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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.

The men and women of each family relate their versions of events and we are drawn into their lives as they become players in a tragedy on the grandest scale. As Kingsolver says of Hillary Jordan, "Her characters walked straight out of 1940s Mississippi and into the part of my brain where sympathy and anger and love reside, leaving my heart racing. They are with me still."

Topics: Mississippi, American South, 1940s, Heartbreaking, Tense, Multiple Perspectives, Debut, Epic, Tragic, Dysfunctional Family, Sexism, Veterans, Discrimination, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Farming, Soldiers, Civil and Political Rights, Courage, Brothers, Love, Adultery, Race Relations, Death, Family, War, Female Protagonist, and American History

Published: Workman eBooks on Mar 4, 2008
ISBN: 9781565126374
List price: $14.95
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Wonderful, heart wrenching storytelling at its best.read more
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Shortly after World War II, spinster Laura Chappell meets and marries Henry McAllan. She enjoys her life with Henry and their two daughters in Memphis until he buys a cotton farm in rural Mississippi. They end up living in little more than a shack on the farm, along with Henry's racist father and eventually, Henry's brother Jamie, a veteran of WWII. Florence and Hap Jackson are black tenant farmers on the McAllen farm and Florence helps Laura as her housekeeper. When Ronsel Jackson comes home from the war, he and Jamie begin to spend time together which sparks an outcry from the racist residents of the small southern community.Jordan's debut novel is told from multiple perspectives in alternating chapters. She captures the spirit of this diificult and shameful time in American history. This is a difficult book to read, but almost impossible to put down.read more
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Too many stories. Started with interesting perspective on post-WWII generation of housewives and following husband’s dictates and dreams, but cluttered with (albeit interesting) issues of returning vets, racial trauma.read more
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This book grabbed me immediately and I couldn't put it down for the day and a half it took me to finish it. The story is heartbreaking and often painful to read, but it's a story that needs to be told and I'm so glad I read it. The characters are vivid and there are some to love and some to hate. It's about race relations in the Deep South and it's about the limited power of women who were primarily at the mercy of their husband's wishes. I love the way the story was told from the viewpoints of the various characters and the dialects used were well done and not clunky or cumbersome to read. Highly recommended.read more
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The story of two families, one white and one black, living in Mississippi during and immediately following World War II. The letter I received with my copy compared Mudbound to To Kill a Mockingbird, which seemed a bit ambitious, but I was very pleasantly surprised. The story, which is told from multiple points of view, drew me in irresistibly. I read this book in one sitting. Though it is at times uncomfortable to read, Jordan never devolves into moralizing or preaching and depicts her characters very realistically, none of whom are without some form of prejudice.read more
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An easy to read story set in the deep South, against a backdrop of racism. It slips down as easy as a strawberry milkshake, which one one hand is a tribute to the author's skill, on the other hand made me feel I'd had it too easy somehow.read more
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Excellent story, well written, well paced and full of life!Reading books about oppression is frustrating, because I feel no empathy. I've always felt capable of being able to say, "That's not fair!" and act on it. But then, my generation and culture has very little oppression, on the scale of that was characterized in this book. Sure, women are paid less and people are still judged by the color of their skin - but no one is forced to use the back door or bullied for sitting in the front seat.For that, I can never have enough relief or gratitude for progress.read more
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A quick and compelling read. The story is set in Mississippi in the 40s and is narrated in six voices, every one of which manages to be different.read more
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Mudbound is the story of two families, white and black, living on the same land in the Mississippi Delta just after World War II. Written from multiple perspectives, the shared experiences of the families are marred by racism and bigotry. Each family sent a son to war and both men returned dramatically changed by thier experiences. Their friendship is not accepted by the small-minded, prejudiced townspeople causing turmoil and tragedy.read more
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I agree with the reviews that say this was a remarkable and wonderful book---gripping, yes. You could feel the lives of each of the characters--the good, the bad and the very, very ugly. Moving along in first person to each of the people involved was a challenging task on the part of the author but very rewarding to the reader. Unfortunately, it is all too recent that this fictional account, in reality, took place and is still such a big part of our lives.read more
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It's rural Mississippi in 1946. Laura McAllan is uprooted from her family and urban familiarity to farm with her single-minded, aloof husband on a remote, cheerless chunk of sodden land. Her home, little more than a glorified shack, has no modern conveniences. She comes to depend on the black sharecropper's wife, Florence, for more than help with the housework -- for more than she would care to admit.Then Laura's brother-in-law, Jamie, returns home from World War II, like a beacon of light in her hardscrabble subsistence. Florence's son, Ronsel, returns, too, with medals, but to a much colder, ominous welcome by the community. The lingering trauma of battle brings the men together as friends, a relationship that local prejudice will not allow, and eventually leads to tragedy for both families.This is the best debut I've read in a long, long time. It rings sharp and true and wrenching, and well deserves the Bellwether Prize it received.read more
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Excellent character development. Told from the perspective of six different individuals - 3 black, 3 white. An insightful look a the pressures people faced during 1939-1945. I couldn't turn the pages fast enough at the end to find out what happened.read more
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Mudbound provides a much more realistic picture of the post-World War II Jim Crow South than the feel-good story told in The Help.Set in rural Mississippi, the story centers around two interconnected families: the white McAllan family, and their tenant sharecroppers, the black Jackson family. Henry McAllan married his wife Laura late in life and then surprised her by adopting farming, taking her and their two children, Amanda Leigh and Isabelle, to live at a horribly broken-down place she promptly names Mudbound. Henry’s misanthropic father, Pappy, lives with them and generally makes life miserable for anyone he encounters, especially Laura. But Henry’s brother Jamie, younger than Henry by nineteen years, captivates Laura by the impression of his strength, although later she abruptly becomes disillusioned with Henry upon discovering he was no superhuman hero but just another weak man. The black sharecropping family is headed by Hap and Florence Jackson; their war-hero son Ronsel served in World War II in the famous 761st Tank Battalion. Henry had served two decades before in World War I, coming home with white hair and a limp, but no other discernible problems. Jamie, like Ronsel, served in World War II, and came home damaged and dependent on alcohol. The only one who could understand what Jamie was going through was Ronsel, but white and blacks were not allowed to mix in the poisonous atmosphere of the post-war South.[During World War II, some 2.5 million black Americans registered for the draft. Some 909,000 served in the Army; 167,000 in the Navy, and over 17,000 enlisted in the Marines. They went overseas to put their lives at risk in the fight for freedom and democracy, and they come home to find these ideals were not meant for them in their own country. Ironically, the Ku Klux Klan became reenergized by the returning black veterans, who wore their uniforms and seemed to know no fear, and thought they could assert their equality. The response of the KKK was a renewal of violence. According to the Social Science Institute at Fisk University, groups of blacks and whites clashed at least 242 times in 47 cities in 1943 alone.]The story begins with Pappy’s death and then backtracks. By the time of Pappy's death, Henry is 49, Jamie is 29, and Laura's age is between the two of them.The McAllans (except for the evil Pappy) are not as racist as some of the others in their town, but hold condescending attitudes toward blacks nevertheless. As Henry mused: "Whatever else the colored man may be, he’s our brother. A younger brother, to be sure, undisciplined and driven by his appetites, but also kindly and tragic and humble before God. For good or ill, he’s been given into our care.”Jamie, the most upbeat and charming of the bunch, seems to cause nothing but trouble. Laura can hardly resist his allure, especially in comparison with the stolid Henry. This creates unfortunate consequences, but not as horrifically tragic as those that result from Jamie's insistence on his right to pal around with Ronsel, despite warnings from the racists in town. Discussion: This story is told in alternating chapters from the points of view of six characters: black and white; male and female. Sometimes plot points overlap so that the reader gets different perspectives on the same events. It’s ironic that one of the few likable characters – Jamie – is the one who is considered responsible for creating the most havoc. But the other characters are not honest with themselves in their eagerness to assign blame. Jamie is the most considerate and enlightened of the bunch, but the small-minded society in which he now lives cannot tolerate such attitudes. Laura has occasional bouts of backbone, but mostly she buys into the acceptable roles offered by her house and in her town, and her love for Jamie turns off like a faucet when she detects in him what she considers to be weakness. (And I found her definition of weakness to be repellent.) Henry is inconsiderate and cold, but Pappy is a hostile, domineering sociopath. As evil as he was, though, I didn’t find him unrealistic, but Laura's meek toleration of him seemed impossible to believe, even given the rigidity of roles for Southern women at the time. I’ve seen reviews that hold the Jacksons to be too saintly, but I didn’t see them that way; I thought they were good people who were moderately flawed, and who were the victims of a profound injustice that struck a lot of good people at that time.Evaluation: I am gratified to read a book that gives a more accurate portrayal of the viciousness that inspired some whites to don sheets after black veterans returned from fighting in World War II, mistakenly thinking that they might now be entitled to be treated like fellow human beings. Leonard Pitts, Jr., one of my favorite columnists, recently wrote:"As Americans, we lie about race. We lie profligately, obstinately and repeatedly. The first lie is of its existence as an immutable reality delivered unto us from the very hand of God. That lie undergirds all the other lies, lies of Negro criminality, mendacity, ineducability. Lies of sexless mammies and oversexed wenches. Lies of docile child-men and brutal bucks. Lies that exonerate conscience and cover sin with sanctimony."This book tells less lies than most. It is worth reading.read more
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I first read this author's second novel, "When she woke" and being a Scarlet Letter fan I really enjoyed this modern day take on that novel. When I saw she had a first novel, I put it on my TBR and there it remained until as a New Year's resolution I decided to read at least two book from my TBR each month. This novel blew me away, I became emotionally involved in these characters and their lives. Two strong women, one white, one black, different circumstances but both with a strong love for their families. The Mississippi Delta area, in the Jim Crow south, where fairness for backs just very seldom happened. I never really thought about the blacks that had fought in World War II, the Tuskegee Airmen, tank divisions and after discharge had to return to the south where their families were, and still told to use the back door of a business. I think that is what I loved about this book, it made me think about unfairness, injustice but about real strength as well. Appreciating what you have now yet doing what you can to make a small difference. This was her first novel and it was fantastic, her second was very good albeit very different, but still addressed the many ills and unfairness in society whether in the past or the future. I wonder what her third will be?read more
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I had sworn off any and all novels dealing with racial themes set in the South. There is only so much self-flagellating I can do in a year in penance for things in which I had no part. Certainly I realize that the theme is worth exploring, and that if you want to write a book set in the South, especially between the years covering Reconstruction through the Civil Rights era, race is going to play a part. This is all well and good, and admirable in that examining the past through the gauze of fiction can get at some of the smaller truths and nuances that non-fiction just can't.

