- Language: English
- Genre: Literary Fiction
- Pages: 304 pages
- Format: Paperback
- Author: Jesmyn Ward
- Publishing Date: 5th September,2017
- Publisher: Bloomsbury India
- ISBN-10: 1408891034
- ISBN-13: 978-1408891032
Usually I write a review right after finishing the story. But with this book it was different. I finished it a week ago and since then I have been trying to collect my thoughts. Believe me, I have a lot to say but I don’t think that I am accomplished enough to review this book. I would have been surprised if it hadn’t won National Book Award. Yes, it is really that good.
If you have a stomach for darkness then this book will be right up your alley. It took me some time to get into this book; mainly because I am unfamiliar with rural Mississippi and its lifestyle. But I woke up with a jolt, once I read the initial scene in which Jojo’s grandfather taught him how to kill a goat. It graphically explains in detail; how to slit its throat, slice the stomach and then reach for its intestines. This scene is so well written that you can almost feel the warm blood flowing out of that goat. Most of the authors try to paint a picture with their words. But along with that Ms. Ward also focuses on overwhelming sense of smell. Throughout the book she has used different metaphors to explain the stench of blood, sweat and vomit. Even if you have never read a single book on rural south, she will successfully transport you there with her lyrical writing.
Story is mainly told from the perspective of thirteen year old Jojo and his mother Leonie. Jojo and his baby sister Kayla live with their grandparents on Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Mam is slowly dying of cancer and quiet Pop is running from his past but he tries to take good care of children. With his father in jail and mother a drug addict, Jojo takes care of his sister like a parent and tries to behave as an adult, so that his aging grandfather can trust him with responsibilities. Once you start reading the story from his perspective, your heart will definitely ache for him.
Leonie is a black woman who fell in love with a white man Michael. Such mixed race relationships are still frowned upon in rural south. Michael’s whole family is racist and do not accept their relationship. They don’t even have any relationship with their grandchildren. Both families are intertwined together because of a terrible incident in past. Michael’s racist cousin killed Leonie’s brother Given. A hate crime which was passed off as hunting incident.
Jojo’s family has a gift (or curse); they can see the dead. His Mam can see dead people and Leonie is tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high. Once Jojo visits Parchman he starts seeing a ghost, who is involved with his Pop’s past. He is worried that soon he will see his Mam’s ghost too.
When Michael is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a drug addict friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary. Throughout the trip she starves the kids and didn’t care of them when they need her the most.
In the beginning, it is extremely easy to judge these characters. It was so effortless for me to feel hatred for Leonie. Anyone can hate her. She is an absent mother who is self involved and a drug addict. She is so incompetent that she can’t even handle simple responsibilities of motherhood. But once we read the story from her point of view, we observe the struggles of this same absent drug addict mother. How she can’t conquer her addiction despite the fact that it has taken away everything from her. Her intentions are good but she just doesn’t know how reach out and hold onto her relationships. Once you understand her internal struggles, it is hard not to feel sympathy for her.
My only complaint is that Jojo & Leonie’s voices had no distinct quality. It felt as if they are coming from the same person. But even with that shortcoming, Sing, Unburied, Sing is the finest Southern Gothic story that I have ever read. It is definitely a gloomy book which brutally highlights the repulsive truths of dysfunctional family, racial tension and existential crisis. It draws attention toward dark side of American history and how it is still affecting the present-day inhabitants. But Ward’s poetic writing style brings a ray of light amidst all the darkness. She is hopeful for them even when they are at their worst. This hauntingly bewitching story definitely left an indelible mark on my psyche.
My Rating- 4/5