Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

And in the end, I know little, some small facts: I love Joshua. He was here.  He lived.  Something vast and large took him, took all of my friends: Roger, Demond, C.J., and Ronald.  Once, they lived. 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.

As you can tell from the above excerpt, Men We Reaped is not a light or happy book.  However, it's an incredibly written and haunting book that I recommend to everyone.

Jesmyn Ward's memoir tells the story of her childhood in DeLisle, Mississippi, and the lives and deaths of five men close to her: three friends, a cousin, and most excruciatingly, her younger brother.  All died before they turned 30, and together Ward knits their deaths together as a shroud of what it's like to be a black man in the South.

There are books about poverty and its causes, racism and its manifestations, drugs and violence, but I can't imagine any paint as vivid a picture of how it feels to experience all of these not only individually, but systemically, knowing that you and the people you love are almost fated to experience them.  I knew this book would give me a perspective that I hadn't had before and I expected it to be heartbreaking, but I was also impressed at how beautifully written it is.  Ward's prose flows effortlessly and makes the reader feel what it's like to both desperately love and desperately hate a place, as she does about her home.

I also recommend this book because it is so relevant in America today.  Much has been written about the morality of our criminal justice system, the causes of poverty, the efficacy of police tactics, and the seemingly unceasing effects of racism, but I think it's important, especially for white people like me, to set aside the theoretical and statistical and to just listen to what it feels like to be black in America, what experiences come along with that.  I know I've been deficient in my posting this year, but I felt like I had to get back at it with this one.


Brittany said...

Sounds incredible! Maybe my extra credit this year will involve reading a non-fiction book from a perspective different than one's own.

Brent Waggoner said...

This sounds amazing but I'm not sure I'm up to something that sounds so depressing.