I was just weary of it.

But a galley came in for this book, and I wish I could tell you what made me bring it home to read, but I honestly don't remember. Maybe it was the first paragraph.

"Henry and I dug the hole seven feet deep. Any shallower and the corpse was liable to come rising up during the next big flood: Howdy boys! Remember me? The thought of it kept us digging even after the blisters on our palms had burst, reformed and burst again. Every shovelful was an agony -- the old man, getting in his last licks. Still, I was glad of the pain. It shoved away thought and memory."

Well, this was intriguing, so I flipped a few more pages in and stumbled on this:

"When I think of the farm, I think of mud. Limning my husband's fingernails and encrusting the children's knees and hair. Sucking at my feet like a greedy newborn on the breast. Marching in boot-shaped patches across the plank floors of the house. There was no defeating it. The mud coated everything. I dreamed in brown."

It was at this point I got flashes of Ron Rash's brilliant One Foot in Eden, and my resolve to step away from novels that mention Jim Crow on their jacket blurbs faded away. Sometimes it is a good thing I don't stick to a plan.


Hillary Jordan's Bellwether Prize winning novel subtly captures all the nuances of the South -- the uneasy inter-reliance the races have always had on each other; the familial ties that often defy explanation; and the realization that it was the fertile ground for change tilled during World War II in which the seeds of social change were planted.

Mudbound is written in the alternating voices of the McAllan and Jackson families. They are bound together by the sharecropping arrangement between the two families, one white (the McAllans), the other black (the Jacksons). Jamie McAllan and Ronsel Jackson have both served their time in service to the country, and they each find themselves returning to a home that is at once familiar as air and foreign as Europe once was for them. Ronsel, especially, must cope with the memory of the sense of equality he enjoyed while in Europe and the abrupt return to the status quo of an unchanged South.


