Series: Bois Sauvage #2
Published by Scribner on September 5, 2017
Genres: Adult, Historical, Realistic Fiction
In Jesmyn Ward’s first novel since her National Book Award–winning Salvage the Bones, this singular American writer brings the archetypal road novel into rural twenty-first-century America. Drawing on Morrison and Faulkner, The Odyssey and the Old Testament, Ward gives us an epochal story, a journey through Mississippi’s past and present that is both an intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle. Ward is a major American writer, multiply awarded and universally lauded, and in Sing, Unburied, Sing she is at the height of her powers.
Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high; Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie’s children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise.
Sing, Unburied, Sing grapples with the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power, and limitations, of the bonds of family. Rich with Ward’s distinctive, musical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a majestic new work and an essential contribution to American literature.
Sing, Unburied, Sing is beautifully written and emotionally gripping. It’s also thought-provoking and the thoughts aren’t always easy to sit with. This being because the story deals with systemic racism and the lasting repercussions of it. Sing, Unburied, Sing also incorporates grief and guilt, among other things, and the role they play in how we, as humans, live our lives.
Sing, Unburied, Sing follows 3 generations of one family. Pop and Mam, their daughter, Leonie, and Leonie’s children, JoJo and Kayla. This family has endured much. Prison, poverty, discrimination, and grief. Lots and lots of grief. JWard deftly portrays life in rural Mississippi. The hardships faced by people still experiencing racism. The culture differences in the population. She also conveyed the dysfunction in the family – Pop and Mam raising their grandchildren, JoJo and Kayla. Leonie caring more about herself and her next fix than taking care of her children or her parents. JoJo feeling and dealing with Leonie’s neglect.
There was also a mystical element which was well done and realistic, in my opinion. I’ve seen some reviews that felt this element was a negative but African-Americans – especially in the South – brought these beliefs, traditions, and customs with them so I felt it was believable.
Sing, Unburied, Sing is a novel that’s hard to review. The prose is gorgeous but the story isn’t – at least not always. JWard seems masterful at writing a character driven story. Giving these characters life in all it’s flawed glory. It’s a novel that hasn’t left me – I’m still ruminating on it. And I also intend to add all of JWard’s books to my shelves.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: