This is a fabulous and utterly compelling debut novel, set in Mississippi in the 1940s, a time when white people and black people were not friends, and did not socialise together. It is a novel about hatred and intolerance, about anger, about family and about love.
Laura McAllan is not happy when her husband Henry decides to move them from their comfortable life in the city to a remote cotton farm in the Mississipi Delta. She misses her home comforts, and struggles with the harsh and sparse lifestyle (she names the farm ‘Mudbound because that is precisely what it is when the rain falls and makes the bridge to town unpassable). What she hates most of all is that they have to share their home with Henry’s hateful father, ‘Pappy’.
Into their home comes Henry’s charismatic younger brother Jamie, who is more sensitive to Laura’s unhappiness than her own husband, but having recently got back from fighting in World War II, Jamie is fighting his own demons.
Ronsel Jackson is the eldest son of the black family who work on Henry’s farm. He too, has been fighting in the war, but in the South in the 1940s, there is no hero’s welcome for a young black man. Jamie and Ronsel become friends, but in such a heated and claustrophobic atmosphere as they are living in, such a friendship can only lead to tragedy.
I was gripped by this book from the very first page. There was a sense of impending doom all through it, and the final denouement was shocking. The book disturbed me in many ways, especially in the way that the racism displayed is just accepted as normal, by white and black alike. The book is told from the viewpoints of several of the characters, and the author successfully gave each character their own distinct personality.
Highly, highly recommended.