Equally as off-balance in this world is Laura McAllan. She was raised in gentility, and the family land to which her husband is pledged is a far cry from anything she had ever known. Married to Jamie's brother, whose solid nature has, with familiarity, become thuddingly dull, Laura is rejuvenated by the handsome returning war veteran, Jamie. In him she sees the possibility of an awakening.

The stage is set for disaster when Jamie and Ronsel strike up a friendship forged by the bonds of war, and from the moment that is set in motion until the final paragraph, I was riveted.

The real treasure in this novel, however, lies in Jordan's masterful writing which captures every subtle gradation of the nature of the relationships between families of different races who depend on each other with a mixture of respect, fear, loathing, and affection. Nowhere is this dichotomy more eloquent than in a passage in which Laura speaks of Florence Jackson's daughter, Lilly May, who often accompanies her mother to the McAllan's house while Florence cleans the house. Laura speaks of Lilly May's beautiful voice:

"The first time I head her, I was playing the piano and teaching the girls the words to 'Amazing Grace' when Lilly May joined in from the front porch, where she was shelling peas. I've always prided myself on my singing voice but when I heard hers I was so humbled I was struck dumb. Her voice had no earthly clay in it, just a sure sweet grace that was both a yielding and a promise. Anyone who believes that Negroes are not God's children never heard Lilly May Jackson sing to Him.

This is not to say that I thought of Florence and her family as equal to me and mine. I called her Florence and she called me Miz McAllan. She and Lilly May didn't use our outhouse, but did their business in the bushes out back. And when we sat down to the noon meal, the two of them ate outside on the porch."


Mudbound took my breath away, and if Ms. Jordan's novel doesn't wind up with several more honors for it I'll be surprised.read more
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Tackling “race” relations in the American South can be treacherous, particularly when the author is white and writing from the black perspective. Anytime an author writes in the voice of another group (ethnic, gender, social class, et cetera), he better know what he is doing. Three of the six characters that Hillary Jordan gives voice to in her debut novel, Mudbound, come from a family of black sharecroppers, yet Jordan does an admirable job of creating original and culturally significant characters.

Through alternating voices, each fairly unique, Jordan offers a fresh look at an old—yet never trite—subject. While the social issues largely revolve around ethnicity, Jordan also addresses sexism, class division, war and the trauma from war. Against a well-painted landscape, the story of Mudbound unravels at a wonderful pace; when the climax drops, the reader feels as though he is living through the drama in real-time.

