Read Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward Online

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“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 TubmanIn five years, Jesmyn Ward lost five young men in her life—to drugs, accidents, suicide, and the bad luck that can follo“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 TubmanIn 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....

Title : Men We Reaped
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ISBN : 18713706
Format Type : ebook
Number of Pages : 185 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Men We Reaped Reviews

  • Moira Russell
    2019-02-24 12:09

    Gorgeous and heartrending. One of the best-written books I've read in a long, long time.(ETA I just told Kris: "That is one holy shit gorgeous book, and at the same time I don't think I've ever read a book which showed so unrelentingly what it's like to live in the modern apartheid of US racism. It reminded me of James Baldwin and "Araby." Wow. Give her a prize. Give her all the prizes. Shit, give her Jonathan Franzen's house while we're at it.")

  • Trish
    2019-03-09 05:13

    I wonder now if I will ever see the title of a new book by Jesmyn Ward that does not thrill me at the same time it fills me with trepidation. Ward’s talent is such that we read what she writes even when we do not want to. Her despair and distress cuts like a blade. She wants it to hurt. So that we know. And we do, now. Has there ever been anyone who could tell this story in this way? ”I never knew Demond when he was younger. I came to know him as an adult, when he was old enough to have sharp smile lines and the thin skin at his temples was threaded through with veins. The skull beneath looked hard…'You should write about my life,' Demond said…I heard this often at home. Most of the men in my life thought their stories, whether they were drug dealers or straight-laced, were worthy of being written about…Now, as I write these stories, I see the truth in their claims...'I don’t write real-life stuff,' I said.”That was then. Jesmyn writes real-life stuff, in such a way that we come away changed, knowing.”This is where the past and the future meet…This is the summer of the year 2000. This is the last summer I will spend with my brother. This is the heart. This is. Every day, this is.” But even she admits it is hard to know, really know people. That we can never really know. But she may come closer than anyone else has. Closer than anyone else has bothered to.“I know that sense of despair. I know that when [Roland] looked down at his copper hands and in the mirror, at his dark eyes and his freckles and his even mouth, that he thought it would be better if he were dead, because then all of it, every bit of it, would stop. The endless struggle with his girlfriend, the drugs that lit his darkness, the degradations that come from a life of poverty exacerbated by maleness and Blackness and fatherlessness in the South—being stopped and searched by the police, going to a high school where no one really cared if he graduated and went to college, the dashed dreams of being a pilot or a doctor or whatever it was he wanted, realizing the promises that had been made to him at All God’s Creatures day camp were empty and he didn’t have a world and a heaven of options—all of these things would cease.”Five deaths in five years. Young black men with a life expectancy of 23 years. Families with a shifting sense of belonging, sometimes including the community, sometimes losing members, fathers and brothers especially, to other families. The lowering heat of a muggy, buggy Mississippi night with dampness on the window crank and seats of an eighties-model gray-blue Cutlass. Drug selling as last-ditch income production. Casual racism, I don’t believe in the mixing of the races”, thrown out with lacerating results. “How could I know then that this would be my life: yearning to leave the South and doing so again and again, but perpetually called back to home by a love so thick it choked me?”Ah. So she is like us after all. Just like us. I expect she knows now that despair and loneliness knows not race nor income level. None of us is spared that at least. But the other, well...I'm glad she told us. I believe it makes a difference.I came away with a vivid sense of the terrible burden of anger, frustration, and loneliness that Ward carried. I hope she does not carry it still, but only picks it up again now and again to try it on and to see it does not fit her anymore.You may find that, having bared all, Ward intrigues more than ever. Here she talks about the writing of her memoir. Jesmimi is her blog which she doesn’t update very often, or perhaps only when she’s stuck.

