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Men We Reaped

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'...And then we heard the rain falling, and that was the drops of blood falling; and when we came to get the crops, it was dead men that we reaped.' Harriet Tubman

In five years, Jesmyn Ward lost five men in her life, to drugs, accidents, suicide, and the bad luck that can follow people who live in poverty, particularly black men. Dealing with these losses, one after another, made Jesmyn ask the question: why? And as she began to write about the experience of living through all the dying, she realized the truth--and it took her breath away. Her brother and her friends all died because of who they were and where they were from, because they lived with a history of racism and economic struggle that fostered drug addiction and the dissolution of family and relationships. Jesmyn says the answer was so obvious she felt stupid for not seeing it. But it nagged at her until she knew she had to write about her community, to write their stories and her own.

Jesmyn grew up in poverty in rural Mississippi. She writes powerfully about the pressures this brings, on the men who can do no right and the women who stand in for family in a society where the men are often absent. She bravely tells her story, revisiting the agonizing losses of her only brother and her friends. As the sole member of her family to leave home and pursue high education, she writes about this parallel American universe with the objectivity distance provides and the intimacy of utter familiarity.

256 pages, Hardcover

First published September 17, 2013

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About the author

Jesmyn Ward

23 books7,375 followers
Jesmyn Ward is the author of Where the Line Bleeds, Salvage the Bones, and Men We Reaped. She is a former Stegner Fellow (Stanford University) and Grisham Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi. She is an associate professor of Creative Writing at Tulane University.

Her work has appeared in BOMB, A Public Space and The Oxford American.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,721 reviews
Profile Image for Cindy.
407 reviews116k followers
April 16, 2020
This started as a 4 star, but the last part of the book really ramped up and moved me to tears. Ward writes beautifully and you can feel her grief pour through the pages. She does a great job at personalizing the statistics of young black men in poverty and honoring their lives.
Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 120 books159k followers
August 11, 2013
This is a book about grief, about grief that is unending and wide reaching. It's also a memoir about rural poverty and race, and the all too inevitable conclusions to the lives of five young men in Ward's life. The prose is bursting with pain and beauty and truth. This is a book everyone should read. Where it falls short is that it doesn't do enough to rise above the grief. Ward only briefly addresses the issues of race and poverty and how they indelibly shape too many lives, particularly in the rural South. Instead, that the culprits of these men's demise is inextricably bound to race is treated as assumption when it needs to be far more fully realized and plainly articulated.
Profile Image for Moira.
512 reviews25 followers
September 18, 2013
Gorgeous and heartrending. One of the best-written books I've read in a long, long time.

(ETA I just told Kris: "That is one holy shit gorgeous book, and at the same time I don't think I've ever read a book which showed so unrelentingly what it's like to live in the modern apartheid of US racism. It reminded me of James Baldwin and "Araby." Wow. Give her a prize. Give her all the prizes. Shit, give her Jonathan Franzen's house while we're at it.")
Profile Image for Carol.
329 reviews914 followers
April 8, 2019
Ward’s writing has moments of luminescence — too many to count. But Men We Reaped is breathtakingly full of despair. You can listen to six hours of Lightnin’ Hopkins or read this memoir. Either way, if you’re listening closely, you’ll need a bottle of your favorite beverage and a big box of tissues to see your way to the end.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews585 followers
August 18, 2020
I read this book last night - during the dark hours - after watching the Democratic Convention. I absolutely loved the unity, the optimism, and hope.
.....which inspired to read Jesmyn Ward’s memoir.

I’m certain I read “Men We Reaped” differently than I might have even a year ago.

Reap Definition:
....receive a ( reward or benefit) as a consequence of one’s own or other people’s actions.

This year is changing me - hopefully for the better. The time is now - to keep “The Black Lives Matter” movement moving. I don’t know how to say this any more eloquent. It’s our work - it’s my work.

Gems from “Men We Reap”..... [powerful truths penetrating inside me deeper today in 2000....than simply a year ago]

“For most of my junior high and high school years, I was the only black girl in the school. Whenever my classmates spoke about Black people or New Orleans and tried to not look at me but inevitably did, I stared back at them and thought about the young men I knew from New Orleans, my father’s half brothers”.

“From 2000 to 2004, five black young man I grew up with died, all violently, and seemingly unrelated deaths.
The first was my brother, Joshua, in October 2000”.

Jesmyn missed her brother: He died in a car crash
Joshua Adam Dedeaux:
Born: October 27, 1980
Died: October 2, 2000

“Joshua was banned from Walmart. He was caught stealing.
Jesmyn was worried for her brother Josh.... worried at what the world demanded of him as a young man and of what he would do to satisfy it, to stand”.
“Yet I admired his recklessness at the same time. He was still struggling in junior high: then, I did not understand why he was having such a hard time in classes. He was smart, witty, adept at solving problems quickly and efficiently”.

Jesmyn’s sister’s: Nerissa, 17, and Charine, 14, ( at the time Joshua died), begged and encouraged Jesmyn to write this memoir. Tell their family story....
Inspired by a brother who taught them love was stronger than death.

