Sing, Unburied, Sing

Sing, Unburied, Sing

A Novel

Book - 2017
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*Finalist for the Kirkus Prize
*Finalist for the Andrew Carnegie Medal
*Finalist for the Aspen Words Literary Prize
*Publishers Weekly Top 10 of 2017
*Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award

"The heart of Jesmyn Ward's Sing, Unburied, Sing is story--the yearning for a narrative to help us understand ourselves, the pain of the gaps we'll never fill, the truths that are failed by words and must be translated through ritual and song...Ward's writing throbs with life, grief, and love, and this book is the kind that makes you ache to return to it." -- Buzzfeed

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. An intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle, Sing, Unburied, Sing journeys through Mississippi's past and present, examining the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power--and limitations--of family bonds.

Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. He doesn't lack in fathers to study, chief among them his Black grandfather, Pop. But there are other men who complicate his understanding: his absent White father, Michael, who is being released from prison; his absent White grandfather, Big Joseph, who won't acknowledge his existence; and the memories of his dead uncle, Given, who died as a teenager.

His mother, Leonie, is an inconsistent presence in his and his toddler sister's lives. She is an imperfect mother in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is Black and her children's father is White. She wants to be a better mother but can't put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use. Simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she's high, Leonie is embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances.

When the children's father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another thirteen-year-old boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.

Rich with Ward's distinctive, lyrical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a majestic new work and an unforgettable family story.
Publisher: New York : Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2017.
Edition: First Scribner hardcover edition.
Copyright Date: ©2017
ISBN: 9781501126062
Branch Call Number: WARD J
Characteristics: 289 pages ; 23 cm


From Library Staff

Nominee, Fiction

LPL_KateG Sep 14, 2017

Jesmyn Ward is the queen of capturing smooth, Southern voices and weaving them into luscious and emotional tales.

From the critics

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Oct 06, 2018

I was not too crazy over the way the book was written, the story line was good, the delivery not perfect. Strange title for the story.

AnnabelleLee27 Sep 25, 2018

A novel about a present day African-American family in rural Mississippi where the past is always an important influencing presence - in this case portrayed as ghosts who visit, warn, plead with, and follow the living. The characters are complex and complicated and it is an emotional read which is in turn disturbing and beautiful, promising and bleak, harsh and loving.

Jun 12, 2018

Echoes of Beloved.

May 24, 2018

Out of the rich, black earth, rises a Modern Southern Gothic story that took me two days to read.

“This is the kind of world that makes fools of the living and wants of them once they dead, and devils them throughout.”

I picked this up at the end of Dewey’s 24-hour readathon, I was feeling tired and coming down with a viral thing that just won’t go away. And I made more tea, buckled down and forced myself to stay awake and read it because it was so good.

It’s told from multiple perspectives, Jojo, a 13-year-old boy, his mother, who struggles with substance abuse and often sees ghosts, and then others.

Ward gives Leonie, Jojo’s mother, her own voice. It gives such an authenticity to the experience of a drug addict. The true self-centredness, the matter-of-fact way she ignores so many other important aspects in her life. We can see how that cripples her — and she’s totally aware of it — but refuses to look it in the eyes.

Her dialogue is so good because it’s so simple. She hangs truths in the air and doesn’t touch them after that.

“You was the only daddy I ever knew. I need to know why you left me.”

I did feel a slight change in tone once the ghost characters became more prominent but I like magical realism a lot, so it didn’t bother me at all. I didn’t like the change in tone so much, but it did grow on me as time went on, so it was just a matter of adjusting to the flow of the story.

What I loved most about this book, and what I love most about a lot of African American literature / black lit / soul lit is that it ties the past, the present and the future together so seamlessly and lets all of the colours run. Black, red, blue, all back into the earth. It’s interesting, because I’m currently reading Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington, who talks of this same rich soil, and how the formerly enslaved South only knew how to grow cotton there. He starts a school, starts a garden, (among many other things!), and talks about how fertile the earth is, just like the minds of his students, of their opportunities.

So it was interesting to hear Ward talk about it too, but in a different way.

The motif of touch in this novel is fascinating, reoccurring and totally beautiful, especially when you consider how the ghosts that visit certain characters cannot touch them.

Sing Unburied Sing is what happens when Ward decides to tell you a story, knowing the end will hurt, knowing perhaps you won’t be ready for it, but knowing you’ll need to hear it anyway, because it will heal the person the story was written for.

Redemption can be an ugly thing. While we heal, we still feel pain.

We can’t pick our pasts. And sometimes, we can’t even pick our legacies.

But let’s hope there’s love in between.

May 11, 2018

Distinct style. Three narrators, two of them children, all of them childish (and the same character) , spoiled the book for me. No real story.

mko123 Apr 04, 2018

11-year-old Jojo is the main caretaker of his toddler sister Kayla. His white father has been in prison for three years, and now his struggling, drug addicted mother forces him to go with her to pick up Michael as he gets released. Jojo's strength and grounding come from his maternal, African American grandparents, who have been raising him a good part of his life. Jojo also a sixth sense that allows him to understand the unspoken language of animals and people. But he is unnerved when he is visited by ghosts from the past. The brutalizing legacy of slavery shows its ugly face in this difficult story. There is gross injustice in this story,but also deep love and hope.

Apr 02, 2018

Unbeatable liteary style. Author writes in the dialect and cadence of the characters and their disposition, which happens to be Southern black and struggling with poverty and survival in a mixed race relationship with father in prison, and drug addicted mother. This portrayal is done beautifully and with grit. Ward throws in a couple etherial characters which, for me, interrupted the storyline. Definitely a story to chew on.

Mar 23, 2018

An amazingly haunted tale. It was vivid and I found myself at the end like little Kayla asking, "Jojo?" Wonderful Southern Geechee-like tale!

ArapahoeAnnaL Mar 17, 2018

A moving story, beautifully written. One cannot ignore or discount the legacy of slavery and our history of terrible discrimination after reading this. Love, nurturing, and dysfunction within a multi-generational family give this book its heart.

Mar 15, 2018

I really enjoyed this book, and could not put it down, despite the content. It made me uncomfortable, (but isn't that what great literature does at times? Makes us uncomfortable!) It is a hard book to recommend, but I highly recommend it.

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Mar 17, 2018

ranvapa thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and over


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