  • Roxane
    2019-03-10 08:20

    This is a book about grief, about grief that is unending and wide reaching. It's also a memoir about rural poverty and race, and the all too inevitable conclusions to the lives of five young men in Ward's life. The prose is bursting with pain and beauty and truth. This is a book everyone should read. Where it falls short is that it doesn't do enough to rise above the grief. Ward only briefly addresses the issues of race and poverty and how they indelibly shape too many lives, particularly in the rural South. Instead, that the culprits of these men's demise is inextricably bound to race is treated as assumption when it needs to be far more fully realized and plainly articulated.

  • Eliza
    2019-03-02 07:28

    11/17/13: Another memoir? Too bad, as the Bhutan one is tough to follow. Still, even on its own, MWR is weak and inarticulate. I think Ward's memoir has two major problems. First, she has not fully processed her grief and anger about the deaths, in a relatively short span of time, of five of her relatives and friends--all young black men in the South. And second, she seems to be trying to conflate that very personal, intimate (and difficult) story with a much larger tirade against the tragedy and injustice perpetrated upon blacks in the South. This seems an almost impossible task, even for a more experienced writer, one who has managed to process and contextualize her own experience. Ward is not (yet) up to the task.Oh dear, I feel bad saying this; she has not had an easy time of it. I am sympathetic to her situation, having lost multiple family members in a short time myself. But perhaps this is also why I am harder on Ward; I know how disorienting, uncontrollable, unpredictable, and irrational grieving can be. And I know how hard it is to process that grief, to wrestle it into meaning (which is impossible, though we keep trying), to learn, slowly, how to leave it be, if only for a while. Grief is hard to manage, period. In MWR, I can practically taste Ward's grief, it is so close to the surface; but unfortunately, it is too raw still, and she is still wrestling. So she has no distance, perspective, or acquired wisdom; instead, she must keep telling us about it relentlessly, and her narrative quickly loses its value and power. She keeps revving her wheels, repeating her lament after every death, without ever getting anywhere. Then her grief turns to anger--who is to blame?! there must be someone to blame or this is all too senseless--and we move into the other lament, about the hopelessness of being black in the south. Exhausting, tragic, but in the end not compelling.One more difficulty with MWR is that Ward decided to tell the story in two directions, alternating chunks of time from most distant (her family history and early childhood memories) to most recent (the last of the five men to die). Thus the two narratives end up meeting, timewise, at the end. I know this is all the rage now, telling a story in some complex chronological order, but for me, unless it's brilliantly done (see Cloud Atlas), it weakens the narrative, making it more confusing, thus distracting from the story. In addition, it lets Ward give in to the temptation to repeat her lament; without a clear narrative arc, it’s easier to end each chapter with that same cry.Ironically perhaps, the best writing in MWR is about Ward's love of her home state of Mississippi, the bayous, the Gulf, and her home and family. When she can lay down her burden, her prose springs into life. In retrospect, the juxtaposition of these gentle, loving memories with the rest of her story is jarring. But it also gives me hope for Ward. I'd like to read more--and I will start with Salvage The Bones, which won the National Book Award in 2011.

  • Book Riot Community
    2019-03-10 11:07

    This book came out a few years ago but it feels like a perfect commentary on recent events and #BlackLivesMatter. Everyone (including Amanda, who listed this as her April 2016 pick) told me this book was beautiful and gutting but I still wasn’t prepared for Ward’s incredible memoir. I’d planned to read for just a half hour or so and found myself unable to break away from her story of grief and racism, the south and home, growing up and navigating the world as a black, poor or working class, southern woman. While this is, absolutely, a book about the black men in Ward’s life that died between 2000-2004, it’s also a memoir of black women’s survival. It’s as much about losing men as it is about becoming one of the women left in their wake (for good and ill). This is a fantastic book to read in conjunction with Coates’ Between the World and Me because it tackles similar themes about black men and black bodies in the world. Just be prepared: it’s so beautiful and engrossing that even if it makes you cry, you won’t want to put it down.–Ashley Bowen-Murphy from The Best Books We Read In July 2016: http://bookriot.com/2016/08/01/riot-r...

  • Alice Lippart
    2019-03-08 08:13

    Raw, honest and intensely personal. Very, very good.

