WellRead February Selection: The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr.

When we received the advanced copy of this month’s book, we were told by its publisher that we were reading a novel that was reminiscent of the works of Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston and James Baldwin. We assumed this was just publisher spin. In the book industry, you’re always hearing about the new Zadie Smith or the latest Atwood and you take it with a grain of salt. But our assumptions were wrong. The Prophets is an immensely ambitious and impressive debut novel and the comparisons to those aforementioned literary legends are entirely deserving. 

The book, which published a few weeks ago and has already become a New York Times Bestseller, tells the story of two queer slaves, Samuel and Isaiah, who find love on a cotton planation in Mississippi. This is a devastating but tender novel that reaches far and wide in its interrogation of inheritance, trauma, betrayal and love to offer an unprecedented account of the American past.

Told in lyrical, beguiling prose, it’s easy to get lost in Jones’ writing and even sometimes feel bewildered by it. Certainly this is not supposed to be an easy read and if you do find yourself confused at times (like we were), know that this does not detract from what is ultimately a profound reading experience. We suggest reading slowly with a pencil in hand. Underline the phrases that speak to you and return to them - there is such poetic wisdom to be found in Jones’ words.

It was Toni Morrison herself who said if “there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it”. It’s clear that Jones has done exactly that with The Prophets.


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