Monday, June 9, 2008

Review: Mudbound

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
5 stars

Reasons for reading: Southern Challenge II; book club

First line: "Henry and I dug the hole seven feet deep."

From the inside flap: "When Henry McAllan moves his city-bred wife, Laura, to a cotton farm in the Mississippi Delta in 1946, she finds herself in a place both foreign and frightening. Laura does not share Henry's love of rural life, and she struggles to raise their two young children in an isolated shotgun shack with no indoor plumbing or electricity, all the while under the eye of her hateful, racist father-in-law. When it rains, the waters rise up and swallow the bridge to town, stranding the family in a sea of mud.

As the McAllans are being tested in every way, two celebrated soldiers of World War II return home to help work the farm. Jamie McAllan is everything his older brother Henry is not: charming, handsome, and sensitive to Laura's plight, but also haunted by his memories of combat. Ronsel Jackson, eldest son of the black sharecroppers who live on the McAllan farm, comes home from fighting the Nazis with the shine of a war hero, only to face far more personal—and dangerous—battles against the ingrained bigotry of his own countrymen. It is the unlikely friendship of these two brothers-in-arms, and the passions they arouse in others, that drive this powerful debut novel. Mudbound reveals how everyone becomes a player in a tragedy on the grandest scale, even as they strive for love and honor."

My thoughts: The word to describe this book is gripping! It kept me up past 1:30 in the morning. For some reason I was often reminded of East of Eden, probably because of the two brothers, the terrible father, and the farm.

This book made me feel things physically. The first descriptions of the way blacks were treated in the Jim Crow South made me feel hollow inside and when they got much, much worse, I actually felt sick. When the worse, worse thing happened, my hand flew to my mouth, which is exactly what happens to Laura when she hears about it. I felt heartbroken for Laura, first when she felt like a rejected spinster and then when she had to move to the horrible farm (Jordan really makes you see and feel and smell the oozing, everywhere mud) and then I felt anger at Henry that he made his wife and children live that way. I felt Laura's hatred of the racist, chauvinistic, just plain mean Pappy, too.

The story is told from many points of view (Henry, Laura, Jamie, Ronsel, and his parents), which in the hand of a less talented author could be confusing and annoying, but every one of them has their own distinct personality and take on things. It also really lends itself to the theme of where a story begins and what could have been - the "ifs" of life. Laura points out early on that "Even if you start with "Chapter One: I Am Born," you still have the problem of antecedents, of cause and effect." For example, the McCallans and the Jacksons probably never would have met if For example, the terrible events that happen at the end of the story can be traced all the way back to plain Laura still being single in 30's and marrying Henry, who was still a bachelor in his 40's and was desperate to own a farm.

Oh....I can't do it justice!! Read this excellent book and see for yourself!

(Or check out my pal Vidalia's much better review here.)


Julie said...

Anytime a book makes you feel something not only emotionally but physcially you know it's a good book.

I'm going to put it on my TBR list. The way that list is going it'll probably be 2009 before I read it. :)

raidergirl3 said...

wow, 5 star rating. I can't wait to get this book. I won it in the Southern Reading Challenge. I skimmed the review, but I got the main idea: excellent.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great one. I think the book cover is pretty nice too. Thanks for the review!

maggie moran said...

Excellent, now I'll be interviewing her. Do you have any questions? :D

Katherine said...

I saw Hilary Jordan read from Mudbound here in New York a number of weeks ago. It seems like it should be an excellent read. Thanks for the review.

Susie said...

Great review! I read "Mudbound" a couple of weeks ago. You put to words some of my impressions, also. I lived in the Mississippi delta for 10 years. So much of that is still true in pockets all over the place.The sad thing about the Delta is that great things were promised to the african americans living there but as you drive through you can still see such bitter, permeating poverty! Government programs fill buildings all over the Delta next to crumbling housing projects. Where is the hope for that area? Government money is not the hope,at least not the way they are spending it there. Well, I got on my soapbox, but it's so true. Unfortunately, some things remain the same. For true fair success many will have to leave Mississippi in search of it!A good education in strong schools would be a start!

SuziQoregon said...

Excellent review. I loved this book!!

tinylittlelibrarian said...

Wow, everyone, thanks for stopping by!! Glad you liked the review and the book!

Susie - wow, you must have had a really personal experience reading it! Schools are definitely the foundation of success for kids and their families. It's a true shame how many areas are lacking in them.

Maggie - not any off the top of my's so cool you're going to interviewing her, though, I look forward to it. Maybe just ask when she's writing her next book, I'll definitely be reading it! :)

Julie - yep, my TBR list is getting into 2009, too!

Raidergirl - I know I often skim your reviews because I'm just about to read the same book. We're such reading twins! :)

Anonymous said...

Great review, this!

I wish to read this. I will try my luck for winning it in the Southern Challenge or else I will buy it. Problem is, it might be available in India as of now!

tinylittlelibrarian said...

Gautami - I hope you'll win a copy or can get one somehow, I think you'd really enjoy reading it.

maggie moran said...

I'm doing a "State of the Mule" amd now that you have read this you must enter! Good Luck! :)