In Jesmyn’s search for words to tell this story, she found more statistics about what it means to be Black and poor in the South.

A moment remembered.... [Jesmyn at school]
“Why don’t you put some nigger braids in my hair?”
“Excuse me? I said. What did you say?”
“Nigger braids. Why don’t you put my hair in nigger braids?”
“I hadn’t misheard her.
Barbara smiled, satisfied as an animal that’s eaten it’s fill, and turned back to watch the games on the court. The heat in the gym was unbearable. I stood up and descended the bleachers, hoping I wouldn’t trip. I couldn’t believe she’d said the word, used it so casually, so denigratingly, and then been so proud of what she’d done”.
“Casual racism was so prevalent in my school, yet encountering it often didn’t make it any easier to understand".

The other day I was listening to the news. Bo Derek, the actress from “10”... talked about her Cornrows.
First Bo Derek was slammed for wearing hair that Black people got shamed for daily- later she was applauded.
“It’s a hairdo! That’s all it is”, Derek said in a 2015 interview.
“With all the important racial and cultural issues we have right now, people are going to focus on a hairstyle?”
Bo said....”No, no. I’ll save my efforts toward important racial and cultural issues”.

In this book .... we learn about Jesmyn’s father -( his infidelities, leaving the family, etc) we learn about her mother, who raise them alone - financially too.
We learned about black men in her community.
“This tradition of men leaving their families here seems systemic fostered by endemic poverty”.
“Black men in my community across generations, the role of being a father and a husband was difficult for my father to assume. He saw a world of possibility outside the confines of a family, and he could not resist the romance of that”.

“My mother understood that her vistas were the walls of her home, her children’s bony back’s, their open mouths. Like the women in my family before her my mother knew the family was her burden to bear. She could not leave. So she did what her mother did before her, what her sisters did, what her aunts did: she worked and set about the business of raising her children. She did not know it then, but she would be the sole financial provider for us until we reached adulthood”.

We learn of other Black families - Five Black men (each of their stories)... of how they lived and died ( young), like Jesmyn’s brother.
“If Demond’s family history wasn’t so different from my own, did that mean we were living the same story over and over again, down through the generations? That the young and Black had always been dying, until all that was left were children and the few old, as in war?”

Jesmyn grew up in poverty in rual Mississippi.
“She writes powerfully about the pressures this brings, on the men who can do no right and the women who stand in for family in a society where men are often absent”.

I not only found this book to be intimate, tragic, and meaningful....and unforgettable..... but I’m also grateful Jesmyn wrote this book - thankful I read it - and I’m even more inspired by all the accomplishments and contributions from Jesmyn Ward has made and continues to make.

Her book “Salvage the Bones” was powerful and brilliant: It won the National Book Award for Fiction.
Profile Image for Michael.
655 reviews964 followers
April 20, 2020
Meditative and moving, Jesmyn Ward's memoir places personal tragedy against the backdrop of systemic racism and poverty. Ward alternates between recounting her childhood in rural Mississippi and sketching biographies of five young Black men she intimately knew, all who died within the span of four years. Each chapter consists of a series of loosely connected vignettes, written in plain but powerful prose. The book's associative structure and accessible language would make it a swift read, were it not for the pain of the stories Ward tells. Overdose, murder, suicide, and a pair of fatal accidents are juxtaposed against the hardships Ward herself faced as a working-class girl growing up in a virulently anti-Black state. The memoir isn't without some flaws, as several have noted; at times it moves too quickly, and the author could have far more explicitly tied the deaths of her loved ones to the poisonous effects of white supremacy in America. But Ward's grasp on narrative is astounding, her descriptions memorable, and her observations on the social life of the South astute.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,438 followers
May 26, 2015
I wonder now if I will ever see the title of a new book by Jesmyn Ward that does not thrill me at the same time it fills me with trepidation. Ward’s talent is such that we read what she writes even when we do not want to. Her despair and distress cuts like a blade. She wants it to hurt. So that we know. And we do, now. Has there ever been anyone who could tell this story in this way?
”I never knew Demond when he was younger. I came to know him as an adult, when he was old enough to have sharp smile lines and the thin skin at his temples was threaded through with veins. The skull beneath looked hard…'You should write about my life,' Demond said…I heard this often at home. Most of the men in my life thought their stories, whether they were drug dealers or straight-laced, were worthy of being written about…Now, as I write these stories, I see the truth in their claims...'I don’t write real-life stuff,' I said.”