  • Snotchocheez
    2019-03-16 05:03

    I knew after reading the intensely personal, haunting (and a little over-exuberant) National Book Award winner Salvage the Bones about the months leading up to Katrina's landfall in rural Mississippi, Ms. Ward did not exorcise all the demons she needed to. There was a larger story-behind-the-story that was clamoring to be told.If ever there was a book that could possibly put me in the shoes of someone growing up poor and Black, with no hope to escape the poverty and violence seemingly endemic to the region, Men We Reaped is the book. Ms. Ward (yet ANOTHER Stanford/Stegner Fellowship graduate...remarkable is the regularity with which they churn out cutting-edge writers these days) recounts her life growing up in poorest-of-the-poor Delisle, MS, trying desperately not follow in the footsteps of many of her friends and family members there, moving away and going to college, only to be drawn back by the love of family and friends. Several of the males in her life, between 2000 and 2004, died for various reasons (generally, though, tied to the hopelessness of their situations), and Ms. Ward valiantly attempts to understand why. Stylistically, this is very similar to Salvage the Bones, with two different "plot" threads: telling her life story in a linear, chronological manner, while recounting the deaths of her friends in reverse chronology. This style choice was kinda irritating in Salvage but she uses it to haunting effect (finishing the book off with the first death, the death of her younger brother Joshua) here. Ms. Ward intertwines the language of the hood with the lofty vernacular of academia so well, it's seamless, and reads at times like poetry. Her grief is palpable, her anger vicious. This book is not for everyone, but if you're at all interested in the poor South (or, really, any societal or racial injustice, be it from the South or anywhere), and wish to acquaint yourself with one of the freshest voices on the topic, then this is for you.

  • Wilhelmina Jenkins
    2019-02-22 04:24

    Heart-wrenching, especially since the week that I read it is one in which the perilousness of the lives of young black men is the topic of so much national conversation. Undoubtedly the conversation will die down and some other topic will take its place, but this book stands as testimony to the loss to family and community of these young lives. Ward writes about 5 young black men, family and friends, who died within a few short years in her small, impoverished community for reasons that vary but which all come back to poverty and racism. What is particularly poignant is that Ward shows so clearly that those who died are only the tip of the iceberg. Men who continued to live tended to drift away, pushed by a lack of opportunity to do anything else. Lives that could have enriched the community just dry up and blow away. And Ward shows how deeply the women of the community are affected, women who lose the simple dreams of a good life and simply hold on for their families. Ward does not exempt herself by any means, medicating her own sense of loss and inferiority and inadequacy in alcohol and drugs like most others in her community. Ward writes beautifully as always. The structure of this book is a bit difficult, as Ward alternates between telling her our story chronologically and telling the stories of the 5 young men in reverse. The reason for this is clear - she wants to end the book with the event that was the cataclysmic event of her life - the death of her brother. Because this structure was a bit problematic for me, I might have given this book 4 stars on a different week. This week, for me, it is solidly 5 stars.

  • Diane S ☔
    2019-03-07 09:26

    Ward and her family lived for generations in De Lisle. Mississippi. When she was growing up, after having assumed responsibility for her younger siblings, she only wanted to escape. She manages this when she attend college, but her brother was not so lucky. Her hometown. with its lack of educational opportunities, subsequent poverty would cost many their lives. From 2000-2004, she would find herself reeling from 5 deaths, the first her brother from a drunk driver, and then friends would follow. The pain and guilt she feels from having escaped this circle of devastation is something her writing poignantly displays. Interesting read from an author I admire. Love the urban grittiness in her book Salvage the Bonesand hope she is in the process writing another fiction book.

  • Caitlin
    2019-03-10 05:59

    Men We Reaped is one of the rare non-fiction books that seems destined to be a literary classic. National Book Award Winner Jesmyn Ward intertwines the story of her life growing up poor and Black in rural coastal Mississippi with the lives of five young men – including her brother – who died within a two year span soon after she finished college. Ward writes with fire and passion as she captures the day-to-day and systemic injustices that she and her family faced and the struggles they went through. What’s also clear is the deep love and roots that tie her to the people and place where she was raised. This book will break your heart, make you think, and get you angry – all at once. In the vein of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, this is memoir at its finest.

