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Men We Reaped: A Memoir

Men We Reaped: A Memoir

Автором Jesmyn Ward

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Men We Reaped: A Memoir

Автором Jesmyn Ward

оценки:
4.5/5 (101 оценки)
Длина:
253 pages
4 hours
Издатель:
Издано:
Sep 17, 2013
ISBN:
9781608197576

Примечание редактора

Perspective & humanity…

National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward’s memoir about the black men who died too soon in her life injects some much-needed perspective and humanity into the larger narrative about systemic racism, sexism, and classism.

Описание

In this stirring and clear-eyed memoir, the 2011 National Book Award winner contends with the deaths of five young men dear to her, and the still great risk of being a black man in the rural South.

"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 follow people who live in poverty, particularly black men. Dealing with these losses, one after another, made Jesmyn ask the question: Why? And as she began to write about the experience of living through all the dying, she realized the truth-and it took her breath away. Her brother and her friends all died because of who they were and where they were from, because they lived with a history of racism and economic struggle that fostered drug addiction and the dissolution of family and relationships. Jesmyn says the answer was so obvious she felt stupid for not seeing it. But it nagged at her until she knew she had to write about her community, to write their stories and her own.

Jesmyn grew up in poverty in rural Mississippi. She writes powerfully about the pressures this brings, on the men who can do no right and the women who stand in for family in a society where the men are often absent. She bravely tells her story, revisiting the agonizing losses of her only brother and her friends. As the sole member of her family to leave home and pursue higher education, she writes about this parallel American universe with the objectivity distance provides and the intimacy of utter familiarity. A brutal world rendered beautifully, Jesmyn Ward's memoir will sit comfortably alongside Edwidge Danticat's Brother, I'm Dying, Tobias Wolff's This Boy's Life, and Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
Издатель:
Издано:
Sep 17, 2013
ISBN:
9781608197576

Об авторе

Jesmyn Ward received her MFA from the University of Michigan and has received the MacArthur Genius Grant, a Stegner Fellowship, a John and Renee Grisham Writers Residency, and the Strauss Living Prize. She is the winner of two National Book Awards for Fiction for Sing, Unburied, Sing (2017) and Salvage the Bones (2011). She is also the author of the novel Where the Line Bleeds and the memoir Men We Reaped, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and won the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize and the Media for a Just Society Award. She is currently an associate professor of creative writing at Tulane University and lives in Mississippi.


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Men We Reaped - Jesmyn Ward

FOR JOSHUA ADAM DEDEAUX,

WHO LEADS WHILE I FOLLOW

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

Young adolescents in our prime live a life of crime,

Though it ain’t logical, we hobble through these trying times.

Living blind: Lord, help me with my troubled soul.

Why all my homies had to die before they got to grow?

—from Words 2 My Firstborn, Tupac Shakur

I stand on the stump

of a child, whether myself

or my little brother who died, and

yell as far as I can, I cannot leave this place, for

for me it is the dearest and the worst,

it is life nearest to life which is

life lost: it is my place where

I must stand….

—from Easter Morning, A. R. Ammons

Contents

Prologue

We Are in Wolf Town

Roger Eric Daniels III

We Are Born

Demond Cook

We Are Wounded

Charles Joseph Martin

We Are Watching

Ronald Wayne Lizana

We Are Learning

Joshua Adam Dedeaux

We Are Here

Acknowledgments

Footnotes

A Note on the Author

By the Same Author

Prologue

Whenever my mother drove us from coastal Mississippi to New Orleans to visit my father on the weekend, she would say, Lock the doors. After my mother and father split for the last time before they divorced, my father moved to New Orleans, while we remained in DeLisle, Mississippi. My father’s first house in the Crescent City was a modest one-bedroom, painted yellow, with bars on the window. It was in Shrewsbury, a small Black neighborhood that spread under and to the north of the causeway overpass. The house was bounded by a fenced industrial yard to the north and by the rushing, plunking sound of the cars on the elevated interstate to the south. I was the oldest of four, and since I was the oldest, I was the one who bossed my one brother, Joshua, and my two sisters, Nerissa and Charine, and my cousin Aldon, who lived with us for years, to arrange my father’s extra sheets and sofa cushion into pallets on the living room floor so we all had enough room to sleep. My parents, who were attempting to reconcile and would fail, slept in the only bedroom. Joshua insisted that there was a ghost in the house, and at night we’d lie on our backs in the TV-less living room, watch the barred shadows slink across the walls, and wait for something to change, for something that wasn’t supposed to be there, to move.

