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Men We Reaped: A Memoir by Jesmyn Ward

Men We Reaped: A Memoir (2013)

by Jesmyn Ward

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Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
I enjoyed the writing but, oof, this book is deeply sad. ( )
  Katie80 | Oct 8, 2018 |
This is a heartbreaking book. Ward is a talented writer who speaks with empathy and realness. I couldn't put it down, even though it made me sad for Ward and her family/friends and angry that lives can matter so little. ( )
  jeninmotion | Sep 24, 2018 |
Not your average memoir. At times impersonal and observational, at others intensely emotional. The structure is original with two different narratives alternating chapters and then catching up to each other in the penultimate chapter about her brother's death. ( )
  Bodagirl | Jun 29, 2018 |
Never quite got to the heart of the matter. In the light of the relatively recent deaths of young black men such as Eric Garner, Mike Brown, etc., this memoir seemed particularly topical. Ward writes about the lives and deaths of five young black men in Mississippi, from their childhoods, to her connections to them (and some to each other) and their deaths, all leaving questions with no easy answers, and many with no answers at all.
Ward weaves us back and forth through time, past and present, childhood and adulthood. She discusses the history of her family and the surrounding area in Mississippi, which was quite gripping and intriguing. Then she discusses the lives and deaths of the five young men, with interludes in between.
But while I found her introduction and first few chapters incredibly detailed and well-written, after awhile it became hard to follow. The time frames shift. She inserts herself quite a bit (I felt). Some of this is understandable, since she knew all of these men. But it was hard to understand what she was trying to convey when she describes being drunk and throwing up in the nearest trash can. Is it because there's an underlying belief she may never escape? There's a deeper pain she is trying to hide? Perhaps the author herself doesn't know, therefore it's never addressed. Or she does know, but doesn't want to address it. The story is supposed to be about these young men: I didn't care for descriptions of her getting drunk.
The last chapter, perhaps, had the most impact: her brother Josh is killed by a drunk driver, who doesn't even get charged with involuntary manslaughter: instead he is charged with leaving the scene of the crime, only serves about 2/3 of his sentence and never pays their mother any of the restitution as outlined in the sentence. In seeing the stories of charges not being filed vs. the cops in the death of Eric Garner and Mike Brown, it is a reminder that this happens all over the country.
And yet...while my heart ached for her loss, I felt there was "more" that perhaps the author wasn't quite willing to touch. She cites statistics right after her chapter about her brother, but nothing about the conviction rates in MI. As her college boyfriend says to her after he calls, he says "What do you expect? It's Mississippi."
As infuriating and callous his words are, it made me wonder how many other Joshuas there were and are, and how many whose stories and voices we will never hear. I know the author is not a sociologist or statistician (at least, not according to the biographies about the author), but I felt the work was somehow incomplete. I do strongly recommend reading it though. It is not easy: aside from the chronological order there is pain and death throughout the entire book. ( )
  acciolibros | Feb 11, 2018 |
In this hard-hitting memoir, Jesmyn Ward explores two specific topics - her experience of growing up in Mississippi and the deaths of 5 men in her life in a 5-year period - in order to make a larger commentary on what life is like for the communities of poor and Black people in the American South. Both of Jesmyn's parents suffered with severe poverty, limited opportunities, broken families, dashed hopes, systematic racism and sexism, and cruel realities. Their communities tend to reinforce these problems. The behaviors and coping mechanisms that are learned in order to deal with these cruelties lead to other issues such as drug abuse, alcoholism, domestic violence, incarceration, and even death.

The way that the author writes about the people and situations in her life, you feel that she's speaking her deep, honest truth. Her prose is beautiful and fluid, especially when paired with the harshness of her life and the tragedies that she and her friends/family have endured. There are many instances where she writes sentiments that she wishes she would have been able to say in the past, but was too young or immature or hurting to understand. Her reflections show a maturity and thoughtful introspection that is unbelievably moving.

To give others a glimpse of what her life was like, and also to attempt to explore and explain the motives and societal prejudices that force them, is a gift that we don't deserve. We don't deserve it, because we contribute to the society that maintains rampant poverty, racism, sexism, and severe prejudice. But, with writings like MEN WE REAPED, there is hope that society can grow and change for the better. ( )
  BooksForYears | Nov 14, 2016 |
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“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

Young adolescents in our prime live a life of crime, though it ain't logical, we hobble through these trying times. Living blind: Lord, help me with my troubled soul. Why all my homies had to die before they got to grow? -from "Words 2 My Firstborn," Tupac Shakur

I stand on the stump of a child, whether myself or my little brother who died, and yell as far as I can, I cannot leave this place, for for me it is the dearest and the worst, it is life nearest to life which is life lost: it is my place where I must stand.... -from "Easter Morning," A.R. Ammons
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Whenever my mother drove us from coastal Mississippi to New Orleans to visit my father on the weekend, she would say, "Lock the doors."
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 160819521X, Hardcover)

“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. A brutal world rendered beautifully, Jesmyn Ward’s memoir will sit comfortably alongside Edwidge Danticat’s Brother, I'm Dying, Tobias Wolff's This Boy’s Life, and Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:02 -0400)

A memoir that examines rural poverty and the lingering strains of racism in the South by the author of Salvage the bones.

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