Some turns were a little too convenient—characters in the right place (or wrong place) at the right time, Points A, B, and C connecting too easily, and so forth—but it still worked. There were enough surprises and original takes on the subject that the story was largely believable.read more
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This is the second time I've read this novel. This time I read an autographed hardcover copy that Hillary Jordan mailed to me after I sent her an email telling her how much I enjoyed the book when it was first published. This story of two families struggling to make a living as cotton farmers in the Mississippi Delta shortly after WWII is very compelling. Hillary Jordan uses six narrators to tell her story of racial hatred and divided loyalties in the muddy and forlorn Delta country.read more
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Wonderfully easy to read, beautifully written!!! -- Jordan's beautiful debut (winner of the 2006 Bellwether Prize for literature of social responsibility) carries echoes of As I Lay Dying, complete with shifts in narrative voice, a body needing burial, flood and more. In 1946, Laura McAllan, a college-educated Memphis schoolteacher, becomes a reluctant farmer's wife when her husband, Henry, buys a farm on the Mississippi Delta, a farm she aptly nicknames Mudbound. Laura has difficulty adjusting to life without electricity, indoor plumbing, readily accessible medical care for her two children and, worst of all, life with her live-in misogynous, racist, father-in-law. Her days become easier after Florence, the wife of Hap Jackson, one of their black tenants, becomes more important to Laura as companion than as hired help. Catastrophe is inevitable when two young WWII veterans, Henry's brother, Jamie, and the Jacksons' son, Ronsel, arrive, both battling nightmares from horrors they've seen, and both unable to bow to Mississippi rules after eye-opening years in Europe. Jordan convincingly inhabits each of her narrators, though some descriptive passages can be overly florid, and the denouement is a bit maudlin. But these are minor blemishes on a superbly rendered depiction of the fury and terror wrought by racism. (Mar.)read more
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I really enjoyed this book and had to finish it quickly to find out what happened to each of the characters. It shows that during that period of history in the deep south it was a disadvantage to be a woman and it was a disadvantage to be black but it was really awful to be a black woman, fortunately the main black woman was a strong character. It also gave a taste of the machinations of the KKK - what a horror! Very well written I thought.read more
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Mudbound by Hillary Jordan is without question one of the best books I have read in some time. The story of two families, one white, one black, in the Mississippi Delta immediately after the end of World War 2, tells a story of racism like nothing I have read before. The story is told by various characters in the book giving a clear picture of the time, the people and the unforgiving conditions of farming in the Mississippi Delta. I was raised and have lived most of my life in small towns in the North and have never encountered any of the racism that I know exists, and existed even more prominently during the time covered in this book. It is important, in my opinion, to make this abominable racism public and the author does that, not sugar coating anything in the exchanges between characters. I found myself so engrossed in this book that it was almost like I wasn’t reading, more like watching a play or a movie. The language flowed so beautifully. The characters were true to what they were portrayed as. I look forward to future books from Hillary Jordan.read more
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Winner of the Bellwether Prize for fiction, Mudbound is a very powerfully written story set mostly on a farm in the Mississippi delta after World War II. The Bellwether Prize was established by Barbara Kingsolver to recognize socially responsible fiction by new authors. This title deals with racism, sexism, and some of the effects of war and social change as part of the story. The story is told from multiple points of view, with each of the main characters “telling” a chapter in chronological order and then having other characters “talk” until time has moved forward and it’s again their turn for a chapter.This is the kind of writing and story-telling that I simply can’t put down once I get started. The quote from Barbara Kingsolver on the cover is “This is storytelling at the height of its powers….Hillary Jordan writes with the force of a Delta storm.” How true.read more
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Hackneyed plot? yes. Unidimensional Characters? yes. Simplistic? yes. Strangely Compelling despite all this? yes.I really can't understand the excitement this book has generated as everything in the book seemed inevitable, it was humourless, and trite. But, I still liked it.read more
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This WWII-era novel tells the story of six people and how their lives come together in the Deep South. Laura McAllen's happy life is turned upside down when her husband, Henry, unexpectedly moves his wife and two daughters to a muddy farm in Mississippi. Henry's joy at becoming a landowner and working the land is nothing to Laura's unhappiness at becoming a farm wife. Laura nicknames the farm "Mudbound" for the mud that plagues them and covers everything. Henry's brother, Jamie, who has just returned from the war mentally broken, provides a small bit of comfort in Laura's hard new life. The McAllen's story is interwoven with the stories of Henry's black sharecroppers Florence and Hap, and their son Ronsel who has also recently returned from the war. These six characters narrate alternate chapters as their stories all head towards an inevitable and horrifying act of racial hatred. This debut novel is a must-read.read more
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My name is Mrs. Henry McAllan, but most people call me Laura. For a long time, 31 years, it was Miss. Chappell, and I was okay with that. I earned a college degree in English and began teaching, letting my students pull me through life, never once becoming low for the children I would never have. I was quite comfortable in my old maid(ness).Henry is handsome, quiet, and college educated. My brother Teddy brought him to dinner because they got along so well at work. At 41 years, Henry was working for the Corps of Engineers building bridges, levees, and airports in the outlying area of Memphis. Well, from the looks I gathered at dinner, he was ready to build a fence around me. How little did I know.We married, settled down in our own house in Memphis, and I had two little girls. Things again were comfortable until December 25, 1945. On arrival to the annual Christmas dinner at the home of Henry’s sister, Eboline, in Greenville, Mississippi, we were affronted by Pappy, my cantankerous father-in-law who informed us, “Eboline’s husband’s gone and ruint Christmas, killing himself on the eve of Jesus’ birth.”After weeks of settling Eboline’s affairs, Henry returned home in a new truck. Before I could quiz him, he shocked me with a passionate kiss. This is not my Henry, something was foul. He then blurted out, “I’ve bought a farm!”The plan was simple. Live in a rental house close to Eboline in Greenville, and Henry would commute to the farm 40 miles away. Pappy would be moving in with us, since Eboline’s move to a smaller house, and I would put up with his criticism of me and the girls.The rental house was a two-story Victorian with wrap-around porch and azaleas in front. As we climbed the steps, we noticed a light on. While Henry worked the key, a man opened the door from inside, and he wasn’t happy. See, the house was sold to him the previous week which made us trespassers.Out of 300 dollars and forced to live in one of the sharecropper's houses on the farm, I’m not happy. Matter-of-fact, I’m constantly angry. Dang dirt is in our clothes, laying atop all the furniture, and giving us all tans. Even my tow-colored sweet babies have brown hair. When Henry suggests we call the place “Fair Fields” my mumbled answer becomes family legend. “More like Mudbound.”Mudbound by Hillary Jordan is one of the best southern novels I have read in years. Better than "The Secret Life of Bees," she has successfully written a racial tale akin to Flannery O’Connor and Erskine Caldwell. The perfect book for discussion, too.read more
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Unlike other reviewers who found this book hard to get into, I found that it grabbed me from the first sentence and I couldn't put it down. The book is written from the perspective of 6 different characters, which was done very convincingly.I would highly recommend this book to others, in spite of the upsetting plot, which I suspected going into the book.read more
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Laura was 30 years old, a teacher, and unmarried....not good according to Mississippi's social crowd. A woman her age should be married and have children. She was embarrassed about it, and her mother didn't help with her comments.One day, though, Henry came to dinner and "saved" Laura from all the embarrassment. He asked her to marry him. She willing did and was happy. The happiness waned when Henry bought a farm to fulfill his lifelong dream of planting cotton along with a farmhouse with no running water, no plumbing, or electricity. Laura's life had hardships she was not used to, but she endured. The book was compelling...the chapters were divided into the description of and the tales of the main characters' lives, past and present. Mudbound was a portrayal of what life was like in Mississippi in the 1940's during and after WWII...the racial prejudices, the country re-building after the men came back from the war, the social issues, and the everyday life of Southern families, both black and white. The author's style is outstanding....you won't want to put the book down. The plot's tension and ultimate horror along with the characters will keep coming back to you even after you turn the last page. 5/5read more
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“When I think of the farm, I think of mud.”There are many fine reviews of this wonderful book, so I’m going to keep this brief. The setting is the Mississippi Delta, circa 1946 and centers around a family farm. The story follows several different first person narratives and covers the trials of farm life, forbidden love, racism and the power of the human spirit, all told in strong crisp prose.Jordan is a fine writer and I look forward to reading more of her work. Highly recommended.read more
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A great read! Each main character speaks with his own voice to tell us the story. Laura, Henry, Jamie, Florence, and Jaimie have their own view of life in rural Mississippi after WWII.read more
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Set in the Mississippi Delta in 1946 Mudbound is narrated by several characters. Racism, secrets, and family drama are all part of this book. I thought the book was very well done, I can't imagine how hard it was for the author to be the voice of so many different characters. Great book!read more
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The Mississippi Delta, around the time of the Second World War. Laura is brought to her proud husband’s newly purchased farm, where she struggles to fit into her new surroundings; farmland at the mercy of the weather and the workers. The neighbouring black sharetenants deal with the inherent racism of men brought up to easy violence, violence which spills into Laura’s world with the arrival of Jamie, Henry’s younger brother, and Ronsel, the eldest son of their tenants, both back from the war.Ronsel is returning not to a hero’s welcome, but to a township full of people anxious to put him in his place – some to fulfil their own sense of propriety, some out of hatred, others for Ronsel’s ‘own good health’. The racism in this novel swings from entrenched and frustrating to harrowing and awful but while it is, in a sense, the theme of the book, it is Laura – the young white mother of two small girls – on whom the focus of the book falls, her relationships with Henry, the husband obsessed with the soil he owns, with Pappy, her sly and bitter father-in-law, with Florence, Ronsel’s mother, who reluctantly comes to work for her and with Jamie, whose charm and warmth – now a shell inside which he suffers the resulting guilt of piloting a bomber during the war – makes Laura respond in ways she cannot even wish to control The format of ‘Mudbound’ can seem a little clumsy at times; switching from one character’s POV to another necessitates some overlap on events, and sometimes this meshing is a little awkward; where it matters, though, Jordan picks up the threads and makes them work for her rather than against; and this is really the only flaw in this first novel. Overall, it is engrossing. Each character has been drawn with a flair for finding sympathy in the reader – as Laura herself reminds us, each story begins with another and another, each person’s attitude and reactions in some way built by others before them. The story is mesmerising and tense and I will gladly read Jordan’s next book in the hope of more strong storytelling.read more
