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This novel is so well-written but very vivid with the horrific descriptions. It’s a difficult read but an important one. I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel like this before—the brutality and the anguish but there’s also love. It’s one I’ll be thinking about for a long time.
Isaiah was Samuel’s and Samuel was Isaiah’s. That was the way it was since the beginning, and the way it was to be until the end. In the barn they tended to the animals, but also to each other, transforming the hollowed-out shed into a place of human refuge, a source of intimacy and hope in a world ruled by vicious masters. But when an older man—a fellow slave—seeks to gain favor by preaching the master’s gospel on the plantation, the enslaved begin to turn on their own. Isaiah and Samuel’s love, which was once so simple, is seen as sinful and a clear danger to the plantation’s harmony.
With a lyricism reminiscent of Toni Morrison, Robert Jones, Jr., fiercely summons the voices of slaver and enslaved alike, from Isaiah and Samuel to the calculating slave master to the long line of women that surround them, women who have carried the soul of the plantation on their shoulders. As tensions build and the weight of centuries—of ancestors and future generations to come—culminates in a climactic reckoning, The Prophets masterfully reveals the pain and suffering of inheritance, but is also shot through with hope, beauty, and truth, portraying the enormous, heroic power of love.
The Prophets Book Club Questions
- The story is told in multiple perspectives and timelines. It starts off with the mysterious voices of the ancestors that appear throughout the story. What did these voices add to the story?
- What is the significance of naming several chapters after books in the Bible?
- Isaiah and Samuel’s love story is the heartbeat of this novel. Let’s discuss this romance and how they found refuge in each other among all the horrors.
- Amos uses Christianity to gain control. While Be Auntie favors raising boys over girls and helps maintain the inequality between the sexes. What do you think are the motivations behind both of their actions?
- Why did Amos want the rest of the enslaved people to turn on Isaiah and Samuel?
- We read the perspectives of many women, most notably: Maggie, Essie and Sarah. Let’s discuss each of their storylines and struggles within the plantation.
- There’s also the viewpoints of the slave owners: Paul, his wife Ruth and their son Timothy. Why do you think the author included their viewpoints as well?
- Let’s now talk about Timothy’s “white savior complex” where he seek to exploit Isaiah and Samuel.
- Why did Samuel kill Timothy?
- This starts the climax where everyone fends for themselves. It seems Isaiah is able to escape and sees Samuel before he dies. Do you think the Isaiah really did escape? Did he truly see Samuel or was it a figment of his imagination? Were you satisfied with the ending?
- What happens next to the people of the plantation?
- What do you think the title means in relation to this story?
Hope you enjoyed book club questions for The Prophets! Here are some more recommendations along with links to book club questions.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett is one of the best books I’ve read in years.
The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect?
Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.
As with her New York Times-bestselling debut The Mothers, Brit Bennett offers an engrossing page-turner about family and relationships that is immersive and provocative, compassionate and wise.
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi is another important read.
Gifty is a sixth-year PhD candidate in neuroscience at the Stanford University School of Medicine studying reward-seeking behavior in mice and the neural circuits of depression and addiction. Her brother, Nana, was a gifted high school athlete who died of a heroin overdose after an ankle injury left him hooked on OxyContin. Her suicidal mother is living in her bed. Gifty is determined to discover the scientific basis for the suffering she sees all around her. But even as she turns to the hard sciences to unlock the mystery of her family’s loss, she finds herself hungering for her childhood faith and grappling with the evangelical church in which she was raised, whose promise of salvation remains as tantalizing as it is elusive. Transcendent Kingdom is a deeply moving portrait of a family of Ghanaian immigrants ravaged by depression and addiction and grief–a novel about faith, science, religion, love. Exquisitely written, emotionally searing, this is an exceptionally powerful follow-up to Gyasi’s phenomenal debut.