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Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
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it was amazing
bookshelves: african-american, us-regional

when i finished the book, i realized that the hurricane's presence in it had been much stronger than i had realized at first. even though katrina occupies only two chapters, it seems as if the prose breathes hurricane weather in and out in every chapter -- through water, heat, stifling humidity, the stillness of the air and then the non-stillness of the air as the trees sway in a wind that gives no relief, hunger, dirt, restless sleep. you know it if you've been in a hurricane, but i think having followed one on tv may be enough. the tv, though, doesn't give much of a sense of the tremendous heat. the heat and the humidity are enormous.

so this book is pretty amazing -- brave, really, because it tells, it seems to me, a rather unconventional story using the weather as the thing the book is about, the atmosphere the book's events are wrapped in, and a metaphor for various elements of the narrative. this is a book that is rife with metaphors, but they didn't seem heavy to me; also, i don't mind heavy.

the story is unconventional because these are people who are truly at the margins of representation. poor, rural black people appear in movies and books only as color. if they play any role at all other than that, it is to be bit characters in genre fiction. there are just not a lot of places where you get to see rural black folks in their communities as fully developed characters with rich, interesting and complex lives. my personal experience proves nothing, of course, but i think i've encountered these people only in slave literature -- and then they were not these people at all (i'm mentioning them only because they were black, rural, and poor)!

so really this is interesting and beautiful because it opens up a space for other people to be met, seen, and known. it enlarges the scope of representation. it enriches the cultural village. there is a huge blank space in representation and this book helps fill it.

and these lives are interesting. they are fascinating. they are rich with love, desire, family, courage, survival, communication, growing up, trying to be good, trying to do good. they are not alien lives. they are intense and nuanced lives minus air conditioning, square meals, and working televisions. this should not need to be said and maybe my saying it is offensive, but i think many of us just don't realize it because we never see it. poor rural black people are just about as othered as people get in our society. i think i feel more connected to poor black folks in other countries than to poor black folks in the united states. if our culture does anything about poor rural (and urban) black communities, it teaches us to be afraid of them. this book kicks this fear in the teeth.

i think, by the way, that jesmyn ward did the exact right thing in not trying to represent accents and regionalisms in the writing, because that would have reproposed the othering.

there is so much more than can be said about this book -- in fact, i have spoken not at all about what happens in it. but we are discussing this in january 2012 over at Literary Fiction by People of Color so there will be plenty of time to get into the intricacies of the story when the discussion gets started (link to come). what i wanted to say here was mostly that this is a beautiful and brave novel, and that everyone should read it, and then maybe a movie should be made of it, and that people should start getting to know each other beyond the heinous stereotypes hammered into us by the stupid news.

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Reading Progress

December 26, 2011 – Started Reading
December 26, 2011 – Shelved
December 26, 2011 –
page 58
December 27, 2011 –
page 108
December 28, 2011 – Shelved as: african-american
December 28, 2011 – Shelved as: us-regional
December 28, 2011 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-33 of 33 (33 new)

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Wilhelmina Jenkins This is a great review, because I now want to make a million comments about what you have said, but I suppose I can wait for the discussion (if anyone leads it!)

message 2: by jo (new) - rated it 5 stars

jo i wish you made at least one or two. :)

Doret This was a great story. I was reminded a bit of the Bluest Eye while reading it.

message 4: by jo (new) - rated it 5 stars

jo ah, i read The Bluest Eye a long time ago and i remember NOTHING of it!

Rashida All right jo. I've requested it from the library, and I actually had no intention of reading this one just yet. But you make it sound more intriguing than the blurb.

message 6: by jo (new) - rated it 5 stars

jo it's good, rashida.

Wilhelmina Jenkins I'm halfway through, and I think it's amazing.

message 8: by jo (new) - rated it 5 stars

jo fast read, huh?

Wilhelmina Jenkins Yes, but the writing is so exquisite that I reread in places.

message 10: by jo (new) - rated it 5 stars

jo i found myself re-reading a lot.

Doret A little off topic but since I read a lot of YA I pay attention to list that mention adult books that would be great reads for teens. Has far has I've seen Salvage the Bones and Silver Sparrow have yet to be mentioned in any. To me it they both like obivious choices.

message 12: by jo (new) - rated it 5 stars

jo since you read a lot of YA i have to defer to you, but isn't Salvage the Bones quite brutal?

message 13: by Jean (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jean My library has STB listed as a YA book.

Doret Jo I didn't think so. I found the book and the language a reflection of the main characters realilty. One of the things I loved about the story if the author didn't depend on or use overly graphic language to hold the reading. Ward simply used great writing, and yes there's sex but about I thought it was handled in such a way that it would be appropriate for teens probably about 16 up.

message 15: by jo (new) - rated it 5 stars

jo i am really unfamiliar with the criteria for YA. i suppose the main criterion is that a book applies to a teen's life, yes?

