely floored that The Prophets is Robert Jones, Jr.‘s debut novel. If you haven’t already read this book, I highly recommend checking it out.
BEER RECOMMENDATION: The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr. is best paired with Shut Up by Center of the Universe Brewing Company. This highly enjoyable bourbon barrel aged imperial stout is aged in barrels that once housed Woodford Reserve and chambourcin port-style wine, resulting in flavors of dark chocolate, raspberry, espresso and cocoa 🍻