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Men We Reaped: A Memoir by Jesmyn Ward

Men We Reaped: A Memoir (2013)

by Jesmyn Ward

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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During a 5-year period beginning in 2000, Jesmyn Ward lost her brother and four close friends from DeLisle, Mississippi. Ward weaves the story of these five men with the story of her childhood and young adulthood. She tells her life story chronologically, and the men’s stories in reverse chronological order. The two threads finally intersect with the tragic death of Ward’s only full brother in 2000. Ward’s brother and another of the young men died in car accidents, another young man died of a drug overdose, a fourth took his own life, and the last was murdered. For Ward, these tragic losses are indicative of the problems of poverty and racism that affect the lives of so many African Americans in the South. It’s a difficult book to read, and I could only manage a chapter or two at a time. It must have been infinitely more difficult to live. ( )
  cbl_tn | Apr 14, 2019 |
Devastating grief memoir. Ms Ward is unflinching in detailing the impact her brother's death had on her and her family. It's a brave and raw telling of a tragic and deeply personal story.

If I have a quibble it's that I wasn't always 100% convinced by the broadening of the story. Of course there are socio-economic links between the five men who died and whose stories are told her. The suffocating poverty and racism is undeniable, but I wasn't always comfortable with the juxtaposition of deaths in road accidents with gang violence, drug overdose and suicidal depression. It's a fine work, nevertheless.
( )
  asxz | Mar 13, 2019 |
This was a beautifully constructed memoir exploring the grief that comes from death and how it changes you from then on. Ward intersperses stories of each of the five men she lost from 2000-2005 with her upbringing in rural Mississippi. The deaths are written in reverse chronological order, which serves two purposes. Firstly, when one of these men dies, it's not the end for them. They appear again, alive, in the next story. It gives a sort of poignant context to these men's lives that might otherwise be lost. Secondly, at the book's final chapters, the story of her childhood comes together with the tale of her brother Joshua's death - the first man she lost and the kickstart for her years of grief to come.

I had previously read Salvage The Bones by Jesmyn Ward and loved it. This memoir, and most memoirs tend to be, is so personal as it gives life to Delisle, Mississippi where she was raised. Though unimaginably sad and teeming with the grief and regret that comes when losing a loved one, Men We Reaped still managed to be compulsively readable, and even a little hopeful. ( )
1 vote Katie_Roscher | Jan 18, 2019 |
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 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ward, Jesmynprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Boothe, CheriseNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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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