Book Of The Month August, 2008
When I think of the farm, I think of mud There was no defeating it. The mud coated everything. I dreamed in brown. When Henry McAllan moves his city-bred wife, Laura, to a cotton farm in the Mississippi Delta in 1946, she finds herself in a place both foreign and frightening. Henry s love of rural life is not shared by Laura, who struggles to raise their two young children in an isolated shotgun shack with no indoor plumbing or electricity, under the eye of her hateful, racist father-in-law. When it rains, the waters rise up and swallow the bridge to town, stranding the family in a sea of mud. As the Second World War shudders to an end, two young men return from Europe to help work the farm. Jamie McAllan is everything his older brother Henry is not: charming, handsome, and sensitive to Laura s plight, but also haunted by his memories of combat. Ronsel Jackson, eldest son of the black sharecroppers who live on the McAllan farm, comes home from fighting the Nazis with the shine of a war hero, only to face far more personal and dangerous battles against the ingrained bigotry of his own countrymen. It is the unlikely friendship of these two brothers-in-arms, and the passions they arouse in others, that drives this powerful debut novel. Mudbound is told in riveting personal narratives by the individual members of the McAllan and Jackson families. As they strive for love and honor in a brutal time and place, they become players in a tragedy on the grandest scale and find redemption where they least expect it.
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What We Think
Laura Mell, Cornerstone Publicity, on Mudbound:
Mudbound is a beautiful, gripping novel driven by events and characters that will haunt and move you long after you have finished reading. Set in the isolated Mississippi countryside of the 1940’s, menace and desperation loom over the story the like clouds over the Delta landscape as we witness a tragedy unfold.
Although the novel primarily explores the nature and consequences of racial prejudice, it is also an astute and real insight into human behaviour and relationships – about secrets and honesty, about friendship and enemies, about loss, love and desire. After all, regardless of any of the characters’ positions, they are battling to balance their circumstances with a search for fulfilment. War hero Ronsel is torn between his love for his family and a forbidden lifestyle and status in Europe; Jamie feels ashamed at having nightmares from his own frontline experience, and Laura is determined to remain a dutiful wife and mother, despite being forced to live in a place that she loathes. Even the despicable Pappy is trapped: he desperately loves his younger son although he is so disfigured by hate and bitterness he will never be able to show him.
One of the most compelling aspects of this novel is the fact that it is told through multiple points of view: you don’t just witness the events that unfold, but see them through six very different pairs of eyes, whether you sympathise with a character or not. This heightens the impact of the story, as you’re forced to understand the complexity of beliefs and emotions that contribute to the final tragedy, and as a result are totally consumed by the time, place and people that Hillary creates.
Mudbound is both a powerful and unique read – I was unable to put it down and can’t recommend it highly enough.