Sep 15, 2008

Book Review: Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

This is the loins of the land. This lush expanse between two rivers, formed fifteen thousand years ago when the glaciers melted, swelling the Mississippi and its tributaries until they overflowed, drowning half the continent. When the waters receded, settling back into their ancient channels, they brought a rich gift of alluvium stolen from the lands they’d covered. Brought it here, to the Delta, and cast it over the river valleys, layer upon sweet black layer. - page 316

In the early 1940's when Henry McAllen brought his wife Laura, their two little girls and his racist father, Papy, to the farmlands of the Mississippi Delta, they could not know the impact it would have, not only on their family, but on others around them.

Life on a cotton farm was completely different than what Laura was used to. No running water, no electricity, no inside bathroom and in the rainy season, nothing but mud all around. But she had no choice but to make the best of it - that’s what wives do for their husbands. And if she ever started to forget, her callous father-in-law was right there to remind her.

MUDBOUND is the story of two families, each just trying to get through the day to day of farm living. For the McAllen’s, things were rough, but they own the land and make the rules. Unlike the Jackson‘s, a negro family who live on McAllen land and work for them. The second world war had ended and two soldiers came home to the Delta and even though the world was changing, life in the Delta stayed the same. As if time stood still, blacks still had their place and if they didn’t want any trouble, they obeyed the old rules. So when Ronsel Jackson returned home from the war a decorated hero, it was difficult for him to go back to being just a negro who wasn’t allowed to walk through the front doors of stores or ride in the front seat of a car with a white man. Henry McAllen’s brother, Jamie, also came home from the war a much different person. His nightmares chased away sleep and haunted him. The only way to fight them was the bottle. Despite warnings and threats from the locals and their own families, an unlikely friendship began between Ronsel and Jamie and set off a chain of events that would forever change the two families.

Click here to see the trailer for MUDBOUND.

This debut novel from Hillary Jordan is an amazing accomplishment. Her storytelling is flawless and her description of life during this time is simple yet captivating and at the same time, heartbreaking. The story follows the lives of seven people, six of whom take turns telling the story from their own prospective in alternating chapters. With each person, Ms. Jordan captures the very essence of their personality. She does a fantastic job of transforming into that character completely. This only adds to her masterful storytelling.

I absolutely loved this book. The story takes off immediately and a connection to the characters is quickly established. The closer I got to the end, the faster I read. While reading the book, you get the feeling something bad is looming, but you don’t know what it is. With each chapter, the story unfolds and you get closer to it. Even though the subject matter of racism is troubling, MUDBOUND is a pleasure to read. It’s on the top of my list of best books I’ve read this year, ranking up there with A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Art of Racing in the Rain. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a compelling story of family secrets, friendship and sacrifice. It’s the complete package. It’s not hard to see why Ms. Jordan earned the Bellwether Prize, the award for promoting literature of social change.
To learn more about Hillary Jordan please visit her website at You will also find a Readers Guide to download for those who are interested in choosing this book for your book club. It would be an excellent choice. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.

Author: Hillary Jordan
Genre: Southern Fiction
Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (a division of Workman Publishing)
Published: March 2008
Pages: 324
Rating 5 out of 5 stars (Highly Recommended)

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