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Men We Reaped

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  7,162 Ratings  ·  947 Reviews
“We saw the lightning and that was the guns; and then we heard the thunder and that was the big guns; and then we heard the rain falling and that was the blood falling; and when we came to get in the crops, it was dead men that we reaped.” —Harriet Tubman

In five years, Jesmyn Ward lost five young men in her life—to drugs, accidents, suicide, and the bad luck that can follo
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published September 17th 2013 by Bloomsbury USA
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Moira Russell
Sep 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
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.")
Nov 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 sm
Aug 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Nov 20, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir
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 an ...more
Book Riot Community
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, sout ...more
Dec 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Wilhelmina Jenkins
May 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Diane S ☔
Aug 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Jul 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Men We Reaped is one of the rare non-fiction books that seems destined to be a literary classic. National Book Award Winner Jesmyn Ward intertwines the story of her life growing up poor and Black in rural coastal Mississippi with the lives of five young men – including her brother – who died within a two year span soon after she finished college. Ward writes with fire and passion as she captures the day-to-day and systemic injustices that she and her family faced and the struggles they went thro ...more
Oct 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 res
Aug 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
Beautiful writing but I often felt that she skipped some practical parts. It's a memoir that works in reverse order. The chapter alternate between her childhood and the reverse chronological order of deaths of young black men she knew, culminating with the death of her only brother. This builds the dawning horror of the deaths.

She details the difficulty of growing up poor and black in rural Mississippi. I was a bit disappointed that she didn't bring in in facts about poverty and racism and death
Liz Janet
“Because we trusted nothing, we endeavored to protect ourselves, boys becoming misogynistic and violent, girls turning duplicitous, all of us hopeless.”
This is literally a regular memoir with a chronologically backwards biography of five men.

This memoir tries to link the death of men in Jesmyn Ward's life to the injustices done to those that are underprivileged. And even though I do not feel that it achieved it, it is still an incredible read that introduces us to identity and home, and how tha
Maureen Stanton
Dec 04, 2013 rated it liked it
Disappointing, especially since the book was on so many "best of 2013" nonfiction lists. The first two -thirds of the book are superficial, almost hastily written it seems. Ward weaves in biography/eulogies of four young black men she knew who died prematurely, and in between tells her childhood story (with her brother being the fifth loss, told later in the book). But both narratives--the portraits and her memoir--feel slight. Ward's family story is never fully told, and the biographies of the ...more
Aug 22, 2017 rated it liked it
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
Jan 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I can't do this justice, but I will try...

Jesmyn Ward vacillates between a chronologically rendered memoir and chronologically backwards biographies of five Black male friends and relatives she lost much too early.

This is a South I did and did not live in. Ward's sensual, agonizing story unfolds in my native Mississippi, recounted in such richly textural terms you can feel the gravel hot under your feet and breathe in the mingling scents of red clay and pine needles. I know this place and, like
This is the memoir to read if you want to read about essentially American problems and struggle; if you want to read about one woman coping with cavernous grief, rendered in unsentimental prose (one of the hardest subjects to write with restraint); if you want to understand the detrimental effects of racism on both a systemic and an individual level, as well as the interweavings of racial and class inequality. I have no doubt that it's the most important memoir we'll be seeing for a long time. T ...more
Sarah Weathersby
The title comes from a quote by Harriet Tubman, "We heard the rain falling and that was the blood falling; and when we came to get in the crops, it was dead men that we reaped."

Jesmyn Ward is becoming one of my favorite authors. This memoir was painful to read, but held together by her beautiful prose.

She tells the story of lost young men, her cousins and brother, growing up poor, black and male in Mississippi. Mississippi of Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit," Mississippi of Nina Simone's "Missi
Jul 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
In this book the author tells about five young men - her brother and four of her friends - who died within five years of each other. It is a heart-breaking look at the ways poverty, racism, and politics have destroyed opportunity and hope among generations of black people in the Deep South. While each of the young men died due to different circumstances, there is a prevailing sense of hopelessness that seems to color all of their lives. As I read this book, I just kept wondering what might have ...more
Feb 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The last two chapters nearly destroyed me. Beautifully written, emotional, tragic, frightening, uplifting, impassioned. These are just some of the words to describe the power of this memoir.
Review to follow.
Am wrecked.

