I’ve just finished a book a matter of seconds ago and I’m sitting here reeling, an uneasy feeling inside of me as I recover from an emotional hit so strong I don’t really know how to go about the rest of my day normally.
‘Sing, Unburied Sing’ is by American author Jesmyn Ward, a writer who has won many a prestigious award over in her home country, all of which have somehow passed me by until this outing. In some ways I am sad that I didn’t come to this author earlier but then the silver lining is that I now have her entire back catalogue, both fiction and non fiction, to work my way through, and I intend to do so, every single word she has written will be consumed.
The story takes us to a fictional town in Mississippi and we are living in a post Hurricane Katrina world. Unfolding before us is a tale of a family scarred deeply by grief, injustice and complicated love. We are given different perspectives of the time we spend with this family, one being from young Jojo, a boy who is a parent figure to his younger sister and who hero worships his grandfather Pop. Next we hear from Jojo’s mother, Leonie, a woman who struggles with maternal instinct and an overwhelming passion for a partner who isn’t exactly one to take home to the parents. Last but by no means least we hear from young Richie, a boy whose life is entangled within Pop’s but is nothing but a vague story to Jojo and the family.
Jojo stole my heart from page one, I physically ached for him as we see him bearing far too much for young shoulders and always trying to do the very best he can. Ward shows amazing talent making every character completely whole, I felt I could reach out and touch them, so even though initially I found myself railing against Leonie, she became so much more than a one dimensional ‘bag guy’ to me and as I understood more about her I found deep sympathy for her situation. The dynamic between each member of this tale is so complete, so honest and raw, it is totally immersive.
As we gradually learn the story of Richie and Pop, the family also have to struggle with the suffering of Mam, Jojo’s grandmother, as cancer eats away at her body she remains in bed, the one constant in the book, the nucleus that the family move around.
This is an intense, demanding read, it took everything out of me in the best possible way. I feel so deeply moved because those people became real to me, their story of struggle the story so many are living now, the writing a whole other level to what I often read. To enter their world is painful but also beautiful, and Ward guides you through landscapes both physical and spiritual.
I’m about to make a very bold claim here but stick with me. The story is different but I believe has some of the same central themes, and something about the voice of this book, well…well it reminds me of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’. I do not say that lightly, I now hold both books in extremely high esteem.
I know I always bang on about how you should get the book I’ve been typing away about, but really, I implore you for this one, it needs to be shared and loved.
For me, I now have a book hangover. I don’t know how to move on, I’m not ready to shake those characters off. I think I’ll just go sit in a dark room for a while and gather myself, see if I can hear the voices singing.
‘ Sing, Unburied Sing’ by Jesmyn Ward £16.99 (Bloomsbury Circus)