Somebody died here, Josh said.

How you know? I said.

Daddy told me, he said.

You just trying to scare us, I said. What I didn’t say: It’s working.

I was in junior high then, in the late eighties and early nineties, and I attended a majority White, Episcopalian Mississippi private school. I was a small-town girl, and my classmates in Mississippi were as provincial as I was. My classmates called New Orleans the murder capital. They told horror stories about White people being shot while unloading groceries from their cars. Gang initiations, they said. What was unspoken in this conversation—and, given the racist proclivities of more than a few of my classmates, I’m surprised that it was unspoken—was that these gangsters, ruthlessly violent and untethered by common human decency, were Black. My school peers would often glance at me when they spoke about Black people. I was a scholarship kid, only attending the school because my mother was a maid for a few wealthy families on the Mississippi coast who sponsored my tuition. For most of my junior high and high school years, I was the only Black girl in the school. Whenever my classmates spoke about Black people or New Orleans and tried to not look at me but inevitably did, I stared back at them and thought about the young men I knew from New Orleans, my father’s half brothers.

Uncle Bookie was our favorite of my father’s half brothers. He and his brothers had spent their lives in the neighborhoods my classmates most feared. Uncle Bookie looked the most like the grandfather I’d barely known, who’d died of a stroke at age fifty. He had a chest like a barrel, and his eyes closed when he smiled. On hot days, Uncle Bookie would walk us through Shrewsbury toward the highway in the sky, to a ramshackle shotgun house, maroon in my memory, that stood on the corner. The lady who lived in the house sold ice pops out of the back. They were liquid sugar, and melted too quickly in the heat. On the walk to her yard, he’d crack jokes, gather more kids, lead us over the melting asphalt like a hood pied piper. Once our ice pops melted to syrup in their cardboard cups, once Joshua and I had licked the sugar water from our hands and arms, Uncle Bookie would play games with us in the street: kickball, football, and basketball. He laughed when the football hit one of us in the mouth, leaving it sore and swollen, his eyes slit to the thin side of a penny. On some days he would take us with our father and his pit bull to the park under the highway. There, my father fought his dog against other dogs. The other men who watched or coaxed their dogs to savagery were dark and sweat-glazed as their animals in the heat. My brother and I always stood close to our uncle. We grabbed his forearms, holding tightly, flinching as the cars boomed overhead and the animals ripped at each other. Afterward, the dogs panted and smiled while they bled, and my brother and I relaxed our grip on our uncle, and were happy to leave the shadowed world and the threat of a dog lunging outside the fighting circle.

Daddy ain’t tell you no story about nobody dying in here, I said.

Yeah, he did, Joshua said.

You telling it, Aldon said.

When I was in high school, I could not reconcile the myth of New Orleans to the reality, but I knew that there was truth somewhere. My father and mother sat in the front seat of the car during those early nineties visits, when they were still married but separated, when they still had the easy rapport that years of marriage engenders, and they talked about shootings, about beatings, about murder. They gave the violence of New Orleans many names. We never saw any of that when we visited my father. But we listened to the chain-link fence rattle in the industrial yard next to my father’s house and the night stretched on interminably, and we listened to my brother tell us ghost stories.

Yet we knew another New Orleans existed. We saw that when we piled into my mother’s car and rode past the red brick projects scattered through New Orleans, two-story buildings with sagging iron balconies, massive old trees standing like sentinels at each side of the buildings, women gesticulating and scratching their heads, small dark children playing angrily, happily, sulking on the broken sidewalks. I eyed the young men through the car window. Men in sagging pants with their heads bent together, murmuring, ducking into corner stores that sold POBOYS SHRIMP OYSTER. I wondered what the men were talking about. I wondered who they were. I wondered what their lives were like. I wondered if they were murderers. At night on my father’s living room floor, I asked Joshua again.

What Daddy say happen? I said.

Said somebody got shot, Joshua said.

What somebody?

A man, he said to the ceiling. Charine burrowed into my side.

Shut up, Nerissa said. Aldon sighed.

