Riva Sciuto's Reviews > Men We Reaped

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward
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it was amazing
bookshelves: bios-memoirs, favorites

Oh my God, I sobbed my way through this from the first page to the last. In this devastating memoir, Jesmyn Ward succeeds in bringing life to the fallen, meaning to the pain, and beauty to the suffering. It is a reflection of the five men she and her small Mississippi community lost — one of whom was her brother — through accidents, suicide, murder, and drug addiction. The book's title comes from the haunting words of Harriet Tubman: "...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." And reaped they did.

This memoir is Ward's attempt to make sense of the senseless. She reminds us all that her "ghosts were once people, and I cannot forget that." Her words help her process her ever-growing grief. "I wonder why silence is the sound of our subsumed rage, our accumulated grief," she writes. "I decide this is not right, that I must give voice to this story ... Men's bodies litter my family history. The pain of the women they left behind pulls them from the beyond, makes them appear as ghosts." This book is the story of those ghosts, a reminder that they once lived and breathed and loved and laughed and struggled and failed. "We were young people living in houses seemingly more populated by ghosts than by the living, with the old dead and the new," she writes.

The ghost that visits Ward most often is, of course, her brother Joshua's. As someone who lost my younger brother -- also at 19 -- I remain painfully haunted by her words. Told in reverse order, she concludes the book with Josh's death -- "where the past and the future meet ... this is the summer of the year 2000. This is the last summer that I will spend with my brother. This is the heart. This is. Every day, this is." Suddenly confronted with the finality of his absence, she finds that her "misery and grief and loneliness were so close." She writes, "It slept with me. It walked with me down the crowded streets. I imagined my brother sometimes, when I was more lonely and desperate, imagined him walking to my right and slightly behind me, throwing an arm across my shoulders, and it would comfort me until I realized I was still alone and he was still dead, that he could not walk with me through those building-shadowed streets, through the garbage-stinking heat and the insidious icy snow, that he could not pull a coat over my head and protect me." And perhaps one of the most profound and accurate statements on grief I've ever read comes from the pages of this memoir: "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." Beautifully, she reminds us that the reason we grieve is because we love. "But this grief, for all its awful weight, insists that he matters," she says. "It is worth more than I can say. And there's my dilemma, because all I can do in the end is say." As she concluded the chapter about Joshua, I felt her words in my bones, giving a voice to the pain I too feel at the senseless loss of my own brother: "I write these words to find Joshua, to assert that what happened happened, in a vain attempt to find meaning. And in the end, I know little, some small facts: I love Joshua. He was here. He lived. Something vast and large took him..." Heartbreaking.

With each young man she buries -- Roger, Demond, CJ, Ronald, and Joshua -- Ward explores both the stories of their lives and the tragic senselessness of their deaths. In doing so, she helps us understand the depth and complexity of human suffering: the often irreparable dangers of drug addiction, the struggle to help those you love survive, and the inability to escape a cycle of poverty into which one is born. Moreover, her description of Ronald's "demons" gives us a deeper understanding of those suffering from depression: "I don't know what that debilitating darkness, that Nothing that pursued him, looked like, what shape his depression took. For me, it was a cellar in the woods, a wide, deep living grave."

Not only does Ward expand our understanding of these demons; she sheds light on the endless cycle of poverty and racism that, far too often, make such demons inevitable. She writes, "... Pinioned beneath poverty and history and racism, we were all dying inside." Ward brings so many horrifying statistics to life -- through the deaths of the men she loved -- about what it means to be poor and Black in the South. The numbers are staggering; the loss of loved ones proof of how difficult it is to outrun what follows you.

I love this book for all of its heartbreaking and devastating and real emotion. For its rawness. For its beauty. For its exploration of grief and human suffering in its most painful forms. For its reminder that we always carry those we love. That their ghosts are part of us. "We who still live do what we must," she writes. "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." Five well-deserved stars.
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Reading Progress

December 20, 2017 – Shelved
December 20, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
December 23, 2017 – Started Reading
December 23, 2017 –
page 158
December 25, 2017 – Shelved as: bios-memoirs
December 25, 2017 – Finished Reading
December 27, 2017 – Shelved as: favorites

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Janet M "Where the wind will not reach," I loved that line! Thank you for your review

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