Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Review by JJ Marsh

What We Thought

To state what happens in the book would give an impression of dark, bleak hopelessness, which is not the feeling it engenders in the process of reading. Ward's lyrical prose and descriptive talent transport the reader to the dusty yard, hot car, bland gas station, prison plantation and guarantees our sympathy. Somehow, no matter how miserable the situation, she manages to sustain hope.

The story is told through the eyes of a young boy, Jojo, and his mother, Leonie. From the start, there is a haunted atmosphere of loss, an absence of someone who should be there, but that someone is different for each of them. Leonie is a drug addict and neglectful mother, so that the most influential figure in Jojo's life is Pop, his grandfather. Pop teaches Jojo how to work the farm and tells him about the harsh days when he was in Parchman Penitentiary. Pop's sadness is both for the past and the present, as his wife is dying of cancer. Meanwhile, Leonie is preparing to drive across the state to meet Michael, her lover and father of her children, when he gets out of jail. And she wants to take Jojo and his little sister Kayla with her.

Part road trip, part social critique, part American nightmare, this beautifully written novel makes us feel the weight of the past in a visceral sense. There is an inexorable feeling of tragedy, as if we know what must happen in the end, but cannot help hoping things will turn out differently. The book won America's National Book Award 2017 and was selected as Book of the Year by The New York Times amongst others. I can see why.

You'll like this if you enjoyed: Beloved by Toni Morrison, Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward or Meridian by Alice Walker.

Avoid if you dislike: Dysfunctional families, violence, ghosts.

Ideal accompaniments: Gravy and biscuits with a glass of cold water

Genre: Literary fiction

Available on Amazon

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