That was then. Jesmyn writes real-life stuff, in such a way that we come away changed, knowing.
”This is where the past and the future meet…This is the summer of the year 2000. This is the last summer I will spend with my brother. This is the heart. This is. Every day, this is.”
But even she admits it is hard to know, really know people. That we can never really know. But she may come closer than anyone else has. Closer than anyone else has bothered to.
“I know that sense of despair. I know that when [Roland] looked down at his copper hands and in the mirror, at his dark eyes and his freckles and his even mouth, that he thought it would be better if he were dead, because then all of it, every bit of it, would stop. The endless struggle with his girlfriend, the drugs that lit his darkness, the degradations that come from a life of poverty exacerbated by maleness and Blackness and fatherlessness in the South—being stopped and searched by the police, going to a high school where no one really cared if he graduated and went to college, the dashed dreams of being a pilot or a doctor or whatever it was he wanted, realizing the promises that had been made to him at All God’s Creatures day camp were empty and he didn’t have a world and a heaven of options—all of these things would cease.”

Five deaths in five years. Young black men with a life expectancy of 23 years. Families with a shifting sense of belonging, sometimes including the community, sometimes losing members, fathers and brothers especially, to other families. The lowering heat of a muggy, buggy Mississippi night with dampness on the window crank and seats of an eighties-model gray-blue Cutlass. Drug selling as last-ditch income production. Casual racism, I don’t believe in the mixing of the races”, thrown out with lacerating results.
“How could I know then that this would be my life: yearning to leave the South and doing so again and again, but perpetually called back to home by a love so thick it choked me?”
Ah. So she is like us after all. Just like us. I expect she knows now that despair and loneliness knows not race nor income level. None of us is spared that at least. But the other, well...I'm glad she told us. I believe it makes a difference.

I came away with a vivid sense of the terrible burden of anger, frustration, and loneliness that Ward carried. I hope she does not carry it still, but only picks it up again now and again to try it on and to see it does not fit her anymore.

You may find that, having bared all, Ward intrigues more than ever. Here she talks about the writing of her memoir. Jesmimi is her blog which she doesn’t update very often, or perhaps only when she’s stuck.
Profile Image for Reggie.
116 reviews392 followers
July 16, 2019
I'm predicting Jesmyn Ward will be the next Black American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Her body of work is awesome, and I suspect it will remain that way as she publishes more work.

Fleshed out thoughts to come.
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,172 reviews8,373 followers
February 17, 2023
When someone you know is struggling—perhaps with grief, anger, frustration, confusion—there are two appropriate responses you may offer them: a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on.

I imagine this book will be both a solution for and a solvent of the grief in the right reader's life when they pick this up.

Jesmyn Ward's emotions permeate the book. Her raw, honest recounting of her grief over the death of five young Black men over the course of five years when she was younger gives way to her exploring her family history and what brought them all to the moment that she experienced the first death: that of her younger brother, Joshua. However, she recounts the stories of each death in reverse order, starting with the most recent at the time of writing and working back to 2000 when her younger brother dies. In alternating chapters, she moves forward chronologically as she looks at her childhood and the years before that brought her parents, and their extended families, together.

It's written in Ward's stunning prose, with some of the most vivid descriptions I've read in ages. She brings you into her memories that are almost vivid enough to come off the page.

While the book itself doesn't explore the larger issues at play that Ward claims contributed to many, if not all, of these young men's deaths (and many more), I don't think it needs to. Men We Reaped is there to be felt, to be experienced, to shed light and say, as she does in the final chapter: "Hello. We are here. Listen."
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,113 followers
November 26, 2019
After discussing Sing Unburied Sing with a group, some seemed to have more insight after reading Jesmyn Ward's memoir and made me want to read it too. It isn't easy going - chapters alternate between her life and the stories of five men in her family/community that died within a period of five years. Highly recommended especially as a companion to her fiction, but really for anyone interested in how a person can share difficult personal stories in an honest way.

This is memoir 9 of my Nonfiction November project for 2019.

Bits I saved for future discussion....

"I knew the boys in my first novel, which I was writing at that time, weren't as raw as they could be, weren't real. I knew they were failing as characters because I wasn't pushing them to assume the reality that my real-life boys... experienced every day. I loved them too much: as an author, I was a benevolent God. I protected them from death, from drug addiction, from needlessly harsh sentences in jail for doing stupid, juvenile things like stealing four-wheel ATVs. All of the young Black men in my life, in my community, had been prey to these things in real life, and yet in the lives I imagined for them, I avoided the truth."

"Everything about the night seemed stolen, lived in those murky hours while others slept or worker. We crawled through time like roaches through the linings of walls, the neglected spaces and hours, foolishly happy that we were still alive even as we did everything to die."

"Like for many of the young Black men in my community across generations, the role of being a father and a husband was difficult for my father to assume. He saw a world of possibility outside the confines of the family, and he could not resist the romance of that. But like many of the young Black women in her generation, my mother understood that she had to forget the meaning of possibility, the tender heat of romance, the lure of the vistas of the world. My mother understood that her vistas were the walls of her home, her children's bony backs, their open mouths. Like the women in my family before her, my mother knew the family was her burden to bear."

"I was the eldest daughter of an eldest daughter, and I had to do as she had done and help keep the household together... [description of hanging laundry] ... This is how things were done in my mother's house."

