From two-time National Book Award winner Ward. Annis, sold south by the white enslaver who fathered her, is the reader's guide through this hellscape. As she struggles through the miles-long march, Annis turns inward, seeking comfort from memories of her mother and stories of her African warrior grandmother. Throughout, she opens herself to a world beyond this world, one teeming with spirits: of earth and water, of myth and history; spirits who nurture and give, and those who manipulate and take. While Ward leads readers through the descent, this, her fourth novel, is ultimately a story of rebirth and reclamation.
Overwhelming ... For all its boundless suffering, this is a novel of triumph ... Pained questions — no easier to answer now than then — greatly expand the scope and power of this perilous story told in richly poetic language. Running up against the limits of faith in the face of calamity, Annis eventually hammers out a relationship to the spirit world, complete with a rough-hewn existential philosophy that is both revolutionary and entirely consistent with the tools at her disposal. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a young woman traumatized by enslavement has no interest in a divine presence that demands servitude, even ownership. Gratitude will have to suffice.
Among her talents, Ward can imagine and draw complex emotional and psychological lives for her adolescent characters ... Identifying Toni Morrison as an influence on Ward’s lyrical prose and ancestor invocation is fair, true, and too easy. Instead, we ought to read Ward as placing Greek mythology, ancient epic poets, Judeo-Christian narratives, and the system of Dante’s hell, adjacent to but not above her African American and African-descended gods. Her novels argue that these are interconnected, co-equal branches of practical magic.
A superb historical-fiction novel sprinkled with supernatural elements that pulls readers into the life of a slave on a long, painful journey ... While accurate, this description fails to communicate the depth of this novel as well as the multiplicity of layers in which it works. Angry, beautiful, raw, visceral, and heartfelt, Let Us Descend is the literary equivalent of an open wound from which poetry pours. This novel is a thing you can't help but to feel ... An uncomfortable read. Physical, psychological, and sexual violence were constants for slaves, and Ward doesn't shy away from any of it. In fact, Annis' months-long journey is recounted in exhausting detail ... As upsetting as it is beautiful and necessary. Ward's writing about slavery doesn't add anything new to the discussion, but her unique mix of historical fiction, supernatural elements, and gorgeous prose helps her carve out a special place in literature that deals with the subject. It's rare to have a historical novel that also feels timely, but this story pulls it off.