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Sing, Unburied, Sing

By: Jesmyn Ward

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Trade

Imprint: Scribner

Format: Hardcover | ISBN: 9781501126062

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Electronic | Audio | Trade Paperback
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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.
Some novels will break your heart from the very first sentence. Sing, Unburied, Sing is one of those.... “Sing, Unburied, Sing,” like “Salvage the Bones,” has been nominated for the National Book Award, and it's frankly hard to imagine the award going to a different novel. Ward writes with the economy of a poet. Rather than a muse, she seems to have channeled the spirit of one of the Kindly Ones, the Erinyes of Greek mythology.... At just 304 pages long, “Sing, Unburied, Sing” is a road novel, a ghost story, a family epic, and damning testimony bearing witness to terrible crimes. It is also unforgettable.
—Christian Science Monitor
To describe the elements of the book is to somehow make them sound like reductive clichés when they are not.... She is as economical a writer, in her own way, as Hemingway, using only the necessary number of words. If anything, there are times the reader wants Ward to elaborate more, not less.... [I]t is the sheer terror of the characters, the untenability of their situation, that really matters, not the facts at hand. And Ward is a master at evoking it. With first “Salvage the Bones” and now “Sing, Unburied, Sing,” she has proved herself to be an excellent writer of brief but socially and intellectually ambitious novels. One only wants to ask her to push further, and write even more.
—Los Angeles Times
There are many moments of tenderness between the siblings, and Ward takes her time with them, letting the writing become almost an act of choreography.... “Sing, Unburied, Sing” is many things: a road novel, a slender epic of three generations and the ghosts that haunt them, and a portrait of what ordinary folk in dire circumstances cleave to as well as what they — and perhaps we all — are trying to outrun.
—New York Times
[I]t's Ward's clear sense of time, place, and the rich mysteries stuffed in-between that brings this soulful, truth-telling novel together.... On one level, “Sing, Unburied, Sing” is a righteous command directed at Given, Richie and the other nameless undead characters whose souls literally grace and haunt its pages. It's also a plea to us readers that harks back to themes echoed in Ward's nonfiction — “Men We Reaped,” a memoir that focused on the untimely deaths of five young black men in her community, and “The Fire This Time,” an anthology of essays written by younger writers about race.
—San Francisco Chronicle
This is the kind of novel that elicits unexpected emotion, far beyond those that automatically accompany scenes of brutality, conscious child neglect and inescapable poverty.... Each character in SING, UNBURIED, SING is complexly layered and developed. Ward's prose manipulates the story in the way beautiful writing should, though at times it's a bit overdone. The last hundred pages are absolutely brilliant. Lore and love, the necessity of truth uttered aloud and peace in death all converge in a chaotic and exquisite ending so deftly rendered that any previous missteps are forgiven.
Ward's spellbinding prose has a fervid physicality, teeming with the sights, smells, tastes and textures of her native Gulf town of DeLisle, Mississippi, rechristened here as Bois Sauvage. Her images pulse with stunning intensity, seeming to peer into the hidden nature of things, while laying bare the hearts of her characters. More powerful still is the seemingly boundless compassion that Ward demonstrates toward even the least lovable of her creations, expressed through lines that course with pain and love. The result is a profoundly moving and redemptive novel that sounds the depths of our nation's abiding sorrow and shame, and a fitting shelf-mate to such Southern Gothic masterworks as Toni Morrison's “Beloved” and William Faulker's “As I Lay Dying.”
—Seattle Times
It combines aspects of the American road novel and the ghost story with a timely treatment of the long aftershocks of a hurricane and the opioid epidemic devouring rural America.... It is Ward's most unsparing book. Leaving aside the instances of explicit violence, the scenes featuring the hunger and confusion of small children are almost physically unbearable.... Any writer trafficking in such lofty Faulknerian themes...risks melodrama, and Ward can get positively melismatic when she strains for poetic effect.... But we can forgive a few of these excesses. With the supernatural cast to the story, everything feels heightened.
—New York Times
This is a lyrical howl of a book that knows exactly when to go quiet and when to make its cries almost unbearable. It's a story of unfinished business, for both a country still struggling to live up to its ideals and for the ghosts that walk through these pages.... If William Faulkner mined the South for gothic, stream-of-consciousness tragedy, and Toni Morrison conjured magical realism from the corroding power of the region's race hatred, then Ward is a worthy heir to both. This is not praise to be taken lightly. Ward has the command of language and the sense of place, the empathy and the imagination, to carve out her own place among the literary giants.... The story doesn't strain when it enters the spirit world, because Ward has already crafted exquisite sensory details that compel us to follow her wherever she goes.
—Dallas Morning News
Jesmyn Ward fans will recognize the thematic and geographical terrain of her gorgeous new novel, “Sing, Unburied, Sing.”... Ms. Ward has mastered a lyrical and urgent blend of past and present here, conjuring the unrestful spirits of black men murdered by white men, and never shying away from the blatant brutality of white supremacy.... Ms. Ward's musical language is the stuff of formidable novelists, and never has it been more finely tuned. Animals, spirits, drug addicts, and confused adolescents all sing their truths here, and the result is an ultimately redemptive chorus that resonates long after the last page is turned.
—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The road trip to and from the prison, tenuously likened to the journey in “The Odyssey,” serves to bolster Leonie's credentials as the world's worst mother, as she neglects to feed her children or give Kayla proper medicine for a stomach virus, and at one point she swallows an entire baggie of crystal meth so that a state trooper doesn't see it. It's difficult to reconcile the meanness of her behavior with the writerly sophistication of her interior monologue...and readers aren't alone in being nonplused.
—Wall Street Journal
“Sing, Unburied, Sing,” the story of a few days in the lives of a tumultuous Mississippi Gulf Coast family and the histories and ghosts that haunt it, is nothing short of magnificent. Combining stark circumstances with magical realism, it illuminates America's love-hate tug between the races in a way that we seem incapable of doing anywhere else but in occasional blessed works of art. But first, it tells a great story.... This novel is [Ward's] best yet. Her voice is calm, wise, powerful. Politics and outrage are wholly absent from “Sing,” and yet it beautifully illuminates the issues that wrack our nation through the story of one American family that we finally recognize as — us.
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
If "Sing, Unburied, Sing" lacks the singular hypnotic power of "Salvage the Bones," that's only because its ambition is broader, its style more complex and, one might say, more mature. The simile-drenched lines that sometimes overwhelmed Ward's previous novel have been brought under the control here of more plausible voices. And the plight of this one family is now tied to intersecting crimes and failings that stretch over decades.
—Washington Post
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