An American Marriage (Oprah's Book Club)

A Novel


By Tayari Jones

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“A moving portrayal of the effects of a wrongful conviction on a young African-American couple.” —Barack Obama

“Haunting . . . Beautifully written.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Brilliant and heartbreaking . . . Unforgettable.” —USA Today

“A tense and timely love story . . . Packed with brave questions about race and class.” —People

“Compelling.” —The Washington Post

“Deeply moving . . . thought-provoking.” —Bill Gates

“Epic . . . Transcendent . . . Triumphant.” —Elle

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.

This stirring love story is a profoundly insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control. An American Marriage is a masterpiece of storytelling, an intimate look deep into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward—with hope and pain—into the future.

  • Winner of the Women's Prize for Fiction
    Winner of the 2019 Aspen Words Literary Prize
    Shortlisted for the 2020 International DUBLIN Literary Award

    “One of my favorite parts of summer is deciding what to read when things slow down just a bit, whether it’s on a vacation with family or just a quiet afternoon . . . An American Marriage by Tayari Jones is a moving portrayal of the effects of a wrongful conviction on a young African-American couple.” —Barack Obama

    “Tayari Jones’s wise and compassionate new novel, An American Marriage . . . is a clear vision of the quiet devastation of a family. It is beautifully written, with many allusions to black music and culture — including the everyday poetry of the African-American community that begs to be heard.”
    The New York Times Book Review

    “Powerful . . . The story . . . is both sweeping and intimate—at once an unsparing exploration of what it means to be black in America and a remarkably lifelike portrait of a marriage.”
    The New Yorker

    “Compelling . . . spun with tender patience by Jones, who cradles each of these characters in a story that pulls our sympathies in different directions. She never ignores their flaws, their perfectly human tendency toward self-justification, but she also captures their longing to be kind, to be just, to somehow behave well despite the contradictory desires of the heart.”
    —Ron Charles, Washington Post

    “Tayari Jones is a bard of the modern South, a writer whose skill at weaving stories is matched only by her compassion for her characters. While An American Marriage confronts thorny issues around race and the criminal justice system it is, at heart, a love story. It’s also a meditation on the creation of art, the meaning of family and the conflict between duty and desire. Jones has crafted a complex, layered story that’s both intimate and broad, a literary page-turner that’s impossible to put down.”
    The Los Angeles Times

    “This moment, right here in February 2018, feels like exactly the right time for Tayari Jones to be writing — and for us to be reading Tayari Jones. In the years since her debut, she has been getting better, and . . . added heft and substance to the rich and necessary stories she weaves.”
    “Brilliant, timely . . . heartbreaking . . . With spare and shimmering prose that can strike with the shock of a shiv, Jones captures the life-altering losses Roy and Celestial endure in this unforgettable American marriage.”
    USA Today
    “A tense and timely love story. Told in letters and from alternating perspectives, packed with brave questions about race and class, An American Marriage is the perfect book-club book—one the whole group will finish and discuss with conviction.”
    People (Book of the Week)

    “A stunning polyphonic novel . . . An American Marriage explores the effects of outside forces beyond its characters’ control – racism and mass incarceration – alongside the more personal questions like whether or not to have children, how to interact with in-laws, how to reconcile differences in background and upbringing, and finally, how to negotiate a marriage when love, on its own, is no longer enough.”

    An American Marriage is that rare treasure, a novel that pulls you under like a fever dream, a novel whose pages you start to ration midway through, a novel you miss like a lover the minute you kiss its final page goodbye. An American Marriage is a gripping, masterfully crafted message in a bottle, at once a dispatch from the past and a foreshadowing of the future, bringing exquisite reading pleasure and painful, crucial news.”
    San Francisco Chronicle

    “A fascinating, beautifully written story about love, the U.S. prison system, and family.”
    Houston Chronicle

    "Novelist Jones writes brilliantly about expectations and loss and racial injustice, and how love must evolve when our best laid plans go awry."

    "Tayari Jones provides an essential contemporary portrait of a marriage in this searing novel. An American Marriage gorgeously evokes the New South as it explores mass incarceration on a personal level."
    Entertainment Weekly

    “Jones, who gains in skill with each book, has made Atlanta her fictional turf, and conjuring a skein of complex relationships her trademark. She writes in folksy, assured sentences; the reading is almost effortless . . . An American Marriage swings the reader’s sympathies widely, centrifugally, as if on a merry-go-round. The men are believable. The women are recognizable, familiar as a favorite sweater. The details are pleasurable, down to the Huey Newton chairs on Roy’s parents’ front porch.”

