The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr tells the story of Samuel and Isaiah. They are slaves who work at the Elizabeth Plantation aka The Empty in the Deep South of Mississippi. Samuel and Isaiah spend their days in the barn tending to the animals. The Empty is an awful awful place with nothing but misery, yet both Samuel and Isaiah are find happiness in each other and are deeply in love, having this unbreakable bond. As the synopsis says “Isaiah was Samuel’s and Samuel was his”. They are the light that keep each other from being consumed by the darkness they have been engulfed in. Everything changes however when Amos a slave and someone who is attempting to bring Christianity into the the lives of other slaves discovers the forbidden relationship between Samuel and Isaiah. This sets off events that change the lives of Samuel, Isaiah, and everyone on the plantation forever.
I don’t even know where to begin other than this was an extremely heartbreaking, uneasy, and powerful read that will long last the hands of times. If you’re thinking this is a typical story of two lovers then you’re most definitely mistaken. There are many moments where I had to take a break because of the horrific moments that occur. This book has left me feeling angry at how black people were treated.
The way in which the story is told is through the many characters on the plantation. From the POV of the slaves and the slavers as well. The stories told from the POV of the slaves was simply heartbreaking and just extremely heavy on an emotional level. Robert Jones Jr does not shy away from telling you the horrendous situations the slaves had to go through in order to simply survive another day on earth. Many harrowing acts occur from rape, forceful breeding of black people, and beatings. Each chapter essentially acts as a looking glass into the mind of the characters and their ordeals.
One of my favourite characters was the mother figure to Samuel and Isaiah, Maggie. Maggie works inside of the “Big House” doing unthinkable things for Paul who is the master of the house. Maggie was that person you know if you saw you’d just know a hug from her would make you forget your troubles. She cared so much for Samuel and Isaiah as if they were her own flesh and blood. Maggie could’ve had her own book due to how interesting and enlightening it was seeing from her perspective.
There are also many other interesting characters such as Puah, Essie, Aunt B, and Sarah who in various ways end up linking with the story of the two lovers, in positive ways, and negative ways to be exact.
When it comes to the slavers themselves, never have I wanted to scream in anger as much as I did when reading their passages. If you told me to define “scums of the earth” then I would tell you to read this book and look out for Paul, Ruth, James, Timothy, and many more. Paul for one was a disgusting and pitiful man who took out his anger at the slaves any chance he could get. At one point in the story he rapes Essie as be believes her baron for not being able to make a child with Isaiah. This is one of the main reasons why Amos attempts to get on the good side of Paul by wanting to learn about religion so that he can become Paul’s protege and preach the Christian religion to those who are enslaves. So that he can protect Essie and himself. What Amos does however is cause a substantial rift and division within the community which inevitably leads to the worst outcome.
We also see a small glimpse into the life of carriage driver, Arnold. We find out in this chapter that Arnold is in fact the son of a slaver and they share similararies in terms of their looks.
“Unseemly, but maybe **** had finally seen it, too–the identical bridge of nose and the same muscular forehead that was unmistakably Halifax.”
The Halifax family have their own chapters. We get a glimpse at Ruth Halifax, the wife of Paul Halifax. She was a lying, conniving, witch of a woman who enjoys seeing the enslaved people suffer. She is constantly trying to get people like Arnold (carriage driver) and others into trouble for stealing. It absolutely made my blood boil. To make matters even worse you have Timothy, a painter and abolitionist who at first you think will help the slaves, only to use Isaiah for sexual favours 🤦🏽♂️. I have no words like it was absolutely maddening and infuriating so I will move on before my head explodes.
Robert Jones Jr also takes us to the past in Africa as we are introduced to King Akusa and her tribe. They are visited by what I presume are white men who wish to steal the land of the tribe and their people. Religion also factors into this as during a matrimony between two men called Elewa and Dashi, one of the visitors called Gabriel question why and tells King Akusa that she and her tribe would benefit from their religion King Akusa obviously angry tells them that it is up to his people who they love and marry whether that’s two men or two women.
Religion plays a key role in the story, from the naming of chapters, to the characters who used religion as a way of making their atrocities seem right.
“I do not know this word, Sodom. But I can tell by how it leaves your tongue that I do not like it. They are Elewa and Kosii as they have always been. Do you not see their bond? You will humble your self before that.”
We also see from the point of view of Kosi a slave on a slave ship. Again this was heartbreaking and I was extremely distraught by this moment. The tribe had never expected such a thing to happen to them or anyone.
When considering the writing, although this is a heartbreaking novel, the writing is lyrical and beautiful. Every word touches you like a brush stroking a canvas. You feel every word circulating inside your mind and exploding like fireworks as things just click on point. I liked how each chapter is told from the POV from various characters yet the main characters of Isaiah and Samuel connect their lives. It’s sort of like a web that showcases the impact Isaiah and Samuel has had on everyone. I thought even though it is the story of Isaiah and Samuel, seeing from the POV of the other characters added so much depth into the story and a better insight into their thoughts and feelings.
The writing also shows exactly how white people felt about black people. Some of the slurs and derogatory remarks where absolutely horrible. Constantly white folk in the story belittled black people and made them out to be soulless individuals. Robert Jones Jr shows how inhumane history has been towards black people and makes you understand why the pain of these ordeals are something the black community will never ever forget! The story is educational and will definitely make many understand the past.
Overall, The Prophets was a captivating, tragic, and extremely moving read that I’ll never forget. The writing was rich and will instantly make you want to focus on the words in front of you. The characters also have so many unforgettable layers that you just want to keep peeling away to uncover further. You can tell Robert Jones Jr has put his heart and soul into this novel for sure. I will say though that it is not an easy read and definitely not for the faint-hearted. It will leave you feeling distraught and heartbroken for sure. The last 100 pages were had my heart beating like a drum once I closed the book I just sat back and sighed at the whole experience.
I have learned so much from this book as I did when I read Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. Those two books are on my list of my favourite books of all time. I can happily say that The Prophets will long be in that list of books I recommend to everyone.
Thank you so much to Putnam Books and Nishtha for sending me this wonderful novel. This is my first 5🌟 read of the year and I feel beyond lucky that you gave me the chance to read this novel. I am extremely grateful.