After a drunk driver killed Jesmyn Ward’s younger brother, Joshua, in a horrific car accident, the court sentenced the driver, who was white, to five years in jail for leaving the scene of an accident, but declined to charge him with vehicular manslaughter. Ward, in disbelief, thought to herself, “This is what my brother’s life is worth in Mississippi. Five years.” In fact, the driver served only two years before being released.
Bewilderment, pain, rage and resentment flow through the bones of Men We Reaped, Ward’s memoir of growing up poor and black in a rural Mississippi still bathed in the waters of hatred, prejudice and racism. She weaves a tale of loss that begins with her father, who left the family behind to follow his own desires. Other losses quickly followed, and she recounts the stories of five young men—friends, a cousin, her beloved brother—who died between 2000 and 2004, from some combination of drugs, suicide, murder, accident and bad luck. A poignant memorial to Roger Eric Daniels III, Demond Dedeaux, Charles Joseph (C.J.) Martin, Ronald Wayne Lizana and Joshua Adam Dedeaux, Ward’s book also underscores a harsh truth: Poverty often cripples black men, causing them either to fall into destructive behaviors or to flee from it, leaving their families in the process. Such absences mar her own family, and Ward stands up to tell the stories. “Men’s bodies litter my family’s history,” she writes. “The pain of the wome[Thu Jul 31 15:43:43 2014] enhancedContent.pl: Wide character in print at E:\websites\aquabrowser\IMCPL\app\site\enhancedContent.pl line 249. n they left behind pulls them from the beyond, makes them appear as ghosts.”
Searingly honest and brutal, Ward holds nothing back as she strives to find her way in a community that she both loves and hates. There are no platitudes for her as she comes to terms with her losses: “Grief doesn’t fade. Grief scabs over like my scars and pulls into new, painful configurations as it knits. . . . We are never free from the feeling that something is wrong with us, not with the world that made this mess.” In Men We Reaped, she makes her readers feel that pain, too; but more than that, she makes us understand that these men mattered—that their lives were worth something after all.Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.
In her National Book Award-winning Salvage the Bones (one of my favorite novels ever), Ward writes so sharply and affectingly of African American life in the rural South that everyone should be anticipating this memoir-cum-social observation. Over five years, Ward saw the death (by drugs, suicide, accident, and more) of her brother and four other young men to whom she was close, and she came to realize what seemed so obvious in hindsight: they all died as a consequence of the limited economic opportunity and fractured family life that is the legacy of long-standing racism. As she reflects on her losses, telling the stories of her community, she gives us an intimate understanding of deep-rooted social issues.[Page 59]. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
National Book Award-winning novelist Ward (Salvage the Bones) recently mourned the death of five young men in four years. Accidents, drugs, or suicide claimed her brother, a cousin, and three friends. Her moving memoir details her relationships with the dead men and associates their deaths with the dismal existence experienced by many Southern black men. She explores how a history of racism, economic inequality, and lapsed personal responsibility continues to fester within portions of this population. As Ward details her loss and her family's life in Louisiana and Mississippi, she tries to understand why her brother died and digs deep within her heart and mind to discover why this is her story to tell. Through Ward's narrative, readers come to know her own struggles as the only black female in a private high school and as a budding writer finding her place in the world. VERDICT Ward's candid account is full of sadness and hope that takes readers out of their comfort zone and proves that education and hard work are the way up for the young and downtrodden. [See Prepub Alert, 3/11/13.]--Joyce Sparrow, Kenneth City, FL[Page 111]. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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.)[Page ]. Copyright 2013 PWxyz LLC