By Hillary Jordan
Publisher:Algonquin Books, (3/17/2009)

Average Rating:
Very Unleashable
4.50 out of 5 (2 Clubie's ratings)

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In Jordan's prize-winning debut, prejudice takes many forms, both subtle and brutal. It is 1946, and city-bred Laura McAllan is trying to raise her children on her husband's Mississippi Delta farm—a place she finds foreign and frightening. In the midst of the family's struggles, two young men return from the war to work the land. Jamie McAllan, Laura's brother-in-law, is everything her husband is not—charming, handsome, and haunted by his memories of combat. Ronsel Jackson, eldest son of the black sharecroppers who live on the McAllan farm, has come home with the shine of a war hero. But no matter his bravery in defense of his country, he is still considered less than a man in the Jim Crow South. It is the unlikely friendship of these brothers-in-arms that drives this powerful novel to its inexorable conclusion.

The men and women of each family relate their versions of events and we are drawn into their lives as they become players in a tragedy on the grandest scale. As Kingsolver says of Hillary Jordan, "Her characters walked straight out of 1940s Mississippi and into the part of my brain where sympathy and anger and love reside, leaving my heart racing. They are with me still."
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txncheesehead's thoughts on "Mudbound"
updated on:7/7/2012

Liked this book. Really liked that the narration switched between characters each chapter.

Very Unleashable

CindyE's thoughts on "Mudbound"
updated on:4/10/2012


By Hillary Jordan

Average Rating:
Very Unleashable
4.50 out of 5 (2 Clubie's ratings)

The Gentleman
The Gentleman
By Forrest Leo

 General reading guide discussion questions to be used with ANY book your book club or reading group might be discussing.

1. The setting of the Mississippi Delta is intrinsic to Mudbound. Discuss the ways in

which the land functions as a character in the novel and how each of the other characters

relates to it.

2. Mudbound is a chorus, told in six different voices. How do the changes in perspective

affect your understanding of the story? Are all six voices equally sympathetic? Reliable?

Pappy is the only main character who has no narrative voice. Why do you think the

author chose not to let him speak?

3. Who gets to speak and who is silent or silenced is a central theme, the silencing of

Ronsel being the most literal and brutal example. Discuss the ways in which this theme

plays out for the other characters. For instance, how does Laura's silence about her

unhappiness on the farm affect her and her marriage? What are the consequences of

Jamie's inability to speak to his family about the horrors he experienced in the war? How

does speaking or not speaking confer power or take it away?

4. The story is narrated by two farmers, two wives and mothers, and two soldiers.

Compare and contrast the ways in which these parallel characters, black and white, view

and experience the world.

5. What is the significance of the title? In what ways are each of the characters bound —

by the land, by circumstance, by tradition, by the law, by their own limitations? How

much of this binding is inescapable and how much is self-imposed? Which characters are

most successful in freeing themselves from what binds them?

6. All the characters are products of their time and place, and instances of racism in the

book run from Pappy’s outright bigotry to Laura’s more subtle prejudice. Would Laura

have thought of herself as racist, and if not, why not? How do the racial views of Laura,

Jamie, Henry, and Pappy affect your sympathy for them?

7. The novel deals with many thorny issues: racism, sexual politics, infidelity, war. The

characters weigh in on these issues, but what about the author? Does she have a

discernable perspective, and if so, how does she convey it?

8. We know very early in the book that something terrible is going to befall Ronsel. How

does this sense of inevitability affect the story? Jamie makes Ronsel responsible for his

own fate, saying "Maybe that's cowardly of me, making Ronsel's the trigger finger." Is it

just cowardice, or is there some truth to what Jamie says? Where would you place the

turning point for Ronsel? Who else is complicit in what happens to him, and why?

