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Author: Jesse Ball
$37.00(NZD)  inc GST
Available Stock: 4

Census is a beautiful portrait of parental love. Jesse Ball’s novel is dedicated to his brother, who died at 24. As a child, the author believed he would be his sibling’s carer. In the forward, Ball talks about the difficulty of writing a book from the perspective of a Down Syndrome adult: how to capture the perspective of someone who sees and experiences the world differently; someone who you have known and loved, who you have more memories of as a child than as an adult. His resolution is to place him at the centre. “I would make a book that was hollow. He would be there in effect.” Taking his childhood role as carer, Ball places himself in the role of the father. The book opens with the father finding out he has an incurable disease. He quits his job as a doctor and takes on the task of a census taker, packing himself and his son into their car to travel through towns from A to Z. There are notes of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities in this premise. This is the last journey. The Census Taker is sent out with a series of questions and the tools of his trade - a tattooing machine - with which he must mark the participants’ rib. The faceless and nameless bureaucracy of the Census is slightly Kafkaesque: reports are to be sent in and instructions adhered to without any obvious repercussions for disobedience. As they travel further along the road, entering townships increasingly decayed - industrial decline and poverty-stricken farming communities - the father’s questions change. What he seeks are different answers, ones that will explain his own situation, his son’s future and his own pain. Will the world be kind or cruel to his son? Who will protect him? Ball cleverly weaves in the memories of the father with the lives of those they meet on the journey. The small vignettes - tales of heartache, redemption and loss - help us see the relationship between father and son with increased clarity and give shape to the figure of the son. The interactions with the townspeople also help us to see the son: how people respond, and the father’s observations put humanity - both its care and harshness - under the spotlight. The writing is superb: lyrical yet spare. Unsentimental, beautiful and intelligent, Jesse Ball’s novel Census is outstanding. If you read one novel this year, make it this one.


“It isn’t terrible to die. It is simply terrible to be observed, and therefore to be somehow in hopeless peril. There is no distance a fish can go that will save it. From the moment at which it is observed, the fish is permitted a sort of grace that will be concluded with the bayonet of the cormorant’s beak.” Following a terminal diagnosis for his illness, a doctor who has been caring for his Down Syndrome son alone since his wife’s death takes a position as a census taker and sets off with his son to collect data from places increasingly distant from the circle on the map that contains the fully known zone of their lives. In what kind of world will he leave his son? What would the world be like without the presence of the one who wonders what the world would be like without him? As the census taker and his son travel through the various zones, from A towards Z, they visit the homes of a number of people (the census does not aspire to being exhaustive) and, without the presupposition of any types of answers, the census taker rigorously observes the particularities of the people they meet (the census does not presume either from or to generalities), carefully noting their stories without imposing himself in any way other than as catalyst-observer, enabling the respondent to look within and to reveal something unguarded, something often at once indicative both of damage and of what for want of a better word we could call goodness (the census is alert not so much to the ways in which people are harmed by the society of which they are a part but rather to the ways in which they display kindness despite these harms). The rigour of the census taker is a relinquishment of his participation in the world, the rigour of anyone who is going to die (all of us, in other words) and who wishes to see what kind of world they are both completely immersed in and leaving. “We as humans are so full of longing, what is blank eludes us. A census taker must above all attempt, even long for, blankness.” Through the practice of the census the census taker is perhaps also learning to see the world in a way similar to that of his son, who he regards as unburdened with a sense of self, and who appears to conceive of life spatially rather than temporally. It is the purpose of the census to lead us to perceive the world with immediacy and without projecting expectations or presuppositions upon it. “The wondrousness of experience resides in the discrimination, not in the name. So I would be speaking for a world without names - wherein we see what is, and are impressed by it - the impressions push into us and change us forever. This is the world I believe my son lives in.” The love of the father for his son is depicted with immense tenderness (Ball wrote the book for his brother Abram, who had Down Syndrome and died at age 24), and the account of their travels together towards Z, where the dying father will complete his withdrawal from existence and the son will take a train back towards the world at which this journey, this relinquishment, began, is deeply beautiful and sad. The prose achieves a peculiar intensity and a particularity of cadence that leaves a lasting impression upon the reader. “You are travelling towards your death. You have always been a census taker. But now your efforts are joined in the community of work.”