  • Michelle
    2019-03-05 07:06

    Beautiful writing but I often felt that she skipped some practical parts. It's a memoir that works in reverse order. The chapter alternate between her childhood and the reverse chronological order of deaths of young black men she knew, culminating with the death of her only brother. This builds the dawning horror of the deaths.She details the difficulty of growing up poor and black in rural Mississippi. I was a bit disappointed that she didn't bring in in facts about poverty and racism and death statistics for black men and people in Mississippi. I thought it would have been a great way to frame the personal tragedy as part of a large problem that everyone ignores. I would have liked more about the prevalence of drug use and how its used for self-medication. She brings it up how she drank to deal with the deaths and how she felt removed from her life in New York City, Stanford, and in Michigan. It's a beautiful and sad story of Ward's life and the men she knew who lived lives that were short and circumscribed by poverty, racism, and being born in one of America's most neglected states.

  • Riva Sciuto
    2019-03-09 12:08

    Oh my God, I sobbed my way through this from the first page to the last. In this devastating memoir, Jesmyn Ward succeeds in bringing life to the fallen, meaning to the pain, and beauty to the suffering. It is a reflection of the five men she and her small Mississippi community lost — one of whom was her brother — through accidents, suicide, murder, and drug addiction. The book's title comes from the haunting words of Harriet Tubman: "...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." And reaped they did. This memoir is Ward's attempt to make sense of the senseless. She reminds us all that her "ghosts were once people, and I cannot forget that." Her words help her process her ever-growing grief. "I wonder why silence is the sound of our subsumed rage, our accumulated grief," she writes. "I decide this is not right, that I must give voice to this story ... Men's bodies litter my family history. The pain of the women they left behind pulls them from the beyond, makes them appear as ghosts." This book is the story of those ghosts, a reminder that they once lived and breathed and loved and laughed and struggled and failed. "We were young people living in houses seemingly more populated by ghosts than by the living, with the old dead and the new," she writes. The ghost that visits Ward most often is, of course, her brother Joshua's. As someone who lost my younger brother -- also at 19 -- I remain painfully haunted by her words. Told in reverse order, she concludes the book with Josh's death -- "where the past and the future meet ... this is the summer of the year 2000. This is the last summer that I will spend with my brother. This is the heart. This is. Every day, this is." Suddenly confronted with the finality of his absence, she finds that her "misery and grief and loneliness were so close." She writes, "It slept with me. It walked with me down the crowded streets. I imagined my brother sometimes, when I was more lonely and desperate, imagined him walking to my right and slightly behind me, throwing an arm across my shoulders, and it would comfort me until I realized I was still alone and he was still dead, that he could not walk with me through those building-shadowed streets, through the garbage-stinking heat and the insidious icy snow, that he could not pull a coat over my head and protect me." And perhaps one of the most profound and accurate statements on grief I've ever read comes from the pages of this memoir: "I found the adage about time healing all wounds to be false: grief doesn't fade. Grief scabs over, like my scars and pulls into new, painful configurations as it knits. It hurts in new ways. We are never free from grief." Beautifully, she reminds us that the reason we grieve is because we love. "But this grief, for all its awful weight, insists that he matters," she says. "It is worth more than I can say. And there's my dilemma, because all I can do in the end is say." As she concluded the chapter about Joshua, I felt her words in my bones, giving a voice to the pain I too feel at the senseless loss of my own brother: "I write these words to find Joshua, to assert that what happened happened, in a vain attempt to find meaning. And in the end, I know little, some small facts: I love Joshua. He was here. He lived. Something vast and large took him..." Heartbreaking.With each young man she buries -- Roger, Demond, CJ, Ronald, and Joshua -- Ward explores both the stories of their lives and the tragic senselessness of their deaths. In doing so, she helps us understand the depth and complexity of human suffering: the often irreparable dangers of drug addiction, the struggle to help those you love survive, and the inability to escape a cycle of poverty into which one is born. Moreover, her description of Ronald's "demons" gives us a deeper understanding of those suffering from depression: "I don't know what that debilitating darkness, that Nothing that pursued him, looked like, what shape his depression took. For me, it was a cellar in the woods, a wide, deep living grave." Not only does Ward expand our understanding of these demons; she sheds light on the endless cycle of poverty and racism that, far too often, make such demons inevitable. She writes, "... Pinioned beneath poverty and history and racism, we were all dying inside." Ward brings so many horrifying statistics to life -- through the deaths of the men she loved -- about what it means to be poor and Black in the South. The numbers are staggering; the loss of loved ones proof of how difficult it is to outrun what follows you.I love this book for all of its heartbreaking and devastating and real emotion. For its rawness. For its beauty. For its exploration of grief and human suffering in its most painful forms. For its reminder that we always carry those we love. That their ghosts are part of us. "We who still live do what we must," she writes. "Life is a hurricane, and we board up to save what we can and bow low to the earth to crouch in that small space above the dirt where the wind will not reach." Five well-deserved stars.