9. In reflecting on some of the more difficult moral choices made by the characters —

Laura's decision to sleep with Jamie, Ronsel's decision to abandon Resl and return to

America, Jamie's choice during the lynching scene, Florence's and Jamie's separate

decisions to murder Pappy — what would you have done in those same situations? Is it

even possible to know? Are there some moral positions that are absolute, or should we

take into account things like time and place when making judgments?

10. How is the last chapter of Mudbound different from all the others? Why do you think

the author chose to have Ronsel address you, the reader, directly? Do you believe he

overcomes the formidable obstacles facing him and finds "something like happiness"? If

so, why doesn't the author just say so explicitly? Would a less ambiguous ending have

been more or less satisfying?

Questions provided by Algonquin Books

Clubie Submitted Discussion Questions
Have a good question? If your a clubie add one now. Review
Jordan won the 2006 Bellwether Prize for Mudbound, her first novel. The prize was founded by Barbara Kingsolver to reward books of conscience, social responsibility, and literary merit. In addition to meeting all of the above qualifications, Jordan has written a story filled with characters as real and compelling as anyone we know.

It is 1946 in the Mississippi Delta, where Memphis-bred Laura McAllan is struggling to adjust to farm life, rear her daughters with a modicum of manners and gentility, and be the wife her land-loving husband, Henry, wants her to be. It is an uphill battle every day. Things started badly when Henry's trusting nature resulted in the family being done out of a nice house in town, thus relegating them to a shack on their property. In addition, Henry's father, Pappy, a sour, mean-spirited devil of a man, moves in with them.

The real heart of the story, however, is the friendship between Jamie, Henry's too-charming brother, and Ronsel Jackson, son of sharecroppers who live on the McAllan farm. They have both returned from the war changed men: Jamie has developed a deep love for alcohol and has recurring nightmares; Ronsel, after fighting valiantly for his country and being seen as a man by the world outside the South, is now back to being just another black "boy."

Told in alternating chapters by Laura, Henry, Jamie, Ronsel, and his parents, Florence and Hap, the story unfolds with a chilling inevitability. Jordan's writing and perfect control of the material lift it from being another "ain't-it-awful" tale to a heart-rending story of deep, mindless prejudice and cruelty. This eminently readable and enjoyable story is a worthy recipient of Kingsolver's prize and others as well. --Valerie Ryan --This text refers to the Hardcover edition. 

From Publishers Weekly
Jordan's beautiful debut (winner of the 2006 Bellwether Prize for literature of social responsibility) carries echoes of As I Lay Dying, complete with shifts in narrative voice, a body needing burial, flood and more. In 1946, Laura McAllan, a college-educated Memphis schoolteacher, becomes a reluctant farmer's wife when her husband, Henry, buys a farm on the Mississippi Delta, a farm she aptly nicknames Mudbound. Laura has difficulty adjusting to life without electricity, indoor plumbing, readily accessible medical care for her two children and, worst of all, life with her live-in misogynous, racist, father-in-law. Her days become easier after Florence, the wife of Hap Jackson, one of their black tenants, becomes more important to Laura as companion than as hired help. Catastrophe is inevitable when two young WWII veterans, Henry's brother, Jamie, and the Jacksons' son, Ronsel, arrive, both battling nightmares from horrors they've seen, and both unable to bow to Mississippi rules after eye-opening years in Europe. Jordan convincingly inhabits each of her narrators, though some descriptive passages can be overly florid, and the denouement is a bit maudlin. But these are minor blemishes on a superbly rendered depiction of the fury and terror wrought by racism. (Mar.) 
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcoveredition. 

From Bookmarks Magazine
Winner of Barbara Kingsolver’s Bellwether Prize (2006), which recognizes an unpublished manuscript promoting social responsibility, Jordan’s debut novel exposes the racism and sexism of the Jim Crow South. Most critics embraced this topic, even while recognizing its heavy-handedness; the Washington Post noted that “the book doesn’t challenge our prejudices so much as give us the easy satisfaction of feeling superior to these evil Southerners.” Reviewers disagreed somewhat on the complexity of character development, with a few complaining of unclear motives. They agreed, however, on the power of Jordan’s plain, earthy writing (reminiscent of Flannery O’Connor’s prose, to some) and the compelling plot. If it’s too early to say that “after just one book … here’s a voice that will echo for years to come,” as the San Antonio Express-News claims, Jordan is a new author worth watching.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition. 

