Thursday, April 4, 2013

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan


Mudbound
by Hillary Jordan
Algonquin Books, 2008
324 pages
source: personal copy

Summary (from Goodreads):

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."

My thoughts:

I loved Mudbound!  It is my first (and only) five-star read of the year and will surely appear  on my list of favorites in December. It has everything I look for in a book: well-drawn characters, a setting that comes to life, a compelling story, and truly exceptional writing.

Novels with multiple points-of-view always appeal to me, and Mudbound, featuring six different viewpoints, has been described as a virtual chorus. Set in the deep south of the 1940's, the characters very effectively mirror each other on either side of the racial divide - two wives/mothers, two farmers/husbands/fathers, and two young men returning home from WWII.

As the characters and plot gradually developed over the first half of the book, I found myself savoring Jordan's beautiful writing. Before I knew it, I was unable to stop turning the pages and even wiped away a tear or two before reaching the very emotional conclusion.


A couple of favorite quotes:
"When it rained, as it often did, the yard turned into a thick gumbo, with the house floating in it like a soggy cracker. When the rains came hard, the river rose and swallowed the bridge that was the only way across. The world was on the other side of that bridge, the world of light bulbs and paved roads and shirts that stayed white. When the river rose, the world was lost to us and we to it." p.11 
"How simple things were for Henry! How I wished sometimes that I could join him in his stark, right-angled world, where everything is either right or wrong and there is no doubt which is which. What unimaginable luxury, never to wrestle with whether or why, never to lie awake nights wondering what if." p.182
Book club reaction:
Mudbound  was the February selection for my book club, but it turned out to be late March before a small group of six actually met at a local coffee shop for discussion. Everyone read the book and loved it. Topics of discussion ranged widely from the beauty of Jordan's writing to racial relations and prejudice, both past and present. We talked about women's issues, farming and sharecropping, WWII, and the difficulties in returning to civilian life after war. Several members declared the book an all-time favorite.

My rating:



Bottom line: 
If you haven't read Mudbound yet, do it now!

33 comments:

  1. I agree this is a totally great book for discussion! And what a memorable story!

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    1. Jill - This has been the most popular book for the group since Rules of Civility.

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  2. I honestly thought this was a YA novel. Odd our perceptions. And wrong, in my case. :)

    Great review. I definitely want to check this one out.

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    1. Picky - Definitely not YA. Mudbound gets my highest recommendation.

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  3. I read this a few years ago and loved it too. I'm so pleased your whole group liked it and I can see why it might become an all-time favourite. I really should read her new one at some point.

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    1. Jackie - I want to read Jordan's newer book, too. Have heard it's very different from Mudbound!

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  4. Alright alright. I've heard enough. I have a chance of getting to it if I can find it on audio...

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    1. Sandy - The audio (done with a single narrator) has high ratings on audible.com. It really is a great book!

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  5. I loved Mudbound. Thanks for reminding me how good it was! I must suggest it for our book group. I still have to read When She Woke. As it's on my Kindle I keep forgetting about it.

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    1. Lovely Treez - I can't believe it took me SO long to read Mudbound. Should have done it years ago while everyone was raving. When She Woke is on my wish list!

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  6. Well now I am officially the only blogger to have not read Mudbound. Wait! I see Sandy is in my club. I might have to try it on audio.

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    1. BethF - I'll bet this is a great audio!

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  7. I love that you loved this so much! I own Mudbound but have to admit I was put off reading it as I didn't love When She Woke by the same author. But your review has convinced me to give it a try.

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    1. Sam - I've heard that When She Woke is very different from Mudbound (which I think you will really enjoy).

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  8. I loved this book as well; glad it worked for you as well.

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    1. Diane - I think our taste in books is very similar.

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  9. I really liked When She Woke, but it does sound drastically different! I'm going to add Mudbound to my new book group's list of books for consideration. It sounds like a perfect book for discussion.

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    1. Anbolyn - It's an excellent book for discussion! I'm glad your new group is working out.

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  10. This sounds wonderful! I wonder if I could get my book club to read it.

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    1. Kathy - I think any book club would love Mudbound.

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  11. I'm beyond excited that you loved this one. I bough it on audible quite a while ago. I'm sure I will love it!!

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    1. Staci - The Mudbound audio has high ratings at audible. Hope you get a chance to listen soon. It's a great book!

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  12. I LOVED Mudbound too....so glad you used that word, because I even tho I used it, I thought it weird to 'love' a book about racism. I am giving it out on World Book Night, because I just LOVED it!

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    1. Debbie - You're right, it is kind of weird to love a book about racism... but Mudbond was SO outstanding. You're lucky to be giving it out for World Book Night!

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  13. When this first came out, it seemed like there were mixed opinions. I've picked it up a couple of times and put it back. Since we agree on so many books, I'm bringing this one home with me the next time it's in my hands!

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    1. Lisa - I hope you do read Mudbound! The plot/characters really take half the book to develop, but it is SO worth it :-)

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  14. I've had this on my shelf for a little while based on other high recommendations. I'll have to get around to it sooner rather than later.

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    1. Meloday - I hope you get a chance to read Mudbound. It's slow to get started, but such a great book.

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  15. Great book! I gave it a perfect 5/5 when I read it three years ago. I marked lots of great passages and included several in my review (included one that you shared here). So glad your book club enjoyed it!

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    1. Les - You wouldn't believe all the post-it flags I had sticking out of the book - so many excellent passages! We have a book club meeting tomorrow to discuss The Paris Wife (which listened to last year). Wonder if that will be as popular...

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    2. That's one I still want to read! Was it lyrical? I wonder if I should read the book or get the audio...

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    3. Les - I liked it, didn't love it. I'm glad I listened though... there were a couple of points I might have put it aside in print.

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    4. Good to know. Thx, JoAnn. I'll see if it's available to download from my library.

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