"We saw the lightning and that was the guns; and then we heard the thunder and that was the big guns; and then we heard the rain falling and that was the blood falling; and when we came to get in the crops, it was dead men that we reaped." (Harriet Tubman)
In five years, Jesmyn Ward lost five young men in her life - to drugs, accidents, suicide, and the bad luck that can follow people who live in poverty, particularly black men. Dealing with these losses, one after another, made Jesmyn ask the question: Why? And as she began to write about the experience of living through all the dying, she realized the truth - and it took her breath away. Her brother and her friends all died because of who they were and where they were from, because they lived with a history of racism and economic struggle that fostered drug addiction and the dissolution of family and relationships. Jesmyn says the answer was so obvious she felt stupid for not seeing it. But it nagged at her until she knew she had to write about her community, to write their stories and her own.
Jesmyn grew up in poverty in rural Mississippi. She writes powerfully about the pressures this brings, on the men who can do no right and the women who stand in for family in a society where the men are often absent. She bravely tells her story, revisiting the agonizing losses of her only brother and her friends. As the sole member of her family to leave home and pursue higher education, she writes about this parallel American universe with the objectivity distance provides and the intimacy of utter familiarity.
©2013 Jesmny Ward (P)2013 Recorded Books
"The audiobook version of Jesmyn Ward's memoir does perfect justice to the beautiful original…. This is beautiful writing, voiced beautifully, by veteran audiobook narrator Cherise Boothe, who also narrated the Recorded Books edition of Ward’s National Book Award-winning novel Salvage the Bones." (Salon)
I listened to this book based on some glowing end of the year reviews but after having finished it I am still not quite sure what to make of it. At its best it is a heartfelt eulogy to the five men who died over a short period of time and the impact of their lives and deaths on the author. I found it a little difficult to emotionally engage with the subjects in this book as their lives are told primarily in snippets; where the book succeeds is in the authors keen observations and perspective on the various social, economic, and cultural aspects that shaped these men and in a way, made her both part of them and apart from them. Wisely, Jesmyn Ward avoids sermonizing - she lets the stories speak for themselves and there are many sad and poignant moments. Yet despite this, I wasn't moved and at times, struggled to stay interested. A definite plus was the first rate narration by Cherise Booth.
Loved it. This was beautifully written with perfect prose and raw truth. It brings the struggles of racism and systemic injustice to light through the humanity of family and individuals who persevere.
I was engaged from beginning to end. Excellent read, audio or written.
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