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Men We Reaped: A Memoirby Jesmyn Ward
Synopses & Reviews
“We saw the lightning and that was the guns; and then we heard the thunder and that was the big guns; and then we heard the rain falling and that was the blood falling; and when we came to get in the crops, it was dead men that we reaped.” —Harriet Tubman
In five years, Jesmyn Ward lost five young men in her life — to drugs, accidents, suicide, and the bad luck that can follow people who live in poverty, particularly black men. Dealing with these losses, one after another, made Jesmyn ask the question: Why? And as she began to write about the experience of living through all the dying, she realized the truth — and it took her breath away. Her brother and her friends all died because of who they were and where they were from, because they lived with a history of racism and economic struggle that fostered drug addiction and the dissolution of family and relationships. Jesmyn says the answer was so obvious she felt stupid for not seeing it. But it nagged at her until she knew she had to write about her community, to write their stories and her own.
Jesmyn grew up in poverty in rural Mississippi. She writes powerfully about the pressures this brings, on the men who can do no right and the women who stand in for family in a society where the men are often absent. She bravely tells her story, revisiting the agonizing losses of her only brother and her friends. As the sole member of her family to leave home and pursue higher education, she writes about this parallel American universe with the objectivity distance provides and the intimacy of utter familiarity. A brutal world rendered beautifully, Jesmyn Wards memoir will sit comfortably alongside Edwidge Danticat's Brother, I'm Dying, Tobias Wolff's This Boys Life, and Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
"In this riveting memoir of the ghosts that haunt her hometown in Mississippi, two-time novelist and National Book Award-winner Ward (Salvage the Bones) writes intimately about the pall of blighted opportunity, lack of education, and circular poverty that hangs over the young, vulnerable African-American inhabitants of DeLisle, Miss., who are reminiscent of the characters in Ward's fictionalized Bois Sauvage. The five young black men featured here are the author's dear friends and her younger brother, whose deaths between 2000 and 2004 were 'seemingly unrelated,' but all linked to drug and alcohol abuse, depression, and a general 'lack of trust' in the ability of society — and, ultimately, family and friends — to nurture them. The first to die (though his story is told last in the book) was her brother, Joshua, a handsome man who didn't do as well in school as Ward and was stuck back home, doing odd jobs while his sister attended Stanford and later moved to N.Y.C. Joshua died senselessly after being struck by a drunk driver on a dark coastal road one night. The 'wolf' that tracked all of these young men — and the author, too, when she experienced the isolation of being black at predominantly white schools — was the sense of how little their lives mattered. Ward beautifully incorporates the pain and guilt woven her and her brother's lives by the absence and failure of their father, forcing their mother to work as a housekeeper to keep the family afloat. Ward has a soft touch, making these stories heartbreakingly real through vivid portrayal and dialogue. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"An assured yet scarifying memoir by young, supremely gifted novelist [Jesmyn] Ward....With more gumption than many, Ward battled not only the indifferent odds of rural poverty, but also the endless racism of her classmates....A modern rejoinder to Black Like Me, Beloved and other stories of struggle and redemption — beautifully written, if sometimes too sad to bear." Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Men We Reaped reaffirms Ms. Ward's substantial talent. It's an elegiac book that's rangy at the same time. She thinks back about her brother, and about her old dead friends, and about their nighttime adventures in cars. Then she declares, 'I don't ride with anyone like that anymore.'" Dwight Garner, New York Times
"This is a beautifully written homage, with a pathos and understanding that come from being a part of the culture described." Booklist
"Jesmyn Ward's heart-wrenching new memoir, Men We Reaped, is a brilliant book about beauty and death. The beauty is in the bodies and the voices of the young men she grew up with in the towns of coastal Mississippi, where a kind of de facto segregation persists." LA Times
"Jesmyn Ward left her Gulf Coast home for education and experience, but it called her back. It called on her in most painful ways, to mourn. In Men We Reaped, Jesmyn unburies her dead, that they may live again. And through this emotional excavation, she forces us to see the problems of place and race that led these men to their early graves. Full of beauty, love, and dignity, Men We Reaped is a haunting and essential read." Natasha Trethewey, US Poet Laureate, author of Thrall and Native Guard, winner of the Pulitizer Prize
A memoir that examines rural poverty and the lingering strains of racism in the south by the prize-winning author of Salvage the Bones.
About the Author
Jesmyn Ward grew up in DeLisle, Mississippi. She received her MFA from the Univ. of Michigan and has been a Stegner Fellow at Stanford and a Grisham Visiting Writer in Residence at the Univ. of Mississippi. She is currently an assistant professor of creative writing at the Univ. of South Alabama. She is the author of the novels Where the Line Bleeds and Salvage the Bones, for which she won the 2011 National Book Award, and was a finalist for the NYPL Young Lions Literary Award and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, as well as a nominee for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
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