Laura thought she was destined for spinsterhood until Henry McAllan chose to make her his wife. What she didn’t bargain on was his desire to own land, and their move to a cotton farm a few years later with two small girls. Laura hates the farm, which she and her daughters christen Mudbound, and hates her father-in-law, who has no place to live but with them. When World War II ends, Henry’s brother Jamie comes to stay with the family, and so does Ronsel Jackson, the son of the sharecroppers nearby. Sharing the common bond of fighting men, Ronsel and Jamie become friends of a sort, in a way that no one in the South will tolerate for very long.
It’s hard to say I liked this book, but it was compelling and completely horrifying in parts. This is particularly so because most of the characters in the book are very racist. I know people genuinely thought like this when and where this book is set, but it bothers me and I can’t understand it (which, I suppose, is a good thing). I wanted all the characters to stop being close-minded, to think more like Jamie, who sees Ronsel as a person despite the color of his skin and respects the military achievements that he made.
The book rotates between viewpoints, giving us insight into all of the characters’ heads. We can witness Laura’s unhappiness, Henry’s land-lust, Jamie’s jitters and bad memories. Ronsel’s memories of war in Europe were for me the most affecting. He describes the difference it made in Europe when he was defined as a man, not as a black man; the wonder of having a white woman fall in love with him and everyone make him feel like he was valued. He had to be my favorite character and my heart broke for him over and over again, stuck in a racist town working on a farm where he’d never be appreciated the way he should have been.
Mudbound is a powerful and affecting book, but it won’t leave you happy. It will leave you unsettled and anxious to change the world, correct anyone who might still feel this way. It’s an evocative and moving picture of the American South, but I hope it has changed very much.
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