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Sing, Unburied, Sing

by Jesmyn Ward

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Bois Sauvage (2)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,6841853,217 (4.07)349
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.… (more)
  1. 40
    Beloved by Toni Morrison (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: Mournful spirits haunt both shattering works of African American magical realism that examine the effects of slavery (Beloved) and racism (Unburied) on women and children. Lyrical language and stylistically complex storytelling provide bulwarks from which to glimpse unbearable suffering in each.… (more)
  2. 00
    Of Love and Dust by Ernest J. Gaines (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: These searing novels feature complex, tragic, and flawed characters in the deep South and are set in part in punitive work camps where choices are limited, the threat of violence ubiquitous, and the corridors of fate narrow and unyielding.… (more)

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» See also 349 mentions

English (183)  Spanish (2)  All languages (185)
Showing 1-5 of 183 (next | show all)
Read my review of [b:Sing, Unburied, Sing|32920226|Sing, Unburied, Sing|Jesmyn Ward|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1499340866s/32920226.jpg|53537916] in Southern Humanities Review: http://www.southernhumanitiesreview.com/review-sing-unburied-sing-by-jesmyn-ward...
  beckyrenner | Aug 3, 2023 |
Admittedly, I suspected some kind of imitation Faulkner as I started to get into this, but this is a very fine thing. The supernatural is handled brilliantly and the novel builds and concludes like a bomb. ( )
  markm2315 | Jul 1, 2023 |
In Mississippi there is a family haunted by pain and death. A Southern gothic that wasn't quite what I wanted it to be, which wasn't at all the book's fault. Very well written. ( )
  MandyPS | May 13, 2023 |
Well, everyone who knows me knows that magical realism is not my thing, but I did love [b:Lincoln in the Bardo|29906980|Lincoln in the Bardo|George Saunders|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1492130850s/29906980.jpg|50281866] so I thought that maybe the ghosts in this story wouldn't affect my enjoyment too much. To be honest, for me, the ghost of Richie detracted from the the novel while the ghost of Given worked. That being said, I am completely in love with Ward's prose. This book is the second one I read from her this year, and magical realism or no magical realism, this author deserves the prizes she has received.

The plot, such that it is, focuses primarily on JoJo, and young adolescent and son of a mixed relationship between Leonie (African-American) and Michael (Caucasion). JoJo lives with his grandfather and grandmother and Leonie, and Michael is finishing up a prison term. Let's just say Leonie isn't going to be winning any "mother of the year" awards. She's a drug addict, somewhat violent, and very selfish. As a result, JoJo is very much more bonded to his grandparents, specifically his grandfather, River. Personally, I found the novel's exploration of the darkness of the day to day existence of this family - which has faced many struggles including the murder of Leonie's brother - to be interesting in and of itself. However, it is a slow reveal . . .not a whole lot of action.

Where things either get more interesting (if you like magical realism) or more unbelievable (if you are a skeptic like me), is when we meet Richie, the ghost of a boy who was imprisoned at the same time River was. River attempted to protect Richie, recognizing he was too young to really survive on his own. Unfortunately, Richie's spirit is not at rest, and he attempts to use JoJo to reach River and get some resolution regarding his tumultuous past. Apparently, I just have a LOT of trouble suspending disbelief, but even if I can get my mind around the existence of ghosts, I am challenged with the idea that an innocent child's afterlife would be as unresolved and painful as Richie's.

Ward does a better job with the ghost of Leonie's brother who only really appears to her when she is strung out on meth - - hence making him more believable to me as perhaps a figment of her drug addled imagination.

It truly is amazing I'm giving this book four stars; that's how good Ward's writing is. I think she does some incredibly unbelievable things with this story, and somehow she pulls it off. I appreciated her ability to create empathy in her reader even if I didn't personally care for the means.