We heard the rain falling and that was the blood falling; and when we came to get in the crops, it was dead men that we reaped. -Harriet Tubman
Celeste Ng
Sep 18, 2013 added it
Shelves: nonfiction
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.
Kelly (and the Book Boar)
Dec 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Jesmyn Ward’s memoir is a journey through the Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of grief. As Ward states about the young men she memorializes in this novel, she finds “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 form ...more
Aug 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Deeply sad and personal, very well written, and builds to a powerful climax. This ethnography/partial autobiography achieves a lot in 250 pages.
Dec 26, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: future-read
From 2000 to 2004, five Black young men I grew up with died, all violently, in seemingly unrelated deaths...That's a brutal list, in its immediacy and its relentlessness, and it's a list that silences people. It silenced me for a long time.

Jesmyn Ward, author of the National Book Awrd winning novel Salvage the Bones, was born in the Mississippi Gulf Coast town of DeLisle in 1977. Like many African Americans in that region her parents were poorly educated with only high school diplomas from poorl
Chance Lee
Dec 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: true-story
Jesmyn Ward, author of Salvage the Bones, writes a heartbreaking book about the systemic destruction of black men. It is a personal history, a memoir, and a call to action. In it, Ward grapples with the deaths of five men close to her. Her emotions cycle from anger, confusion, sadness, and guilt. What if there were something she could have done to prevent their deaths? What if, what if what if. "The burden of regret weights heavily," Ward writes. "It is relentless."

She sees regret as the burden
”Because this is my story just as it is the story of those lost young men, and because this is my family's story just as it is my community's story, it is not straightforward. To tell it, I must tell the story of my town and the history of my community.” p. 8

I don’t even know where to begin with my review of Ward’s memoir. She was born when I was about 22. My life was shaping up nicely – I had married and started graduate school. I had no idea what a privileged life I was leading. At about the s
I'm finding it hard to articulate my feelings about this book. It's horrible and beautiful at the same time. Jesmyn Ward is a stunning wordsmith, presenting her memories of growing up in rural Mississippi with clarity and realness while conveying tragic loss of life and debilitating circumstances without self-pity but sorrow and anger. By telling the stories of her family and friends, Ward also raises essential questions about race and racism, gender norms and gendered racism, poverty and privil ...more
Dec 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013
Over the course of five years Jesmyn Ward, author of National Book Award winning novel Salvage the Bones, watched as suicide, drugs, car accidents and poverty took five men from her life. Through the pages of Men We Reaped, Ward honors their memory while examining the economic and social factors continuously causing damage to her community.

The heartbreaking deaths of Ward's cousins, friends and younger brother are told between her recollections of growing up poor in DeLise, Mississippi. Though
Jul 06, 2013 rated it it was ok
I know Jesmyn Ward can write - I read and loved Salvage the Bones, and after reading this I see how autobiographical Salvage was. I feel this memoir could be summed up in a line from one of the last pages of the book: "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." Men We Repeaed also recalls a line from a Citizen Cope song: "When cut deep the same blood we bleed/
Nov 06, 2013 rated it liked it
Well written but I quickly got tired of the blame game and how these guys were driven to their deaths by a racist America. She describes the accident with the train as due to possibly shoddy maintenance due to their town being poor and it would not have happened in the richer surrounding communities. But there is no proof anything was wrong with the lights and gate. She fails to mention how quite possibly the boys were high, drunk, etc. Again, the boys are passively targeted and pushed into drop ...more
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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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“I think my love for books sprang from my need to escape the world I was born into, to slide into another where words were straightforward and honest, where there was clearly delineated good and evil, where I found girls who were strong and smart and creative and foolish enough to fight dragons, to run away from home to live in museums, to become child spies, to make new friends and build secret gardens.” 43 likes
“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.” 19 likes
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