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Publisher's Summary

"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

Critic Reviews

"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)

What listeners say about Men We Reaped

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Terrifyingly Moving

This is written by a woman of my son's age. I feel she teaches me that that I am naive to think that we've come a long way since the 60s. We made yards, not miles.
Black lives do matter. The lives of black men matter.

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Now you know why Jesmyn Ward's books are so good

Read Ward's memoir, and you'll see immediately how her real life informed her masterpieces Salvage the Bones and Sing, Unburied Sing. Men We Reaped is another powerful work full of Ward's simple, stripped-down language and clear insights, but without her lush imagination (because it's a memoir.) Her memoir shows very clearly what it was like to grow up in a low-income black family in rural Mississippi. Ward's brains and some uncomfortable largesse from a wealthy white family who employed her mom as a housekeeper got her into schools that could keep up with her intellect, even though she was the only Black kid at the school. Her mother's toughness and her father's feckless elegance also play a part. But her brother and four of her male friends aren't so lucky. This memoir is not just a coming of age story about one of the greatest writers of our time. It's also an elegy to five young Black men who paid with their lives the cost of institutionalized racism and no hope. Their deaths haunt Ward's stunning fiction, alive with tragic magic between brothers and sisters. If you're a fan of her fiction, Ward's memoir is a must read.

3 people found this helpful

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Felt so close to home

This book is very real. It speaks on things many people in the South have tried to cover up. Things that haunt us. This is well written. Thank you for this Jesmyn

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Beautifully read memoir but lacking in perspective

The memoir is perfectly read by Cherise Boothe, and the writing flows well, except in the final chapter, where it is too repetitive. Granted, Ward's writing is beautiful. However, I deplore the premise that underlies her writing, a premise that reflects Ward's emotional immaturity: racism is the sole cause of black suffering and black communities bear no responsibility for changing their circumstances because they are powerless due to racism....catch 22. Although she is a product of a single parent family where her mother is the sole support of the family and everyone else is drinking and doing drugs and many boys drop out of school, die or go to jail, and where she herself feels devalued, drinks until she passes out, experiments with drugs and, as an adult, becomes a single mother of two, not once does she accept any responsibility for the fact that her choices could be contributing to the problems in her community: bearing children that grow up without two parents and raising them with anger and blame for the situation they find themselves in, a community of poverty and poor education, drugs and alcohol. The fact that there is poverty in her community is the fault of society, of the nebulous “them” she refers to throughout. “Society” is also to blame for drugs, alcohol and the despair in her community. As is poor education to blame, in that no effort is made to counsel young rebellious males or give them tutoring so that they might turn from crime to studying (never mind the difficulty of giving them that help when they get no parental supervision or encouragement). Ward seems to think that the influence of parenting is negligible because there is a large family support system with aunties and uncles. However none of these peripheral extended family in her story are available to sit down with a child to do homework, or to take away the beer and turn off the TV. They are there so that, if adults are fighting at home, the chid may go sleep at someone else’s home! And how is this child supposed to have the stable base for a hopeful and secure future? Ward’s limitation is that she is emotionally immature in that she has not explored her own anger. Instead of taking responsibility for transmuting her anger, she wallows in it and uses it to fuel her writing and her continued anger. Granted, she is lauded by media and academia for this politically correct stance, so she is not challenged to grow. Anyone who has engaged in self-exploration, analysis and personal growth, has had to confront her own demons, which lurk within us all. Anger is there to show us where we need to make room for love, where we must let go of pre-conceived notions and gain more understanding. A person who insists on staying in anger and blame stays stuck within herself and where there is no change within, there is no change without. Inner change begets societal change. Ward wants “them”, ie society, to change while she continues to indulge in anger. And academia tells her she is right to do so and rewards her with literary accolades.

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Worth the time!

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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such brilliant writing

She made me see the worth of black men's lives, no matter their educational or occupational histories.

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!!!

A must Read. Jesmyn touches on it all! I loved the strength it took to find the insight needed for this book

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I am breathless!

What. A. Word. I'll admit: I'm easily moved by the stories of this lifetime, but THIS story.... Wow! I felt like a 3rd cousin hearing the story of our family. This memoir is a must-read.

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Black Lives Matter

Written 7 years ago this memoir captures all we have experienced as a nation in the last 4 weeks including the MS legislature voting to remove the Confedrate Flag from the state's flag today, June 27, 2020. All in the poignant story of one African American family.

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Heartbreaking

So much hurt, loss and grief.So much love ,hope and resilience amidst all the pain 😔When will the racism end !?

1 person found this helpful