Winner of the 2017 National Book Award for Fiction.
From the 2011 National Book Award-winning author of Salvage the Bones, an intimate, mystical portrait of racial tensions in the modern-day American South focusing on a few days the lives of a fractured Mississippi Gulf Coast family and the histories and ghosts that haunt it.
A furious brew with hints of Toni Morrison and Homer’s The Odyssey ... Race and racism are constant threads in Ward’s novels, but not in predictable ways. Unlike cities where different groups uneasily co-exist without interacting, the rural poor, regardless of race, are entangled in each other’s lives. They’re friends; they fight; and they have relationships and children. They are bound by having to make do with less and find commonality and company with each other. Until they don’t ... these lives are pockmarked by bad luck and bad choices, yet Ward presents them without judgment. Neither does she sift for some phony nobility, as though the recompense for being poor is to be imbued with amazing grace. Perhaps these are not characters to be loved, but they earn respect. Either by strength or stubbornness, they persist though the tumult of blood ties, the scourge of prejudice, and the long grind of disappointment, always searching for a safe way back home.
Ward’s characters are much more than their scars. The novel suggests that you have resources to get you through, regardless of your circumstances. Some of those resources are not tallied by experts. The ear might be a better way of finding those resources than looking at numbers on a spreadsheet. And it takes a certain kind of ear ... She [Ward] accepts—perhaps welcomes—her characters, with all their flaws ... Sing, Unburied, Sing honors paying attention: seeing, listening, and, finally, singing. The novel inspires me to think that we need new songs, new ways of seeing, new ways of listening.
As long as America has novelists such as Jesmyn Ward, it will not lose its soul ... Sing, Unburied, Sing is nothing short of magnificent. Combining stark circumstances with magical realism, it illuminates America’s love-hate tug between the races in a way that we seem incapable of doing anywhere else but in occasional blessed works of art. But first, it tells a great story ... The book’s title could be read two ways — as an ode to the haunting music of the undead, whose histories shape our own, or as an exhortation to those still living to stand tall and proud against every form of bondage ... This novel is her best yet. Her voice is calm, wise, powerful. Politics and outrage are wholly absent from Sing, and yet it beautifully illuminates the issues that wrack our nation through the story of one American family that we finally recognize as — us.