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Wonderful, heart wrenching storytelling at its best.
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Shortly after World War II, spinster Laura Chappell meets and marries Henry McAllan. She enjoys her life with Henry and their two daughters in Memphis until he buys a cotton farm in rural Mississippi. They end up living in little more than a shack on the farm, along with Henry's racist father and eventually, Henry's brother Jamie, a veteran of WWII. Florence and Hap Jackson are black tenant farmers on the McAllen farm and Florence helps Laura as her housekeeper. When Ronsel Jackson comes home from the war, he and Jamie begin to spend time together which sparks an outcry from the racist residents of the small southern community.Jordan's debut novel is told from multiple perspectives in alternating chapters. She captures the spirit of this diificult and shameful time in American history. This is a difficult book to read, but almost impossible to put down.
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Too many stories. Started with interesting perspective on post-WWII generation of housewives and following husband’s dictates and dreams, but cluttered with (albeit interesting) issues of returning vets, racial trauma.
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This book grabbed me immediately and I couldn't put it down for the day and a half it took me to finish it. The story is heartbreaking and often painful to read, but it's a story that needs to be told and I'm so glad I read it. The characters are vivid and there are some to love and some to hate. It's about race relations in the Deep South and it's about the limited power of women who were primarily at the mercy of their husband's wishes. I love the way the story was told from the viewpoints of the various characters and the dialects used were well done and not clunky or cumbersome to read. Highly recommended.
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The story of two families, one white and one black, living in Mississippi during and immediately following World War II. The letter I received with my copy compared Mudbound to To Kill a Mockingbird, which seemed a bit ambitious, but I was very pleasantly surprised. The story, which is told from multiple points of view, drew me in irresistibly. I read this book in one sitting. Though it is at times uncomfortable to read, Jordan never devolves into moralizing or preaching and depicts her characters very realistically, none of whom are without some form of prejudice.
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An easy to read story set in the deep South, against a backdrop of racism. It slips down as easy as a strawberry milkshake, which one one hand is a tribute to the author's skill, on the other hand made me feel I'd had it too easy somehow.
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Excellent story, well written, well paced and full of life!Reading books about oppression is frustrating, because I feel no empathy. I've always felt capable of being able to say, "That's not fair!" and act on it. But then, my generation and culture has very little oppression, on the scale of that was characterized in this book. Sure, women are paid less and people are still judged by the color of their skin - but no one is forced to use the back door or bullied for sitting in the front seat.For that, I can never have enough relief or gratitude for progress.
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A quick and compelling read. The story is set in Mississippi in the 40s and is narrated in six voices, every one of which manages to be different.
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Mudbound is the story of two families, white and black, living on the same land in the Mississippi Delta just after World War II. Written from multiple perspectives, the shared experiences of the families are marred by racism and bigotry. Each family sent a son to war and both men returned dramatically changed by thier experiences. Their friendship is not accepted by the small-minded, prejudiced townspeople causing turmoil and tragedy.
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I agree with the reviews that say this was a remarkable and wonderful book---gripping, yes. You could feel the lives of each of the characters--the good, the bad and the very, very ugly. Moving along in first person to each of the people involved was a challenging task on the part of the author but very rewarding to the reader. Unfortunately, it is all too recent that this fictional account, in reality, took place and is still such a big part of our lives.
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It's rural Mississippi in 1946. Laura McAllan is uprooted from her family and urban familiarity to farm with her single-minded, aloof husband on a remote, cheerless chunk of sodden land. Her home, little more than a glorified shack, has no modern conveniences. She comes to depend on the black sharecropper's wife, Florence, for more than help with the housework -- for more than she would care to admit.Then Laura's brother-in-law, Jamie, returns home from World War II, like a beacon of light in her hardscrabble subsistence. Florence's son, Ronsel, returns, too, with medals, but to a much colder, ominous welcome by the community. The lingering trauma of battle brings the men together as friends, a relationship that local prejudice will not allow, and eventually leads to tragedy for both families.This is the best debut I've read in a long, long time. It rings sharp and true and wrenching, and well deserves the Bellwether Prize it received.
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Excellent character development. Told from the perspective of six different individuals - 3 black, 3 white. An insightful look a the pressures people faced during 1939-1945. I couldn't turn the pages fast enough at the end to find out what happened.
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Mudbound provides a much more realistic picture of the post-World War II Jim Crow South than the feel-good story told in The Help.Set in rural Mississippi, the story centers around two interconnected families: the white McAllan family, and their tenant sharecroppers, the black Jackson family. Henry McAllan married his wife Laura late in life and then surprised her by adopting farming, taking her and their two children, Amanda Leigh and Isabelle, to live at a horribly broken-down place she promptly names Mudbound. Henry’s misanthropic father, Pappy, lives with them and generally makes life miserable for anyone he encounters, especially Laura. But Henry’s brother Jamie, younger than Henry by nineteen years, captivates Laura by the impression of his strength, although later she abruptly becomes disillusioned with Henry upon discovering he was no superhuman hero but just another weak man. The black sharecropping family is headed by Hap and Florence Jackson; their war-hero son Ronsel served in World War II in the famous 761st Tank Battalion. Henry had served two decades before in World War I, coming home with white hair and a limp, but no other discernible problems. Jamie, like Ronsel, served in World War II, and came home damaged and dependent on alcohol. The only one who could understand what Jamie was going through was Ronsel, but white and blacks were not allowed to mix in the poisonous atmosphere of the post-war South.[During World War II, some 2.5 million black Americans registered for the draft. Some 909,000 served in the Army; 167,000 in the Navy, and over 17,000 enlisted in the Marines. They went overseas to put their lives at risk in the fight for freedom and democracy, and they come home to find these ideals were not meant for them in their own country. Ironically, the Ku Klux Klan became reenergized by the returning black veterans, who wore their uniforms and seemed to know no fear, and thought they could assert their equality. The response of the KKK was a renewal of violence. According to the Social Science Institute at Fisk University, groups of blacks and whites clashed at least 242 times in 47 cities in 1943 alone.]The story begins with Pappy’s death and then backtracks. By the time of Pappy's death, Henry is 49, Jamie is 29, and Laura's age is between the two of them.The McAllans (except for the evil Pappy) are not as racist as some of the others in their town, but hold condescending attitudes toward blacks nevertheless. As Henry mused: "Whatever else the colored man may be, he’s our brother. A younger brother, to be sure, undisciplined and driven by his appetites, but also kindly and tragic and humble before God. For good or ill, he’s been given into our care.”Jamie, the most upbeat and charming of the bunch, seems to cause nothing but trouble. Laura can hardly resist his allure, especially in comparison with the stolid Henry. This creates unfortunate consequences, but not as horrifically tragic as those that result from Jamie's insistence on his right to pal around with Ronsel, despite warnings from the racists in town. Discussion: This story is told in alternating chapters from the points of view of six characters: black and white; male and female. Sometimes plot points overlap so that the reader gets different perspectives on the same events. It’s ironic that one of the few likable characters – Jamie – is the one who is considered responsible for creating the most havoc. But the other characters are not honest with themselves in their eagerness to assign blame. Jamie is the most considerate and enlightened of the bunch, but the small-minded society in which he now lives cannot tolerate such attitudes. Laura has occasional bouts of backbone, but mostly she buys into the acceptable roles offered by her house and in her town, and her love for Jamie turns off like a faucet when she detects in him what she considers to be weakness. (And I found her definition of weakness to be repellent.) Henry is inconsiderate and cold, but Pappy is a hostile, domineering sociopath. As evil as he was, though, I didn’t find him unrealistic, but Laura's meek toleration of him seemed impossible to believe, even given the rigidity of roles for Southern women at the time. I’ve seen reviews that hold the Jacksons to be too saintly, but I didn’t see them that way; I thought they were good people who were moderately flawed, and who were the victims of a profound injustice that struck a lot of good people at that time.Evaluation: I am gratified to read a book that gives a more accurate portrayal of the viciousness that inspired some whites to don sheets after black veterans returned from fighting in World War II, mistakenly thinking that they might now be entitled to be treated like fellow human beings. Leonard Pitts, Jr., one of my favorite columnists, recently wrote:"As Americans, we lie about race. We lie profligately, obstinately and repeatedly. The first lie is of its existence as an immutable reality delivered unto us from the very hand of God. That lie undergirds all the other lies, lies of Negro criminality, mendacity, ineducability. Lies of sexless mammies and oversexed wenches. Lies of docile child-men and brutal bucks. Lies that exonerate conscience and cover sin with sanctimony."This book tells less lies than most. It is worth reading.
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I first read this author's second novel, "When she woke" and being a Scarlet Letter fan I really enjoyed this modern day take on that novel. When I saw she had a first novel, I put it on my TBR and there it remained until as a New Year's resolution I decided to read at least two book from my TBR each month. This novel blew me away, I became emotionally involved in these characters and their lives. Two strong women, one white, one black, different circumstances but both with a strong love for their families. The Mississippi Delta area, in the Jim Crow south, where fairness for backs just very seldom happened. I never really thought about the blacks that had fought in World War II, the Tuskegee Airmen, tank divisions and after discharge had to return to the south where their families were, and still told to use the back door of a business. I think that is what I loved about this book, it made me think about unfairness, injustice but about real strength as well. Appreciating what you have now yet doing what you can to make a small difference. This was her first novel and it was fantastic, her second was very good albeit very different, but still addressed the many ills and unfairness in society whether in the past or the future. I wonder what her third will be?
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I had sworn off any and all novels dealing with racial themes set in the South. There is only so much self-flagellating I can do in a year in penance for things in which I had no part. Certainly I realize that the theme is worth exploring, and that if you want to write a book set in the South, especially between the years covering Reconstruction through the Civil Rights era, race is going to play a part. This is all well and good, and admirable in that examining the past through the gauze of fiction can get at some of the smaller truths and nuances that non-fiction just can't.