"I looked at myself and saw a walking embodiment of everything the world around me seemed to despise: an unattractive, poor, Black woman. Undervalued by her family, a perpetual workhorse. Undervalued by society regarding her labor and her beauty. This seed buried itself in my stomach and bore fruit. I hated myself. That seed bloomed in the way I walked, slumped over, eyes on the floor, in the way I didn't even attempt to dress well, in the way I avoided the world, when I could, through reading, and in the way I took up as little space as possible and tried to attract as little notice as I could, because why should I? I was something to be left."

"...This is how my brother and I understood what it meant to be a women: working, dour, full of worry. What it meant to be a man: resentful, angry, wanting life to be everything but what it was."

"My entire society suffered from a lack of trust...Because we trusted nothing, we endeavored to protect ourselves, boys becoming misogynistic and violent, girls turning duplicitous, all of us hopeless. Some of us turned sour from the pressure, let it erode our sense of self until we hated what we saw, without and within."

"Grief doesn't fade. Grief scabs over like my scars and pulls into new, painful configurations as it knits. It hurts in new ways. We are never free from grief. We are never free from the feeling that we have failed. We are never free from self-loathing. We are never free from the feeling that something is wrong with us, not with the world that made this mess."

"As an adult, I see my mother's legacy anew. I see how all the burdens she bore, the burdens of her history and identity and of our coutnry's history and identity, enabled her to manifest her greatest gifts. My mother had the courage to look at four hungry children and find a way to fill them. My mother had the strength to work her body to its breaking point to provide for herself and her children. My mother had the resilience to cobble together a family from the broken bits of another... As the eldest daughter of an eldest daughter, and having just borne a daughter, I hope to teach my child these lessons, to pass on my mother's gifts."
Profile Image for Eliza.
478 reviews16 followers
November 21, 2013
11/17/13: Another memoir? Too bad, as the Bhutan one is tough to follow. Still, even on its own, MWR is weak and inarticulate. I think Ward's memoir has two major problems. First, she has not fully processed her grief and anger about the deaths, in a relatively short span of time, of five of her relatives and friends--all young black men in the South. And second, she seems to be trying to conflate that very personal, intimate (and difficult) story with a much larger tirade against the tragedy and injustice perpetrated upon blacks in the South. This seems an almost impossible task, even for a more experienced writer, one who has managed to process and contextualize her own experience. Ward is not (yet) up to the task.

Oh dear, I feel bad saying this; she has not had an easy time of it. I am sympathetic to her situation, having lost multiple family members in a short time myself. But perhaps this is also why I am harder on Ward; I know how disorienting, uncontrollable, unpredictable, and irrational grieving can be. And I know how hard it is to process that grief, to wrestle it into meaning (which is impossible, though we keep trying), to learn, slowly, how to leave it be, if only for a while. Grief is hard to manage, period. In MWR, I can practically taste Ward's grief, it is so close to the surface; but unfortunately, it is too raw still, and she is still wrestling. So she has no distance, perspective, or acquired wisdom; instead, she must keep telling us about it relentlessly, and her narrative quickly loses its value and power. She keeps revving her wheels, repeating her lament after every death, without ever getting anywhere. Then her grief turns to anger--who is to blame?! there must be someone to blame or this is all too senseless--and we move into the other lament, about the hopelessness of being black in the south. Exhausting, tragic, but in the end not compelling.

One more difficulty with MWR is that Ward decided to tell the story in two directions, alternating chunks of time from most distant (her family history and early childhood memories) to most recent (the last of the five men to die). Thus the two narratives end up meeting, timewise, at the end. I know this is all the rage now, telling a story in some complex chronological order, but for me, unless it's brilliantly done (see Cloud Atlas), it weakens the narrative, making it more confusing, thus distracting from the story. In addition, it lets Ward give in to the temptation to repeat her lament; without a clear narrative arc, it’s easier to end each chapter with that same cry.

Ironically perhaps, the best writing in MWR is about Ward's love of her home state of Mississippi, the bayous, the Gulf, and her home and family. When she can lay down her burden, her prose springs into life. In retrospect, the juxtaposition of these gentle, loving memories with the rest of her story is jarring. But it also gives me hope for Ward. I'd like to read more--and I will start with Salvage The Bones, which won the National Book Award in 2011.
Profile Image for Celeste Ng.
Author 16 books88.1k followers
October 6, 2013
Searing and heartbreaking. I literally picked this book up off the coffee table to carry it upstairs before bed and ended up reading the entire thing standing up there in the living room.
Profile Image for luce (that loser crying on the n° 2 bus).
1,436 reviews4,034 followers
May 27, 2022
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“How could I know then that this would be my life: yearning to leave the South and doing so again and again, but perpetually called back to home by a love so thick it choked me?”

