Hillary Jordan's mesmerizing debut novel won the Bellwether Prize for fiction. A powerful piece of Southern literature, Mudbound takes on prejudice in its myriad forms on a Mississippi Delta farm in 1946. City girl Laura McAllen attempts to raise her family despite questionable decisions made by her husband. Tensions continue to rise when her brother-in-law and the son of a family of sharecroppers both return from WWII as changed men bearing the scars of combat.
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I grew up in the South. I lived there during the Forties and Fifties, which is the time period of this book. Because of the year of my birth, I never went to school with black children. I never sat beside a black person on a bus nor in a church. Now I am quite elderly and have not lived in the South for many decades. And yet, this book brought back feelings of shame, anger and bottomless sorrow about the cruel injustice that was part of that too recent history of our nation. Hilary Jordan recounts a part of that Jim Crow era with subtlety, depth and understanding.
Jordan opens her story with the burial of an old white man, father of the owner of a small cotton farm on the rural outskirts of a tiny town in Mississippi. All of her major characters are presented at this gathering. The sharecroppers, Hap and Florence Jackson and their children, twin boys and adult son Ronsul; the owner, Henry and his family, his wife, Laura, two young daughters, his younger brother, Jamie, and his father, Pappy, who still clings to the past social order of the Old South.
This opening event sets the tone of the society in which they live. How can Henry ask and expect Hap to help him bury Pappy, who played a major part in the lynch mob that destroyed the sharecropper’s son? How can Hap agree to help put the coffin into the wet, muddy grave, and also offer to read a few words from his own Bible. It is hard not to sympathize with his wife Florence’s passion to destroy the old man totally.
How can our society compound the injustice of the Jim Crow era by using young black men to fight and die in our wars and expect them to accept the same second class treatment when they return home? We see the hope for change in the beginning of a friendship between the two war vets, Ronsul and Jamie. How could young men who were accepted as equals in other countries cope with the same old yassa massa treatment back home.
Laura, is described as an almost old maid, sweet and effective, but not pretty. She grows in courage, maturity and self-confidence as she cares for her family and her home (no running water, no electricity) in the Mississippi Delta mud and tries to shield the Jacksons and her daughters from her father-in-law, She learns about her own emotions, strengths and ability to create her own joys. This book is very well written. I recommend it to the old and the young. It will touch emotions such as injustice, anger and sadness that we still experience as we read world news today.
Mudbound grabbed you from the beginning and kept you enthralled and engaged until the end. While I wouldn't compare it to "The Help' which was done below, I would say the pace of this book and the great story is well worth the credit or even paying in full.