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Sing, Unburied, Sing

by Jesmyn Ward

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Bois Sauvage (2)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,4111444,287 (4.06)296
"A searing and profound Southern odyssey by National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward. 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"--… (more)
  1. 30
    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 296 mentions

English (142)  Spanish (2)  All languages (144)
Showing 1-5 of 142 (next | show all)
I was a bit disappointed in this one as I had read so may excellent reviews beforehand. It took me a long time to get into it and I guess I became discouraged. All in all just ok for me. ( )
  myers3 | Jul 4, 2020 |
This book didn't go quite where I expected -- there were definitely more ghosts -- but I really enjoyed how well she captured the characters' atmospheres as well as their perspectives. I was particularly impressed with how much empathy the writer imbued in the mother character so the reader can clearly see the drivers behind her addiction and behavior. I also felt hungry throughout the book. I thought it was very subtle and effective the way the characters, especially the kids, just never eat and the mother refuses food at every turn. An effective, visceral touch. ( )
  nancyjean19 | Jun 3, 2020 |
This novel is a masterpiece like Beloved by Toni Morrison, from one of the strongest writers alive today. There is a character who is incredibly difficult to sympathize with, the apotheosis of who our culture tells us to hate and shame, but by the end, you at least understand her wounds. There is much more to the novel, which centers around a road trip by a young mother and her neglected children to pick their father up on freedom day from a prison with a brutal history. It is a thriller, a lyrical poem like the Odyssey, a ghost story, folk horror, a tragedy and a coming of age all in one. ( )
  ThomasPluck | Apr 27, 2020 |
Meh. I struggled to read this. I had to force myself to pick it up. Normally, I give up on something like this, but I was compelled to get to the end. I did zip through the ending and liked it.

It had some great characters and I think that's what kept me reading and that's what earned it 3 stars. It just wasn't really my cup of tea. ( )
  nwieme | Mar 19, 2020 |
I listened to the book on audio - might not have gotten through it otherwise. It was well done, especially since this book jumps from character to character so the narrator had make each sound a little different. It centers on a family and a trip to get the daddy of the children - Jo Jo and his sister - after he has gotten out of jail. The daddy is white, the mother and her family are black, and the story is told by her, JoJo the boy and sometimes in flashbacks to a time when the grandfather was a prisoner at the same prison they are going to. It does get confusing at times. Especially when dead spirits or perhaps drug induced hallucinations show up. But I can see where it is an exploration of the craziness of life today. ( )
  debs4jc | Mar 3, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 142 (next | show all)
Ward’s prose counterpoints the inhumanity. She’s always reaching for a simile, something to pin the moment and find redemption in it..Jojo, Leona and Richie tell the story in turn. The fecund delta draws out the baroque. You’re never far from growth. You’re never far from decay. Ward brings story to the edge of allegory and keeps it there without tipping over...Ward has to deal with the festering cache of Black American history, to look at historic and present hurt, and to look past it at the same time. She does it brilliantly... Ward’s writing is laced with compassion. The wonder is that she can find room for it.
 
Sing, Unburied, Sing won the National Book award for fiction in the US. In many ways, though, it’s not as strong as Ward’s previous work, including her 2011 novel Salvage the Bones and her 2013 memoir Men We Reaped. Its dense lyricism is often heavy handed. In drawing on William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying – both in its multiple first-person narratives and its story of a poor rural family that embarks on a wagon trek to Mississippi – it comes across as self-consciously literary...Jojo, fierce and tender, is the endearing heart of the novel; other characters, including Leonie, are fitfully ventriloquised and remain rather distant. The ramshackle journey at its spine and Ward’s rendering of the region’s dark geologies and histories are more potent than her awkward stage-managing of spirits and apparitions in the second half. Still, for all its occasional mis- and oversteps, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a brooding, pained meditation on the proposition, spelled out by Colson Whitehead in The Underground Railroad, that “America is a ghost in the darkness
 

» Add other authors (1 possible)

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

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Epigraph
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
Dedication
For my mother, Norine Elizabeth Dedeaux, who loved me before I took my first breath. Every second of my life, she shows me so.
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I like to think I know what death is.
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Haiku summary
JoJo is tender,
Straight-backed as murdering Pop;
Kayla, too, sees ghosts.

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