Devastating, heart-wrenching, and full of love and sorrow, Men We Reaped is an unforgettable memoir. Jesmyn Ward recounts her experiences growing up poor, female, and Black in the rural South during the late 80s and 90s. Ward interweaves her personal account with a brutal social commentary that highlights what it means to be poor and Black, and of how racism, specifically in the South, remains an insidious and widespread phenomenon with tragic consequences. Interrupting those chapters in which Ward recounts her childhood and teenage years are chapters focusing on the lives of five Black men, all of whom died young as a result of addictions, suicide, and accidents. Some of these men, we learn, were her friends growing up. We see how the school system either pegged them as problem students or ignored them, which inevitably would make them feel ‘less than’ and worthless. Ward’s younger brother, Joshua, is one of these young men, which makes these chapters all the more hard-hitting.
Ward shows how deep-rooted institutionalised racism is and how it results in social and economic disparities. In looking back to the past, Ward tries to understand the motivations behind the actions and behaviours of the adults around her, in particular, her mother and her father, a serial cheater who would eventually leave them behind. In discussing the lives of these men she cared for, Ward considered the high mortality rate among young Black men, and of the way in which their community is affected by generational trauma, drug addiction, etc. Ward ultimately feels conflicted about the South, a place that has played a fatal role in the deaths of the people she loved. Yet, even after moving away to pursue higher education, she finds herself longing to return to it. Ward, in some ways, appears to be haunted by it and by the role it played in the deaths of so many men she knew and loved.
With heartbreaking clarity and piercing insight, Ward writes of her childhood, of the lives of those young men who died such violent and sudden deaths, of her own family and her relationship to her parents, of her community, and of social inequality. More impressive still than Ward’s talent for vividly portraying a specific time and place is her ability to articulate her grief over the death of her brother and her friends.
While this memoir is by no means an easy read, it did in fact distress me, ultimately, I think it’s a necessary read. Ward’s lyrical prose reads like an elegy, both to the men that died at such a young age and to the South. Men We Reaped is a powerful, poignant, and thought-provoking read. While this memoir is mired in pain and grief, Ward's elegiac prose and empathy balanced out its bleaker aspects. With admirable lucidity Ward attempts to reconcile herself with the confusion and anger brought about by the inequalities experienced by her community and by her loved one deaths.

Some quotes that will haunt me:

“[T]he message was always the same: You’re Black. You’re less than White. And then, at the heart of it: You’re less than human.

“We inherit these things that breed despair and self-hatred, and tragedy multiplies. For years I carried the weight of that despair with me;”

“But this grief, for all its awful weight, insists that he matters. What we carry of Roger and Demond and C. J. and Ronald says that they matter. I have written only the nuggets of my friends’ lives. This story is only a hint of what my brother’s life was worth, more than the nineteen years he lived, more than the thirteen years he’s been dead. It is worth more than I can say. And there’s my dilemma, because all I can do in the end is say.”

“We who still live do what we must. Life is a hurricane, and we board up to save what we can and bow low to the earth to crouch in that small space above the dirt where the wind will not reach. We honor anniversaries of deaths by cleaning graves and sitting next to them before fires, sharing food with those who will not eat again. We raise children and tell them other things about who they can be and what they are worth: to us, everything. We love each other fiercely, while we live and after we die. We survive; we are savages.”

“I thought being unwanted and abandoned and persecuted was the legacy of the poor southern Black woman. But as an adult, I see my mother’s legacy anew. I see how all the burdens she bore, the burdens of her history and identity and of our country’s history and identity, enabled her to manifest her greatest gifts.”
Profile Image for Deacon Tom F.
1,849 reviews147 followers
January 30, 2021
A Masterpiece.

For me, Jesmyn Ward’s, “Men We Reaped” masterfully crafted book is outstanding. It is set against the backdrop of the plight of young black men in her life.

Ward weaves numerous painful situations like drug abuse, homelessness, accidents, suicide, alcoholism and finally sudden deaths into this memoir.

The writing is compelling using very personal situations made up of her life story revealing meanings behind the deaths of five men she was close to in life. The plight of being poor and Black in the south makes one think and cry.

Parts of this story were very painful for me. I n my days, we lost my brother to drugs and I have seen many good people make huge mistakes. As a professor who worked with the poor, I still weep for those who gave up their dreams and gave in to the drug culture.

For me, it was very emotional as she shows these men’s lives go down hill and eventually crash. This is all from a history of racism, economic struggle and the dissolution of family and relationship

Jesmyn must be one of the bravest people ever. She dug deep into her emotions and shared vivid details about people she loved. It had to be painful for her.

A masterpiece. My highest recommendation.
April 26, 2021

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This is one of the best memoirs I've read in a while. It's beautifully written and achingly sad. In MEN WE REAPED, Jesmyn Ward writes about some of the Black men in her life who died way too young. But this memoir explores other things, too: class disparity, racism, what it's like to grow up in poverty, the social pressures of growing up Black (for men and for women), the way drugs can tear apart a community, and the callousness of reducing all of this to cold statistics.

The writing is gorgeous. I ended up reading most of this in a single day. I felt almost like I was held captive by the author's stories: I wanted to know how everything would turn out, even if it would turn out bad. (And, given the premise of this memoir, it often did.) The last story, about her younger brother, was especially devastating, although Ronald's story was pretty brutal, too. Even though the memoir is very short, each of these vignettes really give you an insight into what these men were like and why they were so important to the author.

