Sing, Unburied, Sing
In Jesmyn Ward’s book we meet thirteen-year-old Jojo, living with his grandparents, Mam and Pop, in Bois, Mississippi. He takes care of his toddler sister, Kayla, while his mother, Leonie, is out on another bender. Life in the South is much the same as it’s always been with black communities watching their backs and poor whites living on the edge. 'Do Not Trespass' signs mean what they say and can be followed up with a shotgun fired. Jojo’s Pop is a stable anchor in a life that could be erratic. Hardworking, tending their land and raising the animals, he’s at the centre of Jojo’s world, caring for Mam, who is in the last months of cancer, and watching over his grandchildren. Leonie is indulgent and selfish and it’s hard to warm to her, yet, as the novel progresses, you get a sense of what has made her behave irresponsibly. Addicted to drugs, unhealthily obsessed with Michael, the father of her children, whose white family won’t accept either Leonie nor the children on any terms, Leonie is a collision waiting to happen - in fact a devastating series of crashes. Jojo is a young man who you want to walk alongside and hold as a reader - both naive and mature, he has surprising insights and abilities in spite of his youth, an amazing capacity to ‘see’ yet still remaining baffled by society's workings. When Michael, who’s been in Parchment, the jail which was once run like a slave plantation, calls to say he’s being released, Leonie decides that she’s taking Jojo and Kayla to meet their daddy. The road trip is a nightmare, Kayla is sick, Jojo is worried and wary, and Leonie is edgy. Sing, Unburied, Sing is a story about slavery, racism and the terrible personal cost of disempowerment. It is also a beautiful story about the pain of the past that needs to be faced and forgiven, and the power of individuals, through love for each other, to carve out new existences. Ward weaves history into the novel through the ghost characters of Given and Richie - the former Leonie’s dead brother shot in a supposed hunting accident, and the latter a young boy at the penitentiary who Pop, in the past, had tried to shelter. In the hands of a lesser writer this might have seemed trite, but Ward is masterful. In November this book won the American National Book Award for Fiction. Comparisons have been made to Toni Morrison and William Faulkner. The judges described Sing, Unburied, Sing as “a narrative so beautifully taut and heartbreakingly eloquent that it stops the breath." Stunning, powerful and tender.
A searing, urgent read for anyone who thinks the shadows of slavery and Jim Crow have passed, and anyone who assumes the ghosts of the past are easy to placate. It's hard to imagine a more necessary book for this political era -- Celeste Ng, author of 'Everything I Never Told You'
Speaks to maintaining hope in the face of one's plight, and the true strength (and fragility) of familial bonds * Buzzfeed *
The pages fly past with heart-stopping intensity... Ward writes like a dream. A real dream: uneasy, vivid and deep as the sea - praise for Salvage the Bones * The Times
* A taut, wily novel, smartly plotted and voluptuously written. It feels fresh and urgent, but it's an ancient, archetypal tale - praise for Salvage the Bones * New York Times
* It's hard not to read the final pages in a greedy frenzy ... There's something of Faulkner to Ward's grand diction, which rolls between teenspeak and the larger, incantatory rhythms of myth - praise for Salvage the Bones -- Olivia Laing * Guardian
* The connection between the injustices of the past and the desperation of present are clearly drawn in Sing, Unburied, Sing, a book that charts the lines between the living and the dead, the loving and the broken. I am a huge fan of Jesmyn Ward's work, and this book proves that she is one of the most important writers in America today -- Ann Patchett
Sing, Unburied, Sing is a road novel turned on its head, and a family story with its feet to the fire. Lyric and devastating, Ward's unforgettable characters straddle past and present in this spellbinding return to the rural Mississippi of her first book. You'll never read anything like it -- Ayana Mathis, author of 'The Twelve Tribes of Hattie'
If Sing, Unburied, Sing is proof of anything, it's that when it comes to spinning poetic tales of love and family, and the social metastasis that often takes place but goes unspoken of in marginalized communities-let alone the black American South-Jesmyn Ward is, by far, the best doing it today. Another masterpiece -- Jason Reynolds, author of 'Ghost'
Jesmyn Ward received her MFA from the University of Michigan and is currently an associate professor of creative writing at Tulane University. She is the author of the novels Where the Line Bleeds and Salvage the Bones, which won the 2011 National Book Award. She is also the editor of the anthology The Fire This Time and the author of the memoir Men We Reaped, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. In 2016, the American Academy of Arts and Letters selected Ward for the Strauss Living Award. She lives in Mississippi with her family. @jesmimi