( )
  Anita_Pomerantz | Mar 23, 2023 |
NA ( )
  eshaundo | Jan 7, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 183 (next | show all)
At just 304 pages long, “Sing, Unburied, Sing” is a road novel, a ghost story, a family epic, and damning testimony bearing witness to terrible crimes. It is also unforgettable.
...Ward is seeking something more from (or perhaps for) her characters. And so the road trip, and the drug drama, and the struggle for wholeness unfold against a series of more mysterious events.... For each of these characters, living or dead, what lies unasked or unspoken becomes an impediment not just to happiness or social mobility but to literal deliverance — and each must decide whether to rise to the occasion, whether to let what he or she harbors sound out. Maybe that’s the miracle here: that ordinary people whose lives have become so easy to classify into categories like rural poor, drug-dependent, products of the criminal justice system, possess the weight and the value of the mythic — and not only after death; that 13-year-olds like Jojo might be worthy of our rapt attention while their lives are just beginning.... Such feats of empathy are difficult, all too often impossible to muster in real life. But they feel genuinely inevitable when offered by a writer of such lyric imagination as Ward. “Sing, Unburied, Sing” is many things: a road novel, a slender epic of three generations and the ghosts that haunt them, and a portrait of what ordinary folk in dire circumstances cleave to as well as what they — and perhaps we all — are trying to outrun.
added by Lemeritus | editNew York Times Book Reviews, Tracy K. Smith (pay site) (Sep 22, 2017)
This is a lyrical howl of a book that knows exactly when to go quiet and when to make its cries almost unbearable. It's a story of unfinished business, for both a country still struggling to live up to its ideals and for the ghosts that walk through these pages ... The past is its own character in Sing, Unburied, Sing, ready to burst in without a moment's notice and remind everyone it never really went away. If William Faulkner mined the South for gothic, stream-of-consciousness tragedy, and Toni Morrison conjured magical realism from the corroding power of the region's race hatred, then Ward is a worthy heir to both. This is not praise to be taken lightly. Ward has the command of language and the sense of place, the empathy and the imagination, to carve out her own place among the literary giants.
added by Lemeritus | editThe Dallas Morning News, Chris Vognar (Sep 8, 2017)
The title Sing, Unburied, Sing seems to echo the opening of the Iliad, when Homer asks the muse to sing of unburied bodies left on the battlefield of Troy "a feast for dogs and birds," while the dead men's souls descend to Hades. Homer's poems were meant to act as immortal grave markers for the war dead, even as the physical graves and bodies would rot away. We're still singing for those Greek corpses; why not, Jesmyn Ward asks, sing for the generations of black Southerners undone by racism and history, lynched, raped, enslaved, shot, and imprisoned? In this lush and lonely novel, Ward lets the dead sing. It's a kind of burial.
However eternal its concerns, “Sing, Unburied, Sing,” Ward’s new book, is perfectly poised for the moment. It combines aspects of the American road novel and the ghost story with a timely treatment of the long aftershocks of a hurricane and the opioid epidemic devouring rural America....With the supernatural cast to the story, everything feels heightened. The clearest influence is Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” — the child returning from the dead, bitter and wronged and full of questions. The echoes in the language feel like deliberate homage.... The ghosts — most of them, at any rate — want to rest, but they need restitution first. They need to know what happened to them, and why. It’s the unfinished business of a nation, playing out today in the calls for the removal of statues of Confederate soldiers and in the resurgence of the Klan.
added by Lemeritus | editNew York Times, Parul Sehgal (pay site) (Sep 5, 2017)

» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ward, JesmynAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Chalk, Chrissecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Miceli, JayaCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sundström, JoakimTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wesley, Rutinasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Who are we looking for, who are we looking for?
It's Equiano we're looking for.
Has he gone to the stream? Let him come back.
Has he gone to the farm? Let him return.
It's Equiano we're looking for.

----Kwa chant about the disappearance of Equiano an African boy
The memory is a living thing---it too is in transit. But during its moment, all that is remembered joins, and lives---the old and the young, the past and the present, the living and the dead.

---from One Writer's Beginnings,
by Eudora Welty
The Gulf shines dull as lead. The coast of Texas
glints like a metal rim. I have no home
as long as summer bubbling to its head

boils for that day when in the Lord God's name
the coals of fire are heaped upon the head
of all whose gospel is the whip and flame,

age after age, the uninstructing dead.

--from "The Gulf," by Derek Walcott
For my mother, Norine Elizabeth Dedeaux, who loved me before I took my first breath. Every second of my life, she shows me so.
First words
I like to think I know what death is.
This the kind of world, Mama told me when I got my period when I was twelve, that makes fools of the living and saints of them once they dead. And devils them throughout.
How the dolphins were dying off, how whole pods of them washed up on the beaches in Florida, in Louisiana, in Alabama and Mississippi: oil-burnt, sick with lesions, hollowed out from the insides. And then Michael said something I’ll never forget: Some scientists for BP said this didn’t have nothing to do with the oil, that sometimes this is what happens to animals: they die for unexpected reasons. Sometimes a lot of them. Sometimes all at once. And then Michael looked at me and said: And when that scientist said that, I thought about humans. Because humans is animals.
He’s been orbiting her like a moon, sleeping on the sofa with his back to the door, searching the yard and woods for pens and bins and machines to fix so he can repair in the face of what he cannot.
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Wikipedia in English


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.

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Haiku summary
JoJo is tender,
Straight-backed as murdering Pop;
Kayla, too, sees ghosts.

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