Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Sing, Unburied, Sing

Title:  Sing, Unburied, Sing
Author:  Jesmyn Ward
Publication Information:  Scribner. 2017. 304 pages.
ISBN:  1501126067 / 978-1501126062

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "I like to think I know what death is."

Favorite Quote:  "There's things that move a man. Like currents of water inside. Things he can't help. Older I get, the more I found it true ... Some days later, I understood what he was trying to say, that getting grown means learning how to work that current: learning when to hold fast, when the drop anchor, when to let it sweet you up."

The accolades this book has already been awarded...
  • Winner of the National Book Award for Fiction
  • Finalist for the Kirkus Prize
  • Finalist for the Andrew Carnegie Medal
  • Publishers Weekly Top 10 of 2017
The author Jesmyn Ward is also a recipient of the 2017 MacArthur Fellowship (aka the MacArthur Genius Grant) for "exploring the enduring bonds of community and familial love among poor African Americans of the rural South against a landscape of circumscribed possibilities and lost potential."

Awards speak to critical, literary recognition. What speaks to me is the characters and the story. For its many layers and its complex characters, the book is difficult to describe as the description may not capture the depth of characters and emotion in the book. This is a book that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Jojo and Kayla are being raised by his grandparents. Their grandmother Mam is ill and sadly close to death. Their grandfather Pop loves the children but also fights his own demons. Their father Michael is in jail. Their mother Leoni is a drug addict. Because of the racial divide, Michael's parents have rejected Leoni and their own grandchildren. Poverty is a way of life. This is a Mississippi world that Jesmyn Ward has brought to life in her other books. "Sometimes I think it done changed. And then I sleep and wake up, and it ain't changed none."

The plot is about a "road trip." Michael is getting out of jail. Leoni takes the kids and a friends and decides to go pick him up. The road trip though becomes both literal and metaphorical. It is the nightmarish actual trip and a trip through the lives of this family. Ghosts, again literal and metaphorical, play a big role on this book. The fates two actual ghosts, Given and Richie, come back to the issue of racial inequality and injustice.

The central theme that emerges is the search for and the ability to find home, whether home is a place, people, or a resolution to the injustices of this world. Jojo and Kayla never want to leave home for this trip and then cannot wait to return to the love of their grandparents. Pop's stories of the past are that he physically returns home, but a piece of him stays in the unresolved decisions of his life. For Michael and Leoni, home seems to be wherever they are together; unfortunately, that does not seem to include their children. For the ghosts, sadly, home means that the ghosts can finally be laid to rest.

The story captures the racial history and the mysticism of the South. What I will remember most from this book is the character of Jojo. Though a child himself, he is forced by circumstance to shoulder adult responsibilities. He is watching his grandmother die and trying to ease her way. He listens to his grandfather's stories of the anguish and pain of the past. He deals with his parents who are really more about their own relationship rather than their children. He emerges as the one who can see and hear the ghosts who need their deaths resolved. Perhaps most heartbreaking of all is the love between a brother and a sister, a "man of fifteen" and his baby sister. Jojo is brother, father, mother, caretaker, and protector to his little sister Kayla.

Memorable characters and a memorable book.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

No comments:

Post a Comment