  • Ann
    2019-03-21 11:27

    I found SALVAGE THE BONES painful to read, and hoped some of the worst parts of those characters' lives were pure fiction. Now, having read Ward's devastating memoir, MEN WE REAPED, I realize how much truth her earlier National Book Award-winning novel told.Ward's life is laid open like a wound in these pages, honest and unadulterated. She doesn't try to impress us with who she is, what she has done, what happened to the people (especially the men) in her life. Ward writes with deep love and respect for her small Mississippi community even as she details not just her family's life, but what happened to many of the men who died too young (or lost their dreams and lived half-dead until older ages). Because Ward was private school-educated, thanks to her mother's hard work for a white family who paid her tuition, and ended up at Stanford and the U of Michigan for degrees, she brings a wide variety of experiences to this telling. That education did not make her life easier and at some points was a burden as she ached for the family and community she knew.This is an important book because it personalizes statistics of how many young black men die every day in the United States; shows how hard it is to hold on to hope when no one believes in you; reminds readers that racism and poverty are far too present in certain arts of our nation. Everything Ward tells comes with this reality: ''How could I know then that this would be my life: yearning to leave the South...but perpetually called back to home by a love so thick it choked me?''

  • Liz Janet
    2019-03-18 10:20

    “Because we trusted nothing, we endeavored to protect ourselves, boys becoming misogynistic and violent, girls turning duplicitous, all of us hopeless.” This is literally a regular memoir with a chronologically backwards biography of five men.This memoir tries to link the death of men in Jesmyn Ward's life to the injustices done to those that are underprivileged. And even though I do not feel that it achieved it, it is still an incredible read that introduces us to identity and home, and how that leads to our demise or success in life. “We tried to outpace the thing that chased us, that said: You are nothing. We tried to ignore it, but sometimes we caught ourselves repeating what history said, mumbling along, brainwashed: I am nothing. We drank too much, smoked too much, were abusive to ourselves, to each other. We were bewildered. There is a great darkness bearing down on our lives, and no one acknowledges it.” I see this as one of those books that should be required reading for school, so as to introduce people to the hardships of those that are born with obvious disadvantages, such as the shade of their skin and economic inheritance; particularly with what has been going on between race and police in 2015. “By the numbers, by all the official records, here at the confluence of history, of racism, of poverty, and economic power, this is what our lives are worth: nothing.”

  • Celeste Ng
    2019-02-22 05:07

    Searing and heartbreaking. I literally picked this book up off the coffee table to carry it upstairs before bed and ended up reading the entire thing standing up there in the living room.

  • CaShawn
    2019-03-17 04:12

    So damn beautiful. All the sadness, all the desolation, all the poverty and all the loss and STILL, Ms.Ward managed to make it so beautiful it hurt.