I was just weary of it.

But a galley came in for this book, and I wish I could tell you what made me bring it home to read, but I honestly don't remember. Maybe it was the first paragraph.

"Henry and I dug the hole seven feet deep. Any shallower and the corpse was liable to come rising up during the next big flood: Howdy boys! Remember me? The thought of it kept us digging even after the blisters on our palms had burst, reformed and burst again. Every shovelful was an agony -- the old man, getting in his last licks. Still, I was glad of the pain. It shoved away thought and memory."

Well, this was intriguing, so I flipped a few more pages in and stumbled on this:

"When I think of the farm, I think of mud. Limning my husband's fingernails and encrusting the children's knees and hair. Sucking at my feet like a greedy newborn on the breast. Marching in boot-shaped patches across the plank floors of the house. There was no defeating it. The mud coated everything. I dreamed in brown."

It was at this point I got flashes of Ron Rash's brilliant One Foot in Eden, and my resolve to step away from novels that mention Jim Crow on their jacket blurbs faded away. Sometimes it is a good thing I don't stick to a plan.


Hillary Jordan's Bellwether Prize winning novel subtly captures all the nuances of the South -- the uneasy inter-reliance the races have always had on each other; the familial ties that often defy explanation; and the realization that it was the fertile ground for change tilled during World War II in which the seeds of social change were planted.

Mudbound is written in the alternating voices of the McAllan and Jackson families. They are bound together by the sharecropping arrangement between the two families, one white (the McAllans), the other black (the Jacksons). Jamie McAllan and Ronsel Jackson have both served their time in service to the country, and they each find themselves returning to a home that is at once familiar as air and foreign as Europe once was for them. Ronsel, especially, must cope with the memory of the sense of equality he enjoyed while in Europe and the abrupt return to the status quo of an unchanged South.


Equally as off-balance in this world is Laura McAllan. She was raised in gentility, and the family land to which her husband is pledged is a far cry from anything she had ever known. Married to Jamie's brother, whose solid nature has, with familiarity, become thuddingly dull, Laura is rejuvenated by the handsome returning war veteran, Jamie. In him she sees the possibility of an awakening.