''Jesse Ball [is] among our most compelling and daring writers today.'' LA Review of Books

When a widower receives notice from a doctor that he doesn''t have long to live, he is struck by the question of who will care for his adult son--a son whom he fiercely loves, a son with Down syndrome. With no recourse in mind, and with a desire to see the country on one last trip, the man signs up as a census-taker for a mysterious governmental bureau and leaves town with his son.

Censusis a novel about free will, grief, the power of memory and the ferocity of parental love, from one of America''s most captivating young writers.

Jesse Ball(1978-). Novelist, absurdist. Born in New York. His many and varied works are beloved in a dozen languages.

''Census, Ball''s eighth and latest novel, may be his most emotionally affecting book to date...a profound and stirring meditation on love, loss and paternity.'' New York Times

''Ball indulges our natural curiosity about what''s real and simultaneously repudiates the idea that it matters. This is a writer too interested in the transformative power of language to come down on one banal side or the other.'' Age

''Censusis a vital testament to selfless love; a psalm to commonplace miracles; and a mysterious evolving metaphor. So kind, it aches.'' David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas

''A young genius who hits all of the right notes.'' Chicago Tribune

''A poet by trade, Ball understands the economy of language better than most fiction writers today.'' Huffington Post

''With echoes of Paul Auster and Cormac McCarthy, Jesse Ball''s road novel is anything but traditional. The prolific, award-winning author tells the story of a father and his son who has Down syndrome, bringing out their connection in luminous and unexpected ways.'' Entertainment Weekly

''A dying man and his disabled son travel as census takers in Jesse Ball''s thoughtful, dystopian-influenced novel. Written in part as an ode to the author''s late brother, the book explores the human experience for both caretakers and the people who crave care, as the duo traverses the country tabulating and tattooing citizens for a mysterious government agency.'' Harper''s Bazaar, 18 New Books You Need To Read in March

''In a world beset by untrustworthy government leaders, a book about a mysterious government bureau keeping track of a nation''s population feels both terrifying and completely within the real of possibility. And that''s exactly what I felt when reading Jesse Ball''s strange and wonderful new novel, Census...A melancholy and grief-filled book, Censusalso serves a healthy helping of compassion. I highly recommend it for fans of Paul Auster and Samantha Hunt.'' LitHub, 15 Books You Should Read This Month

''A powerful meditation on grief, weaving a father-son tale that proves as captivating as it is haunting.'' Paste Magazine, 10 of the Best Books of March 2018

''A powerful and moving new novel.'' Chicago Review of Books, Best New Books of March 2018

''Emotionally riveting and shot through with the most pressing issues of our time, Ball''s exploration of humanity in modern America is not to be missed.'' Pop Sugar, 20 Best New Books to Read in March

''An understated feat, a book that says more than enough simply by saying, "look, this is how some people are."'' Washington Post

''Ball takes us on a dark journey into a troubled world, where the census taker leaves a tattoo on each individual''s rib...He ends with a heartbreaking farewell: the future, the father sees, is "his, and not mine."'' BBC, Ten Books to Read in March

''Each new book from Jesse Ball reveals a new facet of his abilities as a writer; each one takes bold structural risks even as it ventures into heart-rending territories.'' Vol. 1 Brooklyn

''Jesse Ball has written a beautiful road trip novel, yes, but it is also so much more...What there''s no question about it Ball''s alternately fierce and tender portrayal of parental love, of how we grieve for the things we haven''t yet lost, and of how we are responsible for understanding our roles in perpetuating the destruction happening all around us. This is a book that will give you an expanded sense of what it means to have compassion, and what it means to love.'' Nylon, 10 Great Books to Read in March

''Censusis a novel about everything big, told in the miniature, heart-wrenching tableau of a census. We are grazed by the notion that something is a bit different in this world, breathing down our necks. These characters jump from the page into life, and a transformative journey is undertaken for both the reader and the characters.'' Nashville Arts

''Holds questions at every turn.'' Bustle, 15 Best Fiction Books of March 2018

''In eight novels produced in just over a decade, [Ball] has combined Kafka''s paranoia with Whitman''s earnest American grain to found a fictional kingdom of genial doom and melancholia...Census, Ball''s new work, [is] his most personal and best to date...Think The Roadby Cormac McCarthy with Ball''s signature surreal flourishes...I can think of no higher praise for this novel than to echo what this woman tells the father for travelling with his son, for letting the world experience his gift: "I think you cannot know the good you do."'' New York Times