  • Brandice
    2019-03-18 05:23

    Jesmyn Ward's memoir, Men We Reaped, is depressing yet well-written. It is a story of loss, mourning, hardship, and numerous calls (or perhaps the perpetual call) Home, again and again. Ward and her family faced many struggles, most of which were not self-induced, although her father constantly made poor decisions. Her mother was resilient, enduring immense sacrifices to keep the family afloat, and surviving. Each of the stories about the men Ward shared were depressing. Some were more engaging than others, and these stories are mixed in between chapters of her own life story and experiences growing up. Parts of the book became very repetitive to read. The outlook for African-American men growing up in poverty in the South is bleak. These stories illustrate the truth of this statement. One story, the last one, is without a doubt the most powerful of them all. It is also painfully depressing, and deeply frustrating to read the ultimate outcome. This story is yet another example of how the South is behind the times and appears to be just fine with that, while this should instead be unacceptable. While the topic is heavy, Men We Reaped was a worthy read, and Ward's skill as a writer is very evident. "After I left New York, I found the adage about time healing all wounds to be false: grief doesn’t fade. Grief scabs over like my scars and pulls into new, painful configurations as it knits. It hurts in new ways. We are never free from grief. We are never free from the feeling that we have failed. We are never free from self-loathing. We are never free from the feeling that something is wrong with us, not with the world that made this mess."

  • Rachel Elizabeth
    2019-03-22 11:24

    This is the memoir to read if you want to read about essentially American problems and struggle; if you want to read about one woman coping with cavernous grief, rendered in unsentimental prose (one of the hardest subjects to write with restraint); if you want to understand the detrimental effects of racism on both a systemic and an individual level, as well as the interweavings of racial and class inequality. I have no doubt that it's the most important memoir we'll be seeing for a long time. This book illuminates the consequences of racism that many people continue to deny (e.g. why -- or even that -- black men and white men receive different sentences for the same crimes, the effect of cutting welfare on struggling black families and the feeling of being trapped in the life you are given when you are in survival mode and can't make ends meet). I'm glad Jesmyn Ward won the National Book Award and is a literary darling. This book deserves the widest audience it can get. My review is a bit sterile, but it is not. It's very real and honest and beautiful.

  • Maureen Stanton
    2019-03-17 05:27

    Disappointing, especially since the book was on so many "best of 2013" nonfiction lists. The first two -thirds of the book are superficial, almost hastily written it seems. Ward weaves in biography/eulogies of four young black men she knew who died prematurely, and in between tells her childhood story (with her brother being the fifth loss, told later in the book). But both narratives--the portraits and her memoir--feel slight. Ward's family story is never fully told, and the biographies of the young men (excepting her brother) are so thin that it's difficult to care about the individual lives. Ward so much as admits this on p. 243: "I have written only the nuggets of my friends' lives. This story is only a hint of what my brother's life was worth." (After reading this, I thought--well, then do your brother justice, do your friends justice, take the time to really make this a great book, which it could have been.) This a book that needs context and research to understand these lives lost and how they connect to the larger culture and phenomenon of Black experience in the south, especially Black boys and men, but there are only a couple of pages of some wikipedia-deep research dropped in almost as an afterthought (p. 236-7) with factoids and demographics. Even those few facts and statistics would have had much more power had they been set alongside the personal story of one of the men who died too young, had the writer connected those individual people to those larger trends. The writing is stronger in the last 75 or so pages of the book, and I was genuinely moved by the story of Ward's brother, but early on, there so much short-hand writing, quick summaries instead of real portraits, poetic pronouncements or heavy-handed symbolism instead of thoughtful, more rich investigations of feelings and events. For a book that is necessarily about place, Delisle, MS is never fully evoked; I cannot picture the place in my mind, nor hear or smell or feel it, or know its particular history, culture, landscape, ethos. I think sometimes when fiction writers turn to memoir, they forget that it takes just as much art and craft to make a powerful story as it does when you invent a world. At least in this book, so many of the basics are missing (deep portraiture, vivid setting, powerful speech, details) that it suggests Ward (and to be fair, so many others) think memoir is just about laying down the events on the page. Having just read "The Warmth of Other Suns" by Isabella Wilkerson, which is a brilliant, exhaustive deeply affecting story of the exodus from south to north by Black Americans in the 20th century (with three biographies woven into that larger story), and also "Savage City" about the Black Panther party, and White police corruption in 1960s and 1970s NYC (also very well done), Ward's book seems to have missed an opportunity to show as thoughtfully and richly as those authors did what remained of life at the end of the 20th century for Blacks in the south,and why the loss of those five young men matters so much to all of us.