The stage is set for disaster when Jamie and Ronsel strike up a friendship forged by the bonds of war, and from the moment that is set in motion until the final paragraph, I was riveted.

The real treasure in this novel, however, lies in Jordan's masterful writing which captures every subtle gradation of the nature of the relationships between families of different races who depend on each other with a mixture of respect, fear, loathing, and affection. Nowhere is this dichotomy more eloquent than in a passage in which Laura speaks of Florence Jackson's daughter, Lilly May, who often accompanies her mother to the McAllan's house while Florence cleans the house. Laura speaks of Lilly May's beautiful voice:

"The first time I head her, I was playing the piano and teaching the girls the words to 'Amazing Grace' when Lilly May joined in from the front porch, where she was shelling peas. I've always prided myself on my singing voice but when I heard hers I was so humbled I was struck dumb. Her voice had no earthly clay in it, just a sure sweet grace that was both a yielding and a promise. Anyone who believes that Negroes are not God's children never heard Lilly May Jackson sing to Him.

This is not to say that I thought of Florence and her family as equal to me and mine. I called her Florence and she called me Miz McAllan. She and Lilly May didn't use our outhouse, but did their business in the bushes out back. And when we sat down to the noon meal, the two of them ate outside on the porch."


Mudbound took my breath away, and if Ms. Jordan's novel doesn't wind up with several more honors for it I'll be surprised.
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Tackling “race” relations in the American South can be treacherous, particularly when the author is white and writing from the black perspective. Anytime an author writes in the voice of another group (ethnic, gender, social class, et cetera), he better know what he is doing. Three of the six characters that Hillary Jordan gives voice to in her debut novel, Mudbound, come from a family of black sharecroppers, yet Jordan does an admirable job of creating original and culturally significant characters.

Through alternating voices, each fairly unique, Jordan offers a fresh look at an old—yet never trite—subject. While the social issues largely revolve around ethnicity, Jordan also addresses sexism, class division, war and the trauma from war. Against a well-painted landscape, the story of Mudbound unravels at a wonderful pace; when the climax drops, the reader feels as though he is living through the drama in real-time.

