Sing, Unburied, Sing
Author: Jesmyn Ward
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Winner: National Book Award for Fiction
Blurb (as on Goodreads):
Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high; Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie’s children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise.
Sing, Unburied, Sing grapples with the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power, and limitations, of the bonds of family. Rich with Ward’s distinctive, musical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a majestic new work and an essential contribution to American literature.
“Home is where the heart is”― Pliny the Elder
A mix of reality and fantasy, Sing, Unburied, Sing, is a heart-wrenching tale of the souls who crave to go home, metaphorically and literally. The book brings to us a poverty-stricken and a racist world, where privileged people find new, unimaginable ways to torment the meek (the blacks in this case).
“Sometimes the world don’t give you what you need, no matter how hard you look. Sometimes it withholds.”
This was an emotional rollercoaster and about 50 pages in, I realized I needed to stop judging the characters and look at the bigger picture. I think the addition of fantasy was a real treat and it complimented the plot, making it more dramatic and true.
Jojo is learning the meaning of ‘being a man’. He is just a teenage boy and his sole purpose in life in to protect his baby sister from his mother and all the bad things in the world. He’s is protective, responsible and extremely emotional. He hates his mother, Leonie and according to him “Leonie kill things”. They all go on a road trip (full of strange events) and that’s when we get to know the characters better- their thoughts, the way they behave and how they perceive the world around them.
“Growing up out here in the country taught me things. Taught me that after the first fat flush of life, time eats away at things: it rusts machinery, it matures animals to become hairless and featherless, and it withers plants.”
The POV keeps changing throughout, with each character trying to justify their existence. The book is definitely character driven and the characters are complex and layered. We also have souls who are dead, but not really.
There are a lot of social themes that are highlighted throughout, most important being Racism. Blacks have been tormented and exploited throughout. There are instances where the characters are taught to live a particular way just because they are black and the society doesn’t like them much. For instance-Leonie is a Black woman and Michael, Jojo’s dad is a white man, and we see Leonie not being accepted by her in-laws because of her color.
“There’s so many,’ Richie says. His voice is molasses slow. ‘So many of us,’ he says. ‘Hitting. The wrong keys. Wandering against. The song.”
There’s the concept of “home” which is another thing that is present throughout the plot. All the souls whether they are trapped in a body or stuck in the realms of the world crave for home, crave for freedom, comfort, and love.
As much as I wanna spill out spoilers, I am going to control myself and let you absorb this heart-wrenching story.
This was such a difficult book for me, in terms of emotions. It scared me, made me cry, made me flap my wings and dance, and sometimes all of it at once. I fell in love with the lyrical prose and the characters, both real and the imaginary ones. Their feelings are so raw, it broke my heart every time.