I almost feel like to say anything else wouldn't do this memoir justice. I hadn't heard any buzz around this book and bought it when it was one of the deals of the day, but now I want to read everything else this woman writes. It takes real talent to stir emotion with words, which are by nature impersonal, but the author succeeds wildly with this book.

5 stars
Profile Image for Imani406.
87 reviews30 followers
September 27, 2018
Finished this book a few days ago & honestly can’t stop thinking about it. This memoir is so important, one of the most important pieces of nonfiction I’ve read to date. Ward shun a light on the ills and racists attitudes towards black boys & men in America, using the tragic stories of friends & family who have died b/c of institutional racism. The construction of the memoir is genius, Ward shared the stories of her friends, cousin and brother while intertwining her own story and reflections growing up as a child. She shared harsh truths about her parents, emphasizing the role and image of her mother, the heroine who like most black mothers (myself included) hold shit down for their family & the unescapable trials & tribulations that come with it, especially if poor and black.

This book stroke a nerve in me, I was reading the fears I’ve had for years for my own son, nephews, god son etc; they are in danger. This book meant so much to me & forced me to have important conversations with my son about his role in society & how he’s viewed as a black boy.

Throughout reading this memoir, I felt Ward was like my homegirl; she was very relatable. This being the 2nd book I’ve completed by Ward, I’ve discovered a new found love for a her writing. I will be reading all of her work. Ward is a Brilliant sistah! I’d love to see her write a middle grade novel for young boys, so if your reading this Jesmyn Ward, I challenge you 😁!!

There’s sooo much more to say about this book and this little review is giving it no justice. However, I highly recommend EVERYONE read this book.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,779 reviews14.2k followers
August 16, 2013
Ward and her family lived for generations in De Lisle. Mississippi. When she was growing up, after having assumed responsibility for her younger siblings, she only wanted to escape. She manages this when she attend college, but her brother was not so lucky. Her hometown. with its lack of educational opportunities, subsequent poverty would cost many their lives. From 2000-2004, she would find herself reeling from 5 deaths, the first her brother from a drunk driver, and then friends would follow. The pain and guilt she feels from having escaped this circle of devastation is something her writing poignantly displays. Interesting read from an author I admire. Love the urban grittiness in her book Salvage the Bonesand hope she is in the process writing another fiction book.
Profile Image for Book Riot Community.
953 reviews157k followers
August 25, 2016
This book came out a few years ago but it feels like a perfect commentary on recent events and #BlackLivesMatter. Everyone (including Amanda, who listed this as her April 2016 pick) told me this book was beautiful and gutting but I still wasn’t prepared for Ward’s incredible memoir. I’d planned to read for just a half hour or so and found myself unable to break away from her story of grief and racism, the south and home, growing up and navigating the world as a black, poor or working class, southern woman. While this is, absolutely, a book about the black men in Ward’s life that died between 2000-2004, it’s also a memoir of black women’s survival. It’s as much about losing men as it is about becoming one of the women left in their wake (for good and ill). This is a fantastic book to read in conjunction with Coates’ Between the World and Me because it tackles similar themes about black men and black bodies in the world. Just be prepared: it’s so beautiful and engrossing that even if it makes you cry, you won’t want to put it down.

–Ashley Bowen-Murphy

from The Best Books We Read In July 2016: http://bookriot.com/2016/08/01/riot-r...
Profile Image for Kathleen.
Author 1 book164 followers
March 11, 2019
“Hello. We are here. Listen.”

In four years Jesmyn Ward lost five young men close to her to tragic deaths. The oldest was 32, the youngest 19, and they were beautiful, troubled, flawed and gifted. This is not an unusual story in communities experiencing poverty and racism, and when you multiply her experience out to all of these people, the weight of the loss is suffocating. Bravo to Ward for making us feel this. This book is like a Shakespearean tragedy for our times. It must have taken tremendous courage to write such a book.

She honors the lives of these five men by speaking of them (and in the process, of herself) honestly and specifically. I’ve read memoirs that were interesting but pretty unrelatable. This one was so relatable. We know people like this. We love people in this way.

Ward writes eloquently about family and home. She brought me new realization of how strong these bonds are, whether we want them to be or not; how much these connections are responsible for who we are, and how they continue to shape us. Forever.

What I think her eloquence accomplishes with this book is showing us how this is very similar to the way poverty and racism impact our lives. They shape us. Forever.

“Both of us on the cusp of adulthood, and this is how my brother and I understood what it meant to be a woman: working, dour, full of worry. What it meant to be a man: resentful, angry, wanting life to be everything but what it was.”

