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A pre-Civil War South never seen before

Prepare yourself for a challenge when you pick up the February book selection of The Buffalo News Book Club.

"The Known World" (Amistad/HarperCollins Publishers, 416 pages, $13.95) is a read that will bend your mind into new shapes. But chances are, you'll like it that way.

This multifaceted novel, by Edward P. Jones, deals with the world of slavery in the pre-Civil War American South -- but it turns many assumptions about slavery squarely on their heads.

Here's a snapshot of what's in store for you in Jones' tale:

Caldonia and Henry Townsend, a black couple living on a farm in Manchester, Va., are slave owners -- even though Henry himself is a former slave who had to buy his freedom. When Henry dies, his wife takes over his affairs -- including ownership of his slaves, which she decides not to liberate.

But Caldonia can't, or won't, manage things the way Henry did, and the farm and surrounding world are plunged into chaos.

This dense, richly detailed historical novel -- called a work of "tremendous moral intricacy" by the New Yorker magazine and "extraordinary" by the Washington Post -- was a national best seller.

It was widely praised for bringing attention to a little-known corner of American history: the situations in which blacks owned slaves in the pre-war South.

"The Known World" won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and was a finalist for the National Book Award.

Jones, a writer in his 50s who lives in Washington, D.C., had previously written short stories, including the collection "Lost in the City." "The Known World" is his first novel.



The January Book Club selection was "The Secret History," a mystery by Donna Tartt. Cathy Lanski, of Williamsville, sent in this review:

"The Secret History" was definitely not my favorite of The Buffalo News Book Club selections. You would think that 500-some odd pages would be enough for a little character development. The plot was slow and implausible. The extended descriptions bogged the text down further still. The book could have been edited down by at least a third.

I can't imagine recommending this book to anyone but an insomniac. This book was really a disappointment after enjoying Buffalo News selections such as "Empire Falls" (by Richard Russo) and "The Secret Life of Bees" (by Sue Monk Kidd).


How can you participate in The Buffalo News Book Club? All you have to do is read the book, which can be found at branches of the public library as well as special displays in some local book stores.

If you'd like to share your opinion of the book, e-mail a short review to, or send to The Buffalo News Book Club, Features Department, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240.

We'd also like to hear your suggestions for future Book Club selections. Send them via e-mail or regular mail at the addresses above.

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