Some turns were a little too convenient—characters in the right place (or wrong place) at the right time, Points A, B, and C connecting too easily, and so forth—but it still worked. There were enough surprises and original takes on the subject that the story was largely believable.
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This is the second time I've read this novel. This time I read an autographed hardcover copy that Hillary Jordan mailed to me after I sent her an email telling her how much I enjoyed the book when it was first published. This story of two families struggling to make a living as cotton farmers in the Mississippi Delta shortly after WWII is very compelling. Hillary Jordan uses six narrators to tell her story of racial hatred and divided loyalties in the muddy and forlorn Delta country.
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Wonderfully easy to read, beautifully written!!! -- Jordan's beautiful debut (winner of the 2006 Bellwether Prize for literature of social responsibility) carries echoes of As I Lay Dying, complete with shifts in narrative voice, a body needing burial, flood and more. In 1946, Laura McAllan, a college-educated Memphis schoolteacher, becomes a reluctant farmer's wife when her husband, Henry, buys a farm on the Mississippi Delta, a farm she aptly nicknames Mudbound. Laura has difficulty adjusting to life without electricity, indoor plumbing, readily accessible medical care for her two children and, worst of all, life with her live-in misogynous, racist, father-in-law. Her days become easier after Florence, the wife of Hap Jackson, one of their black tenants, becomes more important to Laura as companion than as hired help. Catastrophe is inevitable when two young WWII veterans, Henry's brother, Jamie, and the Jacksons' son, Ronsel, arrive, both battling nightmares from horrors they've seen, and both unable to bow to Mississippi rules after eye-opening years in Europe. Jordan convincingly inhabits each of her narrators, though some descriptive passages can be overly florid, and the denouement is a bit maudlin. But these are minor blemishes on a superbly rendered depiction of the fury and terror wrought by racism. (Mar.)
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I really enjoyed this book and had to finish it quickly to find out what happened to each of the characters. It shows that during that period of history in the deep south it was a disadvantage to be a woman and it was a disadvantage to be black but it was really awful to be a black woman, fortunately the main black woman was a strong character. It also gave a taste of the machinations of the KKK - what a horror! Very well written I thought.
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Mudbound by Hillary Jordan is without question one of the best books I have read in some time. The story of two families, one white, one black, in the Mississippi Delta immediately after the end of World War 2, tells a story of racism like nothing I have read before. The story is told by various characters in the book giving a clear picture of the time, the people and the unforgiving conditions of farming in the Mississippi Delta. I was raised and have lived most of my life in small towns in the North and have never encountered any of the racism that I know exists, and existed even more prominently during the time covered in this book. It is important, in my opinion, to make this abominable racism public and the author does that, not sugar coating anything in the exchanges between characters. I found myself so engrossed in this book that it was almost like I wasn’t reading, more like watching a play or a movie. The language flowed so beautifully. The characters were true to what they were portrayed as. I look forward to future books from Hillary Jordan.
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Winner of the Bellwether Prize for fiction, Mudbound is a very powerfully written story set mostly on a farm in the Mississippi delta after World War II. The Bellwether Prize was established by Barbara Kingsolver to recognize socially responsible fiction by new authors. This title deals with racism, sexism, and some of the effects of war and social change as part of the story. The story is told from multiple points of view, with each of the main characters “telling” a chapter in chronological order and then having other characters “talk” until time has moved forward and it’s again their turn for a chapter.This is the kind of writing and story-telling that I simply can’t put down once I get started. The quote from Barbara Kingsolver on the cover is “This is storytelling at the height of its powers….Hillary Jordan writes with the force of a Delta storm.” How true.
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Hackneyed plot? yes. Unidimensional Characters? yes. Simplistic? yes. Strangely Compelling despite all this? yes.I really can't understand the excitement this book has generated as everything in the book seemed inevitable, it was humourless, and trite. But, I still liked it.
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This WWII-era novel tells the story of six people and how their lives come together in the Deep South. Laura McAllen's happy life is turned upside down when her husband, Henry, unexpectedly moves his wife and two daughters to a muddy farm in Mississippi. Henry's joy at becoming a landowner and working the land is nothing to Laura's unhappiness at becoming a farm wife. Laura nicknames the farm "Mudbound" for the mud that plagues them and covers everything. Henry's brother, Jamie, who has just returned from the war mentally broken, provides a small bit of comfort in Laura's hard new life. The McAllen's story is interwoven with the stories of Henry's black sharecroppers Florence and Hap, and their son Ronsel who has also recently returned from the war. These six characters narrate alternate chapters as their stories all head towards an inevitable and horrifying act of racial hatred. This debut novel is a must-read.
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My name is Mrs. Henry McAllan, but most people call me Laura. For a long time, 31 years, it was Miss. Chappell, and I was okay with that. I earned a college degree in English and began teaching, letting my students pull me through life, never once becoming low for the children I would never have. I was quite comfortable in my old maid(ness).Henry is handsome, quiet, and college educated. My brother Teddy brought him to dinner because they got along so well at work. At 41 years, Henry was working for the Corps of Engineers building bridges, levees, and airports in the outlying area of Memphis. Well, from the looks I gathered at dinner, he was ready to build a fence around me. How little did I know.We married, settled down in our own house in Memphis, and I had two little girls. Things again were comfortable until December 25, 1945. On arrival to the annual Christmas dinner at the home of Henry’s sister, Eboline, in Greenville, Mississippi, we were affronted by Pappy, my cantankerous father-in-law who informed us, “Eboline’s husband’s gone and ruint Christmas, killing himself on the eve of Jesus’ birth.”After weeks of settling Eboline’s affairs, Henry returned home in a new truck. Before I could quiz him, he shocked me with a passionate kiss. This is not my Henry, something was foul. He then blurted out, “I’ve bought a farm!”The plan was simple. Live in a rental house close to Eboline in Greenville, and Henry would commute to the farm 40 miles away. Pappy would be moving in with us, since Eboline’s move to a smaller house, and I would put up with his criticism of me and the girls.The rental house was a two-story Victorian with wrap-around porch and azaleas in front. As we climbed the steps, we noticed a light on. While Henry worked the key, a man opened the door from inside, and he wasn’t happy. See, the house was sold to him the previous week which made us trespassers.Out of 300 dollars and forced to live in one of the sharecropper's houses on the farm, I’m not happy. Matter-of-fact, I’m constantly angry. Dang dirt is in our clothes, laying atop all the furniture, and giving us all tans. Even my tow-colored sweet babies have brown hair. When Henry suggests we call the place “Fair Fields” my mumbled answer becomes family legend. “More like Mudbound.”Mudbound by Hillary Jordan is one of the best southern novels I have read in years. Better than "The Secret Life of Bees," she has successfully written a racial tale akin to Flannery O’Connor and Erskine Caldwell. The perfect book for discussion, too.
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Unlike other reviewers who found this book hard to get into, I found that it grabbed me from the first sentence and I couldn't put it down. The book is written from the perspective of 6 different characters, which was done very convincingly.I would highly recommend this book to others, in spite of the upsetting plot, which I suspected going into the book.
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Laura was 30 years old, a teacher, and unmarried....not good according to Mississippi's social crowd. A woman her age should be married and have children. She was embarrassed about it, and her mother didn't help with her comments.One day, though, Henry came to dinner and "saved" Laura from all the embarrassment. He asked her to marry him. She willing did and was happy. The happiness waned when Henry bought a farm to fulfill his lifelong dream of planting cotton along with a farmhouse with no running water, no plumbing, or electricity. Laura's life had hardships she was not used to, but she endured. The book was compelling...the chapters were divided into the description of and the tales of the main characters' lives, past and present. Mudbound was a portrayal of what life was like in Mississippi in the 1940's during and after WWII...the racial prejudices, the country re-building after the men came back from the war, the social issues, and the everyday life of Southern families, both black and white. The author's style is outstanding....you won't want to put the book down. The plot's tension and ultimate horror along with the characters will keep coming back to you even after you turn the last page. 5/5
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“When I think of the farm, I think of mud.”There are many fine reviews of this wonderful book, so I’m going to keep this brief. The setting is the Mississippi Delta, circa 1946 and centers around a family farm. The story follows several different first person narratives and covers the trials of farm life, forbidden love, racism and the power of the human spirit, all told in strong crisp prose.Jordan is a fine writer and I look forward to reading more of her work. Highly recommended.
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A great read! Each main character speaks with his own voice to tell us the story. Laura, Henry, Jamie, Florence, and Jaimie have their own view of life in rural Mississippi after WWII.
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Set in the Mississippi Delta in 1946 Mudbound is narrated by several characters. Racism, secrets, and family drama are all part of this book. I thought the book was very well done, I can't imagine how hard it was for the author to be the voice of so many different characters. Great book!
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The Mississippi Delta, around the time of the Second World War. Laura is brought to her proud husband’s newly purchased farm, where she struggles to fit into her new surroundings; farmland at the mercy of the weather and the workers. The neighbouring black sharetenants deal with the inherent racism of men brought up to easy violence, violence which spills into Laura’s world with the arrival of Jamie, Henry’s younger brother, and Ronsel, the eldest son of their tenants, both back from the war.Ronsel is returning not to a hero’s welcome, but to a township full of people anxious to put him in his place – some to fulfil their own sense of propriety, some out of hatred, others for Ronsel’s ‘own good health’. The racism in this novel swings from entrenched and frustrating to harrowing and awful but while it is, in a sense, the theme of the book, it is Laura – the young white mother of two small girls – on whom the focus of the book falls, her relationships with Henry, the husband obsessed with the soil he owns, with Pappy, her sly and bitter father-in-law, with Florence, Ronsel’s mother, who reluctantly comes to work for her and with Jamie, whose charm and warmth – now a shell inside which he suffers the resulting guilt of piloting a bomber during the war – makes Laura respond in ways she cannot even wish to control The format of ‘Mudbound’ can seem a little clumsy at times; switching from one character’s POV to another necessitates some overlap on events, and sometimes this meshing is a little awkward; where it matters, though, Jordan picks up the threads and makes them work for her rather than against; and this is really the only flaw in this first novel. Overall, it is engrossing. Each character has been drawn with a flair for finding sympathy in the reader – as Laura herself reminds us, each story begins with another and another, each person’s attitude and reactions in some way built by others before them. The story is mesmerising and tense and I will gladly read Jordan’s next book in the hope of more strong storytelling.
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