Wilhelmina Jenkins I would say that this would be much more appropriate for older teens than many books recommended for them, like The Bluest Eye - a book I love nut would not recommend for a YA readership. I recommended Silver Sparrow and A Wish After Midnight for my daughter to give to her YA goddaughter.

Wilhelmina Jenkins OK, here are 2 questions I have based on your review: 1) Do you think that poor rural white people are any less represented in books, movies, etc., than poor, rural white people? 2) Do you think that poor, rural black people are presented as frightening? Certainly urban black people are, but I can't see it for rural black people. And, for a bonus Question, when you say "many of us just don't realize it...", who is your "us"? Feel free to ignore these questions - they just came to mind because you wrote such a good review.

Wilhelmina Jenkins The book that this one reminds me of most is "Winter's Bone"' which was also harsh, brutal and magnificent. I had to laugh - I have now read 2 books in which I learned all about killing and preparing squirrels for eating in 1 year. Don't tell me that reading isn't educational!

message 19: by jo (new) - rated it 5 stars

jo those are excellent and mandatory questions. i think we do get poor rural white people a bit more -- i'm thinking now about Winter's Bone but you might tell me that's the exception, the same way that this here book is the exception. but i don't think so. i can't think of specific movies but i can picture in my mind poor rural white people and they don't feel entirely strange to me. what struck me here was the total otherness. it's as if these people had been a mystery to me until i read this book.

yeah, the Great Fear of Black People is a nuanced affair for sure, but i *have* been warned about entering all-black rural towns. there must be differences, for sure, but the Great Black Fear has vast reaches. also, because the reality of black communities is so under-represented, we are all a bit illiterate when it comes to them. we don't know what to look for.

as for this nagging, horrible "we." i am speaking about consumers of mainstream culture, white black and and all the colors of the rainbow, but of course there MUST be difference between those of us who are white and those of us who are black, and those of us who live in segregated white neighborhoods and those of us who live in segregated black neighborhoods or, god bless them, in mixed neighborhood (i know you do, mina).

i'll be very interested in your take on all this.

message 20: by jo (last edited Jan 01, 2012 08:13PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

jo hahah, we cross posted and both mentioned Winter's Bone. sooooooooooo true about the squirrel!

actually i was fortunate enough to read another couple of books this year about the preparation of squirrels for eating, so i think i'm a bit more edicated that you are on this front. :)

Wilhelmina Jenkins I do think that Winter's Bone was an exception, and that's one reason that it stood out so distinctively. I actually think that there may be more books about poor rural black people than the equivalent white people. And I bet that I have had more warnings about driving through poor rural white communities than you have had for black ones. And for good reason, too!

I think that I have had sufficient squirrel preparation education - I'll leave that expertise to you!

Malika excellent review. thank you for your thoughts.

message 23: by jo (new) - rated it 5 stars

jo oh, thank you malika!

Edward I liked your comments about the rich and complex lives of people living at the margin, and the meaning of the presence of the hurricane - unrelenting, no relief

message 25: by jo (new) - rated it 5 stars

jo thank you v. much, edward.

Julia Jo, thanks for a great review. As for another book about poor rural black folks I recently read The Learning Tree by Gordon Parks, writen fifty years ago this year.

message 27: by jo (new) - rated it 5 stars

jo thank you julia, both for the compliment and for the recommendation!

message 28: by Virginia (new)

Virginia Jo, if you're still reading, great review. It was a relief to read such a cogent summary-- in my book club's discussion (NJ suburb)) I felt alone & yet without your articulate words to get it across. I connected strongly with the characters, setting, mood, as someone who grew up rural & white in the '50's.

message 29: by Ruth (new)

Ruth This is a great review!!! It has me rethinking my entire experience while reading this book!! I agree that poor, black, rural folks are others and certainly a mystery to me. The metaphors are what helped me put this book down...I can't take but so many. I didn't give much thought to the weather, although I felt it along with the characters. I almost feel like reading this book again with a more open mind this time. Thanks for your insight. I'm experiencing 'growing pains' right now, but hopefully I'll become a better reader as a result.

message 30: by m.easwari (new) - added it

m.easwari lol easwari

message 31: by m.easwari (new) - added it

m.easwari lol easwari

message 32: by Brian (new) - added it

Brian Hickey What a wonderful review, one that is full of introspection and emotion. So powerful that it made me order the book brimming with anticipation. Thanks jo.

message 33: by jo (new) - rated it 5 stars

jo Brian wrote: "What a wonderful review, one that is full of introspection and emotion. So powerful that it made me order the book brimming with anticipation. Thanks jo."

this is so sweet. thank you brian.

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