    “Quietly powerful . . . [Jones’s] writing illuminates the bits and pieces of a marriage: those almost imperceptible moments that make it, break it, and forcefully tear it apart.”
    The Atlantic

    Powerful . . . Astonishing . . . Through the accumulation of small details, Jones paints a portrait of a nation still deeply divided along lines of race and class."
    —J. Courtney Sullivan, The Boston Globe

    “This beautiful, sad novel is about so many big things — love, friendship, loyalty, betrayal, heartbreak, healing, family, racism, endurance and transcendence. But all of that is secondary to the story at its core . . . This is a complex novel that goes well beyond the plot elements of infidelity and racism to explore the intricacies of family and romantic relationships in modern America.”
    Minneapolis Star-Tribune

    “This utterly gripping novel from Tayari Jones explores marriage in an intimate and realistic way, making it an engaging read for both married and single audiences alike.This stirring love story is a profoundly insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control.”
    Paste Magazine

     “Tayari Jones has emerged as one of the most important voices of her generation.”

    “In this unforgettable novel, Tayari Jones tackles hard questions about pride, betrayal, and our capacity to forgive.”
    Real Simple
    “This is a novel that unabashedly plays with your senses of right and not-quite-right. It also plays with your emotions, if you’ve ever been in love — so have a handful of tissues nearby. An American Marriage could bring you to your knees.”
    The Philadelphia Tribune

    “Tayari Jones’ An American Marriage is at its beating heart a love triangle between three 30-something black professionals in contemporary Atlanta. Calling it a triangle, however, diminishes its complexity and nuance; this is a book whose characters will whisper in your head long after you’ve put it down.”
    The Seattle Times
     “This novel is peopled by vividly realized, individual characters and driven by interpersonal drama, but it is also very much about being black in contemporary America. This is, at its heart, a love story, but a love story warped by racial injustice. And, in it, Jones suggests that racial injustice haunts the African-American story. Subtle, well-crafted, and powerful.”
    Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
    “Layered like Pearl Cleage’s What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day, this title will appeal to all readers of contemporary fiction.”
    Library Journal (starred review)
    "An American Marriage is a masterpiece of storytelling, an intimate look deep into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward—with hope and pain—into the future."
    The Rumpus

    “The great Tayari Jones published her masterly opus An American Marriage, and it is everything you want to read in a novel right now.”

    “Suspenseful and compelling. An American Marriage delivers on all fronts, raising questions both intimate and epic about the intersections of race and class, the burdens and joys of shared history, and what it means to commit to a future together.”
    “ Nuanced and evocative . . . An American Marriage is a compelling exploration of the thorny conflicts that drive us apart and bind us, the distorting weight of racism, and how commitment looks across time – and generations.”
    " Breathtaking . . . Jones is a master with words and An American Marriage is the wordsmith at the top of her game."
    Bitch Media
    " Heart-wrenching . . . An American Marriage poses profound questions about what we owe each other, and what injustices we allow to persist."
    Huffington Post
    "One of America's finest writers, Tayari Jones has offered up another masterpiece with her latest novel, a tremendously powerful story about love, injustice, inequality, and strength. An American Marriage reveals how quickly dreams can be derailed due to systemic malignant forces all around us. It's a novel of vision and grace, and it will bury itself in your consciousness."
    “Tayari Jones is a wonderful storyteller. Anyone who has read Jones’s earlier works (Leaving Atlanta, The Untelling, Silver Sparrow) is familiar with her strong authorial voice and her careful construction of each sentence, paragraph, and chapter. Her attention to craft is paramount. An American Marriage is an engrossing novel about many things, but at its heart, it’s a love story, a uniquely American love story.”

    "It’s always an event when there’s new writing from Tayari Jones . . . "
    Electric LIterature
    “Jones crafts an affecting tale that explores marriage, family, regret, and other feelings made all the more resonant by her well-drawn characters and their intricate conflicts of heart and mind.”
    “Jones (Silver Sparrow) lays bare the devastating effects of wrongful imprisonment in this piercing tale of an unspooling marriage . . . Masterfully executed . . . Jones uses her love triangle to explore simmering class tensions and reverberating racial injustice in the contemporary South, while also delivering a satisfying romantic drama.”
    ­–Publishers Weekly
    “Tayari Jones displays tremendous writing prowess with An American Marriage, an enchanting novel that succeeds at every level. From the very start, An American Marriage pulls the reader in with gorgeous prose. Even beyond its plot, the story soars. It doesn’t just focus on one instance of a marriage; it explores philosophical and political quandaries, including generational expectations of men and women, the place of marriage in modern society, systemic racism, toxic masculinity, and more. It does so in a gentle, subtle way, avoiding didacticism as it nudges the reader to question their own conventions and ideals. There are rarely novels as timely or fitting as An American Marriage. It brings abstract ideas about race and love down to the material level. The story is gripping, and the characters are unforgettable.”
    Foreword Reviews (starred review)

