Thursday, August 06, 2009
In Jordan's prize-winning debut, prejudice takes many forms, both subtle and brutal. It is 1946, and city-bred Laura McAllan is trying to raise her children on her husband's Mississippi Delta farm-a place she finds foreign and frightening. In the midst of the family's struggles, two young men return from the war to work the land. Jamie McAllan, Laura's brother-in-law, is everything her husband is not-charming, handsome, and haunted by his memories of combat. Ronsel Jackson, eldest son of the black sharecroppers who live on the McAllan farm, has come home with the shine of a war hero. But no matter his bravery in defense of his country, he is still considered less than a man in the Jim Crow South. It is the unlikely friendship of these brothers-in-arms that drives this powerful novel to its inexorable conclusion.
I flat out loved this book. Each chapter is told from a different point of view. We hear from Laura, her husband Henry, Henry’s brother Jamie, Ronsel, and his parents, Hap and Florence. Noticeably absent is the despicable Pappy. Thank god. Jordan does such a fantastic job of giving each narrator a distinct voice and personality that the despicable Pappy might have been too much to bear.
Mudbound explores the pervasive racism that was so prevalent in the segregated South. Hap and Florence are tenant farmers on the McAllan’s land (because they own their own mule, they only have to turn over 1/3 of their crop, as opposed to the sharecroppers who have to turn over 1/2 of their crop). Their eldest son Ronsel fought in WWII as part of a tank battalion (I think that’s right…my memory for military terms is crappier than my normal memory). After returning home from a more liberal Europe, Ronsel struggles to comply with the Jim Crow laws.
What makes this book so interesting (besides the superb characterization) is being able to read from Ronsel’s perspective, and then switch gears and get an intimate look about how others feel about the same situation. I particularly enjoyed Laura, who would probably deny any blatant racism, but whose actions still reflect the racist culture that she was raised in. Jordan provides an excellent snapshot of life in Mississippi both before and after WWII.
This will definitely be a favorite read for this year.