There must be something of the architect in everyone who writes a book. (When I started trying to write I was amazed at how big and difficult a part this is: the creation of something that functions and holds up.) Ward has given this book an artistic structure that goes backwards and forwards in time. This frustrated me a little as I was reading, because it made it harder to keep track of the narratives of these men. By the end though, I understood her purpose. In part I think it reflects the way you look back on your life differently after the death of someone close, and it did work. I think it works best if you spend a little extra time reading this, linger a little over these men’s lives. Perhaps this was part of her plan. They deserve our attention.
Profile Image for Wilhelmina Jenkins.
242 reviews206 followers
August 19, 2014
Heart-wrenching, especially since the week that I read it is one in which the perilousness of the lives of young black men is the topic of so much national conversation. Undoubtedly the conversation will die down and some other topic will take its place, but this book stands as testimony to the loss to family and community of these young lives. Ward writes about 5 young black men, family and friends, who died within a few short years in her small, impoverished community for reasons that vary but which all come back to poverty and racism. What is particularly poignant is that Ward shows so clearly that those who died are only the tip of the iceberg. Men who continued to live tended to drift away, pushed by a lack of opportunity to do anything else. Lives that could have enriched the community just dry up and blow away. And Ward shows how deeply the women of the community are affected, women who lose the simple dreams of a good life and simply hold on for their families. Ward does not exempt herself by any means, medicating her own sense of loss and inferiority and inadequacy in alcohol and drugs like most others in her community. Ward writes beautifully as always. The structure of this book is a bit difficult, as Ward alternates between telling her our story chronologically and telling the stories of the 5 young men in reverse. The reason for this is clear - she wants to end the book with the event that was the cataclysmic event of her life - the death of her brother. Because this structure was a bit problematic for me, I might have given this book 4 stars on a different week. This week, for me, it is solidly 5 stars.
Profile Image for Vanessa.
463 reviews303 followers
July 28, 2020
If there ever was a book that reminded you the preciousness of every individual life this is it.

This beautifully haunting and tender memoir of sorts serves to highlight the devastation of lives lost too soon one of them being the authors younger brother.

The author shares her intimate and personal stories and describes the plight that these young men face the unfairness of a system that doesn’t value their lives, the lives of these young black men. These men for one reason or another dying far too soon. Statistically these men don’t stand a chance. The author reflects back on her hometown of DeLisle Mississippi, an area known for its struggles, the poverty the general sense of hopelessness and despair. The author gives a stirring ode to each of these men she was personally connected to, bringing a lot of emotion and understanding, although the town has its many struggles what I felt most was the sense of family each looking out for each other but not always knowing the best way forward, drugs, suicide and violence taking its toll. This book is devastating in it’s stark reality, as sad as the stories told I really love the authors tenderness and heart giving meaning and respect to each of the men.
Profile Image for Brandice.
909 reviews
August 22, 2017
Jesmyn Ward's memoir, Men We Reaped, is depressing yet well-written. It is a story of loss, mourning, hardship, and numerous calls (or perhaps the perpetual call) Home, again and again.

Ward and her family faced many struggles, most of which were not self-induced, although her father constantly made poor decisions. Her mother was resilient, enduring immense sacrifices to keep the family afloat, and surviving.

Each of the stories about the men Ward shared were depressing. Some were more engaging than others, and these stories are mixed in between chapters of her own life story and experiences growing up. Parts of the book became very repetitive to read. The outlook for African-American men growing up in poverty in the South is bleak. These stories illustrate the truth of this statement. One story, the last one, is without a doubt the most powerful of them all. It is also painfully depressing, and deeply frustrating to read the ultimate outcome. This story is yet another example of how the South is behind the times and appears to be just fine with that, while this should instead be unacceptable.

While the topic is heavy, Men We Reaped was a worthy read, and Ward's skill as a writer is very evident.

"After I left New York, I found the adage about time healing all wounds to be false: grief doesn’t fade. Grief scabs over like my scars and pulls into new, painful configurations as it knits. It hurts in new ways. We are never free from grief. We are never free from the feeling that we have failed. We are never free from self-loathing. We are never free from the feeling that something is wrong with us, not with the world that made this mess."
Profile Image for Anastacia Reads Stuff.
66 reviews98 followers
December 30, 2020
I'm not the best at writing reviews but I will try. This book is beautifully written. Though heartbreaking it is incredibly heartfelt. Jesmyn writes the characters of her life so well you almost feel their presence. She helps you paint a picture of them so vividly that your heart hurts for her loss. I also found this book very enlightening, an insight to a world so far from my own. A world where the odds are against you before your life even begins. Overall, this was an amazing read. I thank her for putting her truth, her pain, her loss out there for all of us. I know I will carry this book with my for a longtime.
Profile Image for Come Musica.
1,609 reviews414 followers
August 15, 2021
Questo romanzo è spaccacuore!
Nelle ultime pagine il dolore di Jesmyn Ward è diventato il mio: bisogna aver attraversato la notte fonda della morte di un proprio caro per riconoscere quello straziante lamento.
Sono ancora troppo scossa per scriverne.
Ho messo 5 stelle perché non è possibile aggiungerne altre.

“Con amore, tuo fratello.”
Profile Image for Snotchocheez.
595 reviews335 followers
December 27, 2013
I knew after reading the intensely personal, haunting (and a little over-exuberant) National Book Award winner Salvage the Bones about the months leading up to Katrina's landfall in rural Mississippi, Ms. Ward did not exorcise all the demons she needed to. There was a larger story-behind-the-story that was clamoring to be told.