''Explore with Ball, fall into his quirky rhythms, and you''ll discover a burning plea for empathy. It will break your heart.'' Entertainment Weekly

''This novel is a devastatingly powerful call for understanding and compassion.'' Publishers Weekly, Picks of the Week

''Some books resonate more deeply than others; they don''t merely reflect the world we''re presented with, but instead they refashioned it, even warp it, revealing essential truths. Ball''s poignant dedication to his late older brother Adam, who had Down syndrome, adds yet another layer of complexity to this surreal and powerful story.'' Esquire, Best Books of 2018 (So Far)

''Censusis an odd, poignant, vitalising novel well worth the journey.'' LA Review of Books

''Absorbing, reflective and deeply moving, Censusis the most necessary kind of book--one that urges us to see and feel with all the wonder that the world deserves.'' Outline

''What could be a sentimental or treacly parable Ball transforms into a thrilling, imaginative work that explores both the limits and powers of language and empathy.'' National Book Review

''What''s impressive about Jesse Ball is not just how prolific he is--and he''s most certainly that; he is not yet 40 and has written 14 books, including six novels, since 2004--but how good and, more importantly, human his works are. The author consistently crafts high-concept fabulist tales with sensitivity and quiet poetry.'' AV Club

''His [Ball''s] latest mysterious, mesmerising, and insightful fairy tale is an imaginative and tender tribute to his late brother, who had Down syndrome...Ball''s mind-bending, gorgeously well told, and profoundly moving fable celebrates a father''s love for his son, whose quintessence is to inspire people to be their better selves.'' Booklist, starred review

''Censusis the phantasmagoric road trip that breaks your heart in more ways than one and leaves you all the better for it.'' BookPeople

''A beautiful story of two people trying to make their way through a world that is sometimes cruel or indifferent to beauty.'' Catherine Lacey

''A wonderfully moving tribute to an obviously loved sibling.'' BookMooch

''Censusis a deeply humane and tender novel, brimming with compassion, deep and original though, sweetness and, yes, even humour...An astoundingly good book.'' Bram Presser

''I defy anyone not to read its final pages through tears.'' Daily Mail UK

''A detailed and moving portrayal of a kind of radical innocence, one that brings both the cruelty and the kindness in the world around it into sharp focus. For me, it was the most powerful of the many surprises in this unusual, impressive novel.'' Guardian

''Its hopefulness is endearing, its purity shines...warrants a re-read.'' Bookmunch

''He is skilfully rendered; observed through the eyes of his father, who is deeply attuned to his son''s moods and tendencies [...] There is nothing condescending in how father describes son. It is joyful, honest, funny, smart. Again, I returned to the foreword, and considered how magnificently Ball celebrates his brother''s memory.'' Lifted Brow

''An absurdist metaphysical parable, reminiscent of Beckett, Kafka, or Calvino...[Ball] is one of America''s most interesting high-concept voices.'' Australian Book Review


`Ball indulges our natural curiosity about what's real and simultaneously repudiates the idea that it matters. This is a writer too interested in the transformative power of language to come down on one banal side or the other.' * Age * `A novel that is simultaneously powerful and elusive, whose dreamlike textures and sense of dislocation lend its reflection of our own fears genuine power, suggesting not just unsettling questions about our own unease about suffering, but also probing the uncertain intersection of fiction and reality, memory and imagination.' * Australian on A Cure for Suicide * `Subtle and breathtaking.' * New York Times on A Cure for Suicide * `A poet by trade, Ball understands the economy of language better than most fiction writers today.' * Huffington Post * `Jesse Ball [is] among our most compelling and daring writers today.' * LA Review of Books * `A young genius who hits all of the right notes.' * Chicago Tribune * `Strange, brief, beguiling...Ball's talents, both as a storyteller and a writer of prose, tend to burst the borders of his structures.' * James Wood, New Yorker, on Silence Once Begun *

Author description

Jesse Ball (1978-). Novelist, absurdist. Born in New York. His many and varied works are beloved in a dozen languages.

Stock Information

General Fields

  • : 9781925603446
  • : Text Publishing Company
  • : Text Publishing Company
  • : March 2018
  • : 2.2 Centimeters X 15.4 Centimeters X 23.4 Centimeters
  • : Australia
  • : April 2018
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : 418
  • : English
  • : 813.6
  • : 272
  • : Jesse Ball
  • : Paperback