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Sing, unburied, sing : a novel by Jesmyn…
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Sing, unburied, sing : a novel (edition 2017)

by Jesmyn Ward

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,035788,160 (4.15)164
Member:green_iguana
Title:Sing, unburied, sing : a novel
Authors:Jesmyn Ward
Info:New York : Scribner, 2017.
Collections:Books I have read
Rating:*****
Tags:2018, fiction, novel, race

Work details

Sing, Unburied, Sing: A Novel by Jesmyn Ward (Author)

  1. 20
    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 164 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 78 (next | show all)
There are many books/authors whom I admire fully but whose work I do not really enjoy reading. One of the first among equals in this list is Toni Morrison. This book, and Ward's previous works, are often compared to to Morrison's books, and I think the reason I don't enjoy reading Morrison is the reason I did not really enjoy reading this book. Ward's language is beautiful and poetic, and also has qualities of soaring oratory--language that moves me in a church or meeting hall, but in print form and when applied to very personal human stories it sets me at a distance from the story's subject. That remove works against so much of what is great in this book.

I loved the relationships in this book. Jojo and Kayla, Mam and Pop all very complicated people capable of the most beautiful and uncomplicated love imaginable. But as much as I wanted to get inside these relationships they were closed off to anyone but the two principals -- closed off in part by that distancing language -- that I can't settle in and fully understand these dyads. This is true too in Leonie's relationship with Micheal and with her parents, children, and her dead brother. These relationships lack the intimacy and beauty of the other relationships because Leonie is broken, and inconsistent, and probably not a very good person (even before losing her brother and becoming addicted) but I still felt the book's language stopped me from understanding them.

There is so much to love in this book. First, the aforementioned relationships, and these beautifully drawn characters (Black and poor White) borne down on by an ugly world rigged against them, set up not to stop them from failing, but rather to make sure they can never succeed. The paradox of Leonie, who jumps through hoops to try to create this illusion of of a family while being the person who destroys the family and everyone in it with every selfish mean action and word. She is such a terrible person, and I felt a dearth of empathy that I might have found if I could have gotten a little closer to her. Every time she longed for Jojo to be a baby I hated her for her weakness because she really just wanted him to be more convenient for her, more easy to control. Every time she did something in the name of family I could see that the real intent was to score drugs. I got the feeling there was good in her, but the book held me away from finding that good.

This was a 3.5 for me. My admiration up near a 5, my reading pleasure was about a 2. Beautifully written, important, but for me it felt like the book itself kept me from understanding the characters. ( )
  Narshkite | May 14, 2018 |
This is such a bleak book at the beginning. Jojo is our main character and even though he is just 12, he is the main caretaker for his 2 year-old sister. He and his sister are essentially being raised by his maternal grandparents, but grandma is dying. HIs mom isn't around much and when she is around she is far from maternal. She does arrive one day when she wants to take her kids to pick up their dad from Parchman Prison, several hours away, where he is serving time for selling drugs. The trip there is nightmarish. There is no food, it's hot, the baby sister gets sick. Drugs are purchased along the way there and back. There is a close call with a police officer who pulls them over. They arrive home in time for the grandmother to die. Woven throughout the story is the remembrance of the grandfather who unjustly served time at Parchman himself as a young man. He met Richie while he was there, who was even younger than he was. He protected Richie as he was able, but when Richie escaped with another prisoner, it was Pop himself who tracked and killed Richie himself to prevent his being brutalized and lynched by the mob searching for the escaped prisoners. Richie's spirit visits Jojo and accompanies him to see Pop again as he attempts to find his afterlife. ( )
  mojomomma | May 3, 2018 |
I may have read this one at the wrong time. A ton of misery in a book at the tail end of a NY winter probably isn't a great idea. All of the characters here rip your heart out with empathy, even the terrible mother, especially Jojo. But so much miserableness happens to them all. And I'm not sure to what end for the book, other than that is life, for the marginalized. There are some shining beautiful moments. (The spiral of trees the mother plants every year for her son being one of my favorites.) It also took me forever to read this book, which is not the way to read any book. Some would compare Ward's writing to Toni Morrison but I wouldn't. I think Toni Morrison's sentences themselves are much more complex and unique, from what I can remember. It's been a while. I'm sure there are many champions for this book, but I didn't have extreme amounts of love for it. If I had read this book in summer, maybe that would be different. ( )
  booklove2 | Apr 30, 2018 |
“Sorrow is food swallowed too quickly, caught in the throat, making it nearly impossible to breathe.”
Jesmyn Ward, Sing, Unburied, Sing

Though I finished this book days ago, I have taken my time writing this review because I want to do it justice. Sing, Unburied, Sing is unlike anything I have ever read. Ward is a perceptive, honest, and extremely skilled author (watch out universe!). It is not surprising her 2011 novel; Salvage the Bones was a National Book Award winner and I have no doubt this book will win numerous honors as well (it already is). Sing brought out all sorts of emotions: anger, sadness, outrage, hope, and joy. Some parts were difficult to read and there were times when I literally wanted to get into the book and slap some of the characters (especially Leonie). Jojo, Pop, Mam, Kayla, and the ghosts will stay with me for a very long time. I am still filled with so many feelings - and yes, sometimes the story was heartbreaking, but it was also packed with tender and beautiful moments. The novel deals with loss, love, racism, injustices, slavery, abuse, drugs, and spirituality (in a unique and remarkable way). If there's one book you read this year it should be this one! Ward is changing the literature world and experience, and that makes me soooo happy!

A sincere thank you to Edelweiss and Scribner for granting me access to an arc of this book - it was truly an honor. Oh, and of course I bought myself a copy of this amazing and compelling book.

For more reviews, visit my blog: http://debbiesbooknook.com/ ( )
  debbiesbooknook | Apr 27, 2018 |
I don’t see what all the fuss is about with this book. Yes the writing was good, but the story lacks so many different things. Also the goat slaughtering in the beginning is superfluous and really turned me off. Jojo the son ends up on a road trip with his sister who isn’t feeling well, his mother who lacks any maternal instinct and her meth head friend to get his father from jail. Overall the book could have stood to be longer to really flesh out what it was trying g to accomplish. The ghost parts were also unnecessary, it’s almost like magical realism for the sake of it. It was an okay read, but I don’t understand the hype at all. ( )
  SadieRuin | Apr 25, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 78 (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 (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ward, JesmynAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Miceli, JayaCover artistsecondary 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.
First words
I like to think I know what death is.
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JoJo is tender,
Straight-backed as murdering Pop;
Kayla, too, sees ghosts.

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"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)

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