If ever there was a book that could possibly put me in the shoes of someone growing up poor and Black, with no hope to escape the poverty and violence seemingly endemic to the region, Men We Reaped is the book. Ms. Ward (yet ANOTHER Stanford/Stegner Fellowship graduate...remarkable is the regularity with which they churn out cutting-edge writers these days) recounts her life growing up in poorest-of-the-poor Delisle, MS, trying desperately not follow in the footsteps of many of her friends and family members there, moving away and going to college, only to be drawn back by the love of family and friends. Several of the males in her life, between 2000 and 2004, died for various reasons (generally, though, tied to the hopelessness of their situations), and Ms. Ward valiantly attempts to understand why.

Stylistically, this is very similar to Salvage the Bones, with two different "plot" threads: telling her life story in a linear, chronological manner, while recounting the deaths of her friends in reverse chronology. This style choice was kinda irritating in Salvage but she uses it to haunting effect (finishing the book off with the first death, the death of her younger brother Joshua) here.

Ms. Ward intertwines the language of the hood with the lofty vernacular of academia so well, it's seamless, and reads at times like poetry. Her grief is palpable, her anger vicious. This book is not for everyone, but if you're at all interested in the poor South (or, really, any societal or racial injustice, be it from the South or anywhere), and wish to acquaint yourself with one of the freshest voices on the topic, then this is for you.
Author 1 book26 followers
March 15, 2020
New York Magazine named Men We Reaped one of the Best Books of the Century. Although I look forward to trying another of her best-selling books, I just can't agree with their assessment on this one.
I have been seriously trying to diversify my reading list, adding James Baldwin, more Alice Walker, Laurie Jean Cannady, Ivelesse Rodriguez, Tyrese Coleman, Patrico Gopo and Machael Ondaatje, among others, to my stack of books. I have read Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou, still the standards by which all others are judged for me. This book comes nowhere close to that level of skill and literary genius.
Men We Reaped jumped all over the place. I didn't care for the backward revelations of death jumbled in with her deep longings to be back in her southern home. It seemed to be a device, like Ward's serious binge drinking, designed to keep both author and reader from truly feeling what was happening. Just as the author approached what felt like deep truth and pain, she would switch gears and talk about the status of minorities in this country. Justified facts and grief, yes, but less powerful in the way they were used throughout the book as a result.
Though I am a white, college-educated woman, I was also the first in my family to leave my childhood home and take a step up the ladder. After I left, I never wanted to go back. Though I do get how being born white includes a space of automatic privilege, the community I grew up is not that different than the one Ward grew up in where the economic pecking order still exists and poor, uneducated rural white people have few good jobs available to them, where farmers are going under, where the opioid epidemic is most severe, where groceries and downtowns are disappearing, and where healthcare outcomes are terrible. Neither of my parents finished high school. An astute guidance counselor gave me a leg up, and later made sure that my college applications went out. A small private college gave me a full scholarship. Short of reading the experiences of people of color with similar childhoods, I could not imagine having to cope with the added pressure, barriers and physical and emotional hardship of systemic racism. I am grateful for those words at my fingertips which can inform and educate me. That said, being a woman has its own problems, white or not.
My favorite part of the book and of Ward's use of language is the end, when she finally starts to focus the story and write about her brother. This is the meat of the memoir, and I wish the rest of the book had been written in this passionate, pained, lyrical way.
1,351 reviews10 followers
November 1, 2013
I found SALVAGE THE BONES painful to read, and hoped some of the worst parts of those characters' lives were pure fiction. Now, having read Ward's devastating memoir, MEN WE REAPED, I realize how much truth her earlier National Book Award-winning novel told.

Ward's life is laid open like a wound in these pages, honest and unadulterated. She doesn't try to impress us with who she is, what she has done, what happened to the people (especially the men) in her life. Ward writes with deep love and respect for her small Mississippi community even as she details not just her family's life, but what happened to many of the men who died too young (or lost their dreams and lived half-dead until older ages). Because Ward was private school-educated, thanks to her mother's hard work for a white family who paid her tuition, and ended up at Stanford and the U of Michigan for degrees, she brings a wide variety of experiences to this telling. That education did not make her life easier and at some points was a burden as she ached for the family and community she knew.

This is an important book because it personalizes statistics of how many young black men die every day in the United States; shows how hard it is to hold on to hope when no one believes in you; reminds readers that racism and poverty are far too present in certain arts of our nation. Everything Ward tells comes with this reality: ''How could I know then that this would be my life: yearning to leave the South...but perpetually called back to home by a love so thick it choked me?''
Profile Image for Traci Thomas.
590 reviews10.4k followers
December 5, 2021
This book is so special. The writing is amazing. The form and structure are genius. It is emotional. Ward attempts to find the meaning of being young and black in the American South. It is as important and insightful as any Coates or Baldwin or Wright. This book is power and grace and truly reflective.
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