Saturday, November 19, 2011

Book Review: Mudbound

Hillary Jordan's Mudbound is a poignant literary novel that takes places in the Mississippi Delta during the Jim Crow era. Laura's husband, Henry, decides to uproot their comfortable town life and buy a farm in a rural area 40 miles from Greenville. New at the profession and the way of life, the white family develops a relationship with one of their black sharecropping families, the Jacksons. As a result of the deep-rooted racism in the region, the families' bond is defined by necessity rather than kindness or companionship.

Laura dislikes her new life and her father-in-law, who lives with them (and has a history with the KKK). She resents Henry for buying the farm without taking her happiness into consideration. Her despondency  and the racial tension between the two families are manifested when Henry's younger brother, Jamie, comes to live with the family. He is haunted by his experience as a bomber pilot in the European theatre of World War II.

Ronsel Jackson, the son of the sharecropping family, also returns to the farm after fighting for his country in the 761st "Black Panther" Tank Battalion. He struggles not only with the readjustment to civilian life, but also with accepting a racism that didn't exist in Europe. He and Jamie become friends, despite the risks associated with the socially taboo relationship.

Jordan's depiction of this time period and place crackles with authenticity. The story is told through multiple characters, including members of both the white and black families. She masters the voices of all her POV characters by differentiating their speech mannerisms and attitudes. The complex, at times dark, novel explores the themes of oppression-- both racism and sexism-- and acceptance in a way that feels as real as the mud that cakes the windowsills of the shoddy farmhouse. 

The main conflict is one that is a shameful part of our country's history, and so I was anticipating the resolution that seemed inevitable. Jordan's conclusion to her novel both surprised and satisfied me. I continued to reflect upon the heroine Laura's flaws and those of the time period long after I'd closed the book.

Thank you, Laura, for this book recommendation.