Book Review: Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
March 2, 2012 20 Comments
This book was one of three books that I won in a giveaway by Windmill Books. They did an author chat event on Twitter with author Jonathan Lee (of Who Is Mr Satoshi?) and I was declared the winner of a set of books. Even better, I was allowed to choose from their entire catalogue!
Mudbound: What it is about
This book is about Laura in particular and about a farmer’s community in the Mississippi Delta in the 1940s in general. Laura is already 30 years old when she finally marries. Her husband is Henry, 41, and they have a few good years in the city, where their children are born. But then Henry, without consulting Laura, decides to buy a farm and moves his family to the countryside.
Laura is culture-shocked, especially when it turns out that the house they were going to buy is no longer available and they are forced to move into the shack that is part of the farm. Even worse, Henry’s father moves in with them. He is an unpleasant retired widower who does not help out on the farm and refuses to do any household work.
The book revolves around Laura and Henry’s family and their tenants, the Jacksons, black sharecroppers who work on their land. The mother of the Jackson family, Florence, helps Laura with her household work. Without her, Laura would not be able to survive the harsh country life.
Things turn sour when the sons of the families come back from the war in Europe and, having become used to the equal footing in which white and black deal with each other there, refuse to see blacks as inferior to whites any longer. This causes big problems in the small town where racism is still very strong.
In the end, the Jackson son has to suffer badly for his friendship with Henry’s son, and the drama affects both famillies deeply.
Mudbound: What I thought
This was such a good read: I loved following Laura, who got married late, then was moved against her will to the countryside and had to deal with a very unpleasant father in law and with the events around the two families. She wasn’t strong, but she was a realistic character. She was selfish, but fair towards her home help Florence. She had the basic racist ideas that were normal at the time in that place, but she saw Florence and her family foremost as people that needed help. Her husband wasn’t cruel, but he saw the Jackson family more as a farm asset. If they could not farm their land, for whatever reason, he would send them off and get a new family in their place.
Henry’s father and some of the town’s people were severe racists – when Ronsel Jackson comes back from the war and visits the local store, Henry’s father stops him from leaving via the front door, as black people should use the back door. But this is only the beginning of his hatred against Ronsel.
The book was told by the different characters who each have several chapters in the book. They include Laura, Henry, Ronsel, Jamie (Henry’s brother), Florence, and her husband Hap. Because each character’s story is a continuation (or sometimes a replay) of the previous events, the overall story is easy to follow. I had no problems remembering who the characters were (as I sometimes do when many characters tell a story). Without being cliché, they all had their own voice and their own way of understanding the events they were describing. Henry’s father didn’t get a voice in the book and he probably was a cliché character, but that was not an issue while reading the book.
A fantastic book about women, racism, war experience and a window into 1940s rural America.