    “I love An American Marriage and I’m so excited for this book to be in the world. Tayari’s novel is timely, thoughtful, and beautifully written. Reading it, I found myself angry as hell, laughing out loud, choking up and cheering. A gem of a book.”
    —Jacqueline Woodson, author of Another Brooklyn and Brown Girl Dreaming
    “Tayari Jones is blessed with vision to see through to the surprising and devastating truths at the heart of ordinary lives, strength to wrest those truths free, and a gift of language to lay it all out, compelling and clear. That has been true from her very first book, but with An American Marriage that vision, that strength, and that truth-telling voice have found a new level of artistry and power.”
    Michael Chabon, author of Moonglow

    “Tayari Jones is a great storyteller. An American Marriage holds the reader from first page to last, with her compassionate observation, her clear-eyed insight and her beautifully written and complex characters. Jones understands love and loss and writes with passion and precision about the forces that move us all from one to another.” 
    Amy Bloom, author of Lucky Us

    An American Marriage asks hard questions about injustice and betrayal, and answers them with a heartbreaking and genuinely suspenseful love story in which nobody's wrong and everybody's wounded. Tayari Jones has written a complex and important novel about people trapped in a tragic situation, struggling to reconcile their responsibilities and desires.”
    Tom Perrotta, author of Mrs. Fletcher
    “Tayari Jones’ An American Marriage is a stunning epic love story filled with breathtaking twists and turns, while bursting with realized and unrealized dreams. Skillfully crafted and beautifully written, An American Marriage is an exquisite, timely, and powerful novel that feels both urgent and indispensable.”
    —Edwidge Danticat, author of Breath, Eyes, Memory
    “Tayari Jones weaves a moving love story in her new novel, An American Marriage.”
    Southern Living
    “[A] very insightful, touching story about contemporary relationships.”
    Liberty Hardy, Book Riot

    “Tayari Jones…beautifully weaves the repugnant racism of the judicial system into a love story. In writing as lyrical and efficient as prose, Jones presents what happens to two men and a woman when justice is denied.”
    Newark Star-Ledger
    “Jones’s prose is masterful. An American Marriage is a must-read, not just for fans of narratives about love but for anyone who has known what is to struggle with the choice between pushing forward and letting go.”
    Tulsa Book Review

On Sale
Feb 5, 2019
Page Count
336 pages
Algonquin Books

A New York Times bestseller, an Oprah’s Book Club selection, and a Barack Obama recommendation, An American Marriage is the book everyone is talking about!

Praise for An American Marriage

A New York Times and Washington Post Notable Book

Longlisted for the 2018 National Book Award for Fiction

“BRILLIANT and heartbreaking . . . Unforgettable.”
—USA Today

“TRANSCENDENT . . . Triumphant . . . Gorgeous.”


“POWERFUL . . . Both sweeping and intimate.”
—The New Yorker

A 2018 Best of the Year selection of NPR ● TIME ● BUSTLE ● O, THE OPRAH MAGAZINE ● THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS

“A TENSE AND TIMELY love story . . . Packed with brave questions about race and class.”

An American Marriage is that rare treasure . . . A GRIPPING, MASTERFULLY CRAFTED message in a bottle.”
—San Francisco Chronicle

—Entertainment Weekly

“A stunning epic love story.”
—Edwidge Danticat

Discussion Question

“Novels, like love, can’t be forced. But also like love, novels can enter your life in an instant.”

Tayari Jones

About the Author

Tayari Jones is the author of four novels, including Silver Sparrow, The Untelling, Leaving Atlanta, and An American Marriage, which was an Oprah's Book Club Selection and winner of the Women's Prize for Fiction (formerly known as the Orange Prize), Aspen Words Prize, and an NAACP Image Award, as well as appearing on Barack Obama's summer reading list and year-end roundup. She holds degrees from Spelman College, Arizona State University, and the University of Iowa. She is an Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University and the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Creative Writing at Emory University.

Learn more about this author