"[A] beautiful debut. . . . A superbly rendered depiction of the fury and terror wrought by racism." —Publishers Weekly (Publishers Weekly )

"A heartrending debut novel. . . . Jordan's beautiful, haunting prose makes it a seductive page-turner."—Daily Candy Seattle (Daily Candy Seattle )

"A look at Jim Crow times through remarkable female eyes. . . . Mudbound is kaleidoscopic in breadth . . . Jordan is able to make the voices as distinct and rich as the characters that embody them. . . . Jordan shows herself to be a sensitive, passionate, sharp-eyed storyteller. . . . An ambitious and affecting debut . . . accessible, engaging, and spiked with suspense. . . . A tremendous gift, a story that challenges the 1950s textbook version of our history and leaves its readers completely in the thrall of her characters--and with an intense desire to investigate beyond the novel's pages."--Four-star review in Paste magazine, March issue (Paste Magazine )

"Jordan has crafted a story that shines. She captures each character's voice and places the reader amid the action. This is a good historical novel with a twist of an ending."-- Daily Oklahoman (Daily Oklahoman )

"[A] poignant and moving debut novel. . . . Jordan faultlessly portrays the values of the 1940s as she builds to a stunning conclusion. Highly recommended."—Library Journal (Library Journal )

"[A] sophisticated, complex first novel."--Booklist, starred review (Booklist )

"[A] supremely readable debut novel . . . Fluidly narrated by engaging characters . . . Mudbound is packed with drama. Pick it up, then pass it on."
People, four-star review (People Magazine )

Mudbound "is more than the moving story of a wife's isolation and secret passion. It convincingly portrays the racist world of rural Mississippi in the late 1940s. . . . Mudbound argues for humanity and equality, while highlighting the effects of war. For a historical novel, it has a most contemporary theme. . . . [The] mixture of the predictable and the unpredictable will keep readers turning the pages. . . . It feels like a classic tragedy, whirling toward a climax. . . [An] ambitious first novel."—Dallas Morning News (Dallas Morning News )

An "absorbing debut novel . . . Is it too early to say, after just one book, that here's a voice that will echo for years to come? With authentic, earthy prose . . . Jordan picks at the scabs of racial inequality that will perhaps never fully heal and brings just enough heartbreak to this intimate, universal tale, just enough suspense, to leave us contemplating how the lives and motives of these vivid characters might have been different."-- Biloxi Sun Herald (Biloxi Sun Herald )

An "impressive first novel . . . The novel's inevitable closing scenes are painfully violent, utterly memorable and surprisingly rich in cultural metaphor and well-wrought literary ploy. . . . Jordan is an author to watch."-- Rocky Mountain News (Rocky Mountain News--This text refers to the Hardcover edition. 

"A compelling family tragedy, a confluence of romantic attraction and racial hatred that eventually falls like an avalanche...The last third of the book is downright breathless." —The Washington Post Book World 
(Washington Post Book World )

"[A] supremely readable debut novel...Fluidly narrated by engaging characters...Mudbound is packed with drama. Pick it up, then pass it on." —People, four stars
(People )

"An ambitious and affecting debut...Accessible, engaging and spiked with suspense...[A] tremendous gift." —Paste, four stars
(Paste ) 

"This is storytelling at the height of its powers: the ache of wrongs not yet made right, the fierce attendance of history made as real as rain, as true as this minute. Hillary Jordan writes with the force of a Delta storm." —Barbara Kingsolver

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Hillary Jordan received her MFA from Columbia University. She lives in Tivoli, New York.

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