book review | ‘sing, unburied, sing’ by jesmyn ward.
Updated: Jun 3, 2020
Amara Amaryah | travel + books + poetry, always poetry. a platform for story-telling, visuals, positive self-talk and empowerment.
as promised in my last post , here is my book review about my favourite book of the year (so far). jesmyn ward’s ‘sing, unburied, sing’ is a beautiful testiment to memory attached to land and the healing that accompanies that process. it is a wow.
the lyricism laced in the novel is addictive. but the harshness of the world that ward pulls us through is painful. this book likely touched many people because of that constant duality between life and death , song and silence, security and danger. i haven’t read anything like it except maybe in toni morrison’s writings. just like morrison, ward leans heavily on myth, history and spirituality and wraps them into one to tell her story. i also felt the exact same way when i came across ntozake shange’s writings who also introduces poetry/song in places and ways we don’t expect.
this is a book that my mum chose for me not knowing that i loved ‘salvage the bones’ by ward. 10 months later, it is my favourite bit of literature alongside angelou and baldwin. this same thing happended when mum introduced me to haraki murakami by buying me ‘the colourless tsukuru tzaki’. so moral of the story, mumma will be buying all of my books because she obviously knows.
the plot |
as a roadtrip novel, ‘sing, unburied, sing’ takes us on a jourey from past to present and then back again with it’s multi-narration and coming of age themes. jojo is a thirteen year old boy born of a black mother (leonie) and a white father (michael). the relationship between these two families is painful and deep and largely unexplored yet present in the book. leonie takes her two children on a road trip wiith her friend misty to mississippi to collect michael from the state penitentiry named parchman. in this same space, a history unravels with a young boy, a young ghost named richie who has a past he has not made peace with. by the end of the book we explore how land, spirituality, history and selfhood are inescapble realiies for everysingle person in the book.
jesmyn ward | sing, unburied, sing. new favourite book.
a favourite moment |
I know JoJo is innocent because I can read it in the unmarked swell of him […] When I was thirteen, I knew much more than him. I knew that metl shackles could grow into the skin. I knew that leather could split flesh like butter. I knew that hunger could hurt, could scoop me hollow as a gourd, and that seeing my siblings starving could hollow out a different part of me, too.
chapter 9. one of the most painful moments in the book. discussions about boyhood and manhood aside living and surviving and ceasing. (definitely not a spoiler!)
the ending |
what to say. i knew from 2/3 into the book that the ending was going to leave me in tears or in deep shock. i finished this book on the morning train and pretty much walked into work with all of my goosebumps. without ruining it, can we appreciate how delicately ward deals with memory and grief attached to land in the closing passage?
final thoughts of the book |
this is my favourite book of 2018 purely because it does so much so simply. i find so much comfort in jesmyn ward’s writing style. the combination of novel writing, mysticism and poetic language really speaks to me. the lyricism changes with the characters too. richie’s lyricism is different to mama’s which is different to jojo’s and is especially different to the baby kayla’s. the multi-perspective narrative really works best in this sense.
the use of the supernatural is explored even more than ‘salvage the bones’ and i’m completely here for it. in my own writing, i hardly ever tell a story that doesn’t reach for the supernatural or spiritual realm. ward makes the physical and spiritual world sit aside eachother unbothered in a way that makes me proud to. definitely a book i’ll be recommending this cosy season and i’ll also be looking at more of ward’s work like ‘the fire this time’.
what did you think of this book? which was your favourite moment? let me know in the comments below!
thanks for reading what i write.