Men We Reaped
Author: Jesmyn Ward
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2013
Source: Personal Copy
Sometimes, the people and the place that are home call to us over and over again. The ties that bind are very strong. We long for the gifts that are our own when we live in that place and among those people.
So it is for Jesmyn Ward. In this arresting memoir, she shares her love for her home, a love that transcends hardship and grief, racism and addiction. She reaches deep inside herself to remember and to discover her Mississippi life. She is able to write in a way that draws readers into her life to help us understand where she has lived and how she is able to show respect for family and community she loves so much, in spite of the difficulties they must endure.
Even as a little girl living in the Oakland, California area with her mother and father, she yearns for the beaches, the heavy wet air, and blowing sand. When she attends college at Stanford and graduate school at the University of Michigan, she misses Mississippi with an intensity that is hard for a Northerner to understand. Whenever she can, she hurries home to be with her family and friends, to sweat in the weighted air or to stand in the hot sun. Home, family and friends are lifeblood for her.
Through this yearning for the land and people she loves, she tells her story. Her home-town on the Gulf Coast is a beloved place, no matter how poverty and violence have slashed and begrimed it. She tells the stories of her family and some of the men she grew up with. These stories include tragic deaths and wonderful strength that rises up to protect and expose. Her mother’s strength and her own are amazing. But it is her brother’s unexpected death caused by a drunk driver that is the most heartbreaking of the sorrows she faces. And yet, she finds the strength to become a writer.
There is so much to understand and to admire in this book. Her tribute to her mother tugs at the heart. “Without my mother’s legacy, I would never have been able to look at this history of loss, this future where I will surely lose more, and write the narrative that remembers, write the narrative that says: Hello. We are here. Listen.” (her italics)
Descriptions of the people, the places, the happenings are so beautifully and respectfully rendered, yet real and truthful, the reader can only catch her breath in wonder. Often Jesmyn Ward describes an ugliness that is everyday life for some of our American neighbors. It is a sad wakeup call asking us to pay attention to what life is for some of our brothers and sisters in our wide and great country.
All of us need pay attention to Mississippi. This writer moves us with her stories. She makes us miss the place she so loves, and what it could be and might become with our support.