Books in Brief: "Sing, Unburied, Sing" by Jesmyn Ward


THE TITLE: Sing, Unburied, Sing (2017)

THE AUTHOR: American novelist Jesmyn Ward is the author of the award-winning novel Salvage the Bones. Her third book of fiction, Sing, Unburied, Sing, won the 2017 National Book Award for fiction, and earned Time magazine's “Best Novel of the Year” designation, and was also included in the New York Times “Top 10 of 2017.” 

THE BRIEF: A different take on the American road trip, which follows the harrowing journey of a 17 year old drug addict and mother, Leonie, en route to pick up the father of her children from prison. Set in Mississippi post-Hurricane Katrina, the story is told from multiple perspectives, perhaps the most gripping of which is Jojo, the fierce but caring son who is burdened with the reality of growing up too soon.  The story weaves in and out of the past, shining a candid light on poverty and race relations in America.

THE FIRST PAGE: “I like to think I know what death is. I like to think that it’s something I could look at straight. When Pop tell me he need my help and I see that black knife slid into the belt of his pants, I follow Pop out the house, try to keep my back straight, my shoulders even as a hanger; that’s how Pop walks.”


The New Yorker: “The length and music of Ward’s sentences owe much to her love of catalogues, extended similes, imagistic fragments, and emphasis by way of repetition, as well as to her tendency to cluster conjunctions, especially “and.” The effect, intensified by use of the present tense, can be hypnotic. Some chapters sound like fairy tales.. As in Faulkner and Morrison, portentous sentence rhythms are the sign of the seriousness of Ward’s subject, and of the trauma through which her characters have passed and will, inevitably, pass again. There’s love here, but little laughter.”

The Atlantic: “Throughout, there’s no escaping Ward’s political rendering of American history.She uses a haunting, magical-realist style to masterfully warp two of life’s most inflexible realities: time and death. Her book seems to ask whether a family or a nation can atone for inequities that remain well and alive...While Sing dabbles in the supernatural, the dangers that Jojo and his family face are omnipresent in the world outside the novel—the worsening opioid crisis, incarceration, bigotry, and the bruise of racial tension in Mississippi."

TIME: “‘To understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi’ goes a line often attributed to William Faulkner. More than half a century later, Jesmyn Ward may be the newest bard of global wisdom.”