  • Elizabeth
    2019-02-28 12:27

    I can't do this justice, but I will try...Jesmyn Ward vacillates between a chronologically rendered memoir and chronologically backwards biographies of five Black male friends and relatives she lost much too early.This is a South I did and did not live in. Ward's sensual, agonizing story unfolds in my native Mississippi, recounted in such richly textural terms you can feel the gravel hot under your feet and breathe in the mingling scents of red clay and pine needles. I know this place and, like the author, I have escaped it many times, only to find myself speeding down I-10 and wondering how the hell I got called back yet again. But, I did not live in Jesmyn Ward's Black South, and I certainly did not live in the claustrophobic, unjust confines of a young, Black, male, small town identity, as perceived in a region that continues to define that status as "other" and, therefore, suspect. Because her subjects struggle against a society with deeply entrenched racist preconceptions and low expectations, their very reasonable ambitions clash with unreasonable limitations. What is particularly striking in this South is the interdependence of suffering: Men suffer because their mothers suffered. Women suffer because their men suffer. Sisters suffer because of their brothers, and so on. Jesmyn Ward's Men We Reaped: A Memoir presents the truth and leaves the reader with an overwhelming desire to change it. What do we do from here?

  • Sarah Weathersby
    2019-03-07 05:01

    The title comes from a quote by Harriet Tubman, "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."Jesmyn Ward is becoming one of my favorite authors. This memoir was painful to read, but held together by her beautiful prose. She tells the story of lost young men, her cousins and brother, growing up poor, black and male in Mississippi. Mississippi of Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit," Mississippi of Nina Simone's "Mississippi Goddam."She survived as the oldest girl of her parents, on the determination of her mother to get her out of the cycle of poverty, especially after her father left. A single mother can teach her daughter how to hold the family together, but she can't teach a son how to be a man. So many of the young men growing up in DeLisle, MS were lost, school drop-outs, caught up in a drug culture, or merely in the wrong place at the wrong time at two o'clock in the morning.It's a mournful story, and the author still mourns the loss over thirteen years after those deaths.

  • Holly
    2019-02-28 08:10

    In this book the author tells about five young men - her brother and four of her friends - who died within five years of each other. It is a heart-breaking look at the ways poverty, racism, and politics have destroyed opportunity and hope among generations of black people in the Deep South. While each of the young men died due to different circumstances, there is a prevailing sense of hopelessness that seems to color all of their lives. As I read this book, I just kept wondering what might have made a difference for these boys? What could they have accomplished in their lives if they'd been offered opportunities or had ever been encouraged and been made to feel that their lives had value? This isn't an easy read - it exposes a reality that is often hard to acknowledge - but it does shine a light on a situation that is largely ignored in this country.

  • Amantha
    2019-02-28 06:26

    The last two chapters nearly destroyed me. Beautifully written, emotional, tragic, frightening, uplifting, impassioned. These are just some of the words to describe the power of this memoir.

  • Conor
    2019-02-24 12:10

    Deeply sad and personal, very well written, and builds to a powerful climax. This ethnography/partial autobiography achieves a lot in 250 pages.

  • Elizabeth
    2019-03-13 05:12

    Review to follow.Am wrecked. 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

  • Maine
    2019-03-12 07:28

    beyond brilliant. heartbreaking personal stories and a meditation on the power of "home" combined with some of the most clear analysis of the cascading effects of poverty and marginalization that i've read. Plus the structure gives it a narrative drive that makes the unbearable also unputdownable.

  • Kelly (and the Book Boar)
    2019-02-26 07:14

    Jesmyn Ward’s memoir is a journey through the Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of grief. As Ward states about the young men she memorializes in this novel, she finds “the adage about time healing all wounds to be false: grief doesn’t fade. Grief scabs over like my scars and pulls into new, painful configurations as it knits. It hurts in new ways. We are never free from grief. We are never free from the feeling that we have failed. We are never free from self-loathing. We are never free form the feeling that something is wrong with us, not with the world that made this mess.” Ward’s story reads like a penance. Her life has been filled with heartbreaking loss that is beyond measure and she has struggled with the “Why???” of the matter. Why did she lose five people she loved in five years? Why were they stuck in a cycle of poverty and drugs? Why could they not break free and live? When I turn on the news each morning to hear stories of the failing inner-city school district or overnight shootings, I ask myself the same questions. We all should. And then we should try harder to find the answers.We got to keep it real, and what reality and reality will keep it real with usI remember them good ol daysBecause see, that's the child I wasWhat made me the man I am todaySee cause if you forget where you come from, hehehYou're never gonna make it where you're goin, ahehBecause you lost the reality of yourselfSo take one stroll through your mindAnd see what you will findAnd you'll see a whole universe all over againand again and again and again and again©Ghostface Killah – “All That I Got Is You”

  • J Beckett
    2019-03-21 06:09

    Incredible. Deeper review soon to come.

  • Abyssinia
    2019-03-23 12:01

    So heartbreaking. So beautiful. I read and cried. Read and cried some more.

  • Darryl
    2019-02-28 09:27

    From 2000 to 2004, five Black young men I grew up with died, all violently, in seemingly unrelated deaths...That's a brutal list, in its immediacy and its relentlessness, and it's a list that silences people. It silenced me for a long time.Jesmyn Ward, author of the National Book Awrd winning novel Salvage the Bones, was born in the Mississippi Gulf Coast town of DeLisle in 1977. Like many African Americans in that region her parents were poorly educated with only high school diplomas from poorly financed and largely segregated schools, and that combined with the lack of good jobs in the region for those without higher education, or for most blacks regardless of their level of education, condemned them to a series of low paying jobs that kept them in poverty and put a great strain on their marriage. Ward managed to escape this trap due to a lawyer that her mother worked for as a maid, who paid for her education at an all-white private school that was vastly better than the public school in DeLisle that she had been attending. She performed well there despite frequent racial harassment from her fellow students, and she was accepted to Stanford University, where she received her bachelor's degree, and the University of Michigan, where she earned a master's degree in fine arts. After years of struggling to find a good job that would take advantage of her education and writing skills she eventually found a publisher for her first novel, Where the Line Bleeds, which was set in a Mississippi Gulf Coast town ravaged by Hurricane Katrina whose African American residents struggle to overcome poverty, racism and drug addiction. She was subsequently chosen as a writer in residence at the University of Mississippi and during that time she wrote Salvage the Bones, which significantly elevated her career. She accepted a teaching position at the University of South Alabama, and she is now an associate professor of English at Tulane University in New Orleans.In addition to overcoming poverty and racism, Ward also had to deal with alcoholism and depression, due in large part to her family's struggles in DeLisle, her inability to find a decent job, and especially the loss of the men in her life. Her father divorced her mother after she gave birth to their fourth child, and his lack of income and presence in their lives left her, her three siblings and her mother financially distressed and emotionally wounded. In 2000 her brother Joshua was killed, and subsequently four other young men in her community died, of different causes, over the next four years, which was devastating to her and her community. In Men We Reaped, Ward describes the often difficult lives of these five men and their sudden deaths, in an effort to eulogize them, to tell the story of herself, her family and those closest to her, and to help those of us who didn't grow up under those oppressive circumstances, including myself, understand why men like these made the choices they did, the devastating consequences that resulted from them, and how their failed lives adversely impacts their communities, and ultimately all of us.