When we left my father to go home to DeLisle, as we did every Sunday, I was sad. We all were sad, I think, even my mother, who was trying to make their marriage work, despite the distance and the years of infidelity. She’d even been contemplating moving to New Orleans, a city she hated. I missed my father. I didn’t want to return to school in Mississippi on Monday morning, to walk through the glass doors to the large, fluorescent-lit classrooms, the old desks, my classmates perched on the backs of them, wearing collared shirts and khaki shorts, their legs spread, their eyeliner blue. I didn’t want them to look at me after saying something about Black people, didn’t want to have to avert my eyes so they didn’t see me studying them, studying the entitlement they wore like another piece of clothing. Our drive home took us through New Orleans East, across the Isle Sauvage bayou, over the gray murmur of Lake Pontchartrain, through the billboards and strip malls of Slidell into Mississippi. We took I-10 past the pine wall of Stennis Space Center, past Bay St. Louis, past Diamondhead to DeLisle. Once there, we would have exited the long, pitted highway, driven past Du Pont, shielded like Stennis behind its wall of pine trees, past the railroad tracks, past the small wooden houses set in small fields and small sandy yards, trees setting the porches in shade. Here horses stood still in fields, munching grass, seeking cool. Goats chewed fence posts.

DeLisle and Pass Christian, the two towns where all of my family hails from, are not New Orleans. Pass Christian squats beside the man-made beach of the Gulf of Mexico alongside Long Beach, the Bay of St. Louis at its back, while DeLisle hugs the back of the Bay of St. Louis before spreading away and thinning further upcountry. The streets of both towns are sleepy through much of the barely bearable summer, and through much of the winter, when temperatures hover near freezing. In DeLisle during the summers, there are sometimes crowds on Sundays at the county park because younger people come out to play basketball and play music from their cars. In the spring, the older people gather at the local baseball field, where Negro leagues from throughout the South come to play. On Halloween, children still walk or ride on the backs of pickup trucks through the neighborhood from house to house to trick-or-treat. On All Saints Day, families gather around loved ones’ graves, bring nylon and canvas folding chairs to sit in after they’ve cleaned headstones and sandy plots, arranged potted mums, and shared food. They talk into the evening, burn fires, wave away the last of the fall gnats. This is not a murder capital.

Most of the Black families in DeLisle have lived there as far back as they can remember, including mine, in houses many of them built themselves. These houses, small shotguns and A-frames, were built in waves, the oldest in the thirties by our great-grandparents, the next in the fifties by our grandparents, the next in the seventies and eighties by our parents, who used contractors. These modest houses, ours included, had two to three bedrooms with gravel and dirt driveways and rabbit hutches and scupadine vineyards in the back. Poor and working-class, but proud. There is no public housing at all in DeLisle, and the project housing that existed before Hurricane Katrina in Pass Christian consisted of several small redbrick duplexes and a few subdivisions with single-family homes, which housed some Black people, some Vietnamese. Now, seven years after Katrina, developers build two- and three-bedroom houses up on fifteen- to twenty-foot stilts where this public housing stood, and these houses fill quickly with those still displaced from the storm, or young adults from Pass Christian and DeLisle who want to live in their hometown. Hurricane Katrina made that impossible for several years, since it razed most of the housing in Pass Christian, and decimated what was closest to the bayou in DeLisle. Coming home to DeLisle as an adult has been harder for this reason, a concrete one. And then there are abstract reasons, too.

As Joshua said when we were kids hunting down ghosts: Somebody died here.

From 2000 to 2004, five Black young men I grew up with died, all violently, in seemingly unrelated deaths. The first was my brother, Joshua, in October 2000. The second was Ronald in December 2002. The third was C. J. in January 2004. The fourth was Demond in February 2004. The last was Roger in June 2004. 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. To say this is difficult is understatement; telling this story is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But my ghosts were once people, and I cannot forget that. I cannot forget that when I am walking the streets of DeLisle, streets that seem even barer since Katrina. Streets that seem even more empty since all these deaths, where instead of hearing my friends or my brother playing music from their cars at the county park, the only sound I hear is a tortured parrot that one of my cousins owns, a parrot that screams so loudly it sounds through the neighborhood, a scream like a wounded child, from a cage so small the parrot’s crest barely clears the top of the cage while its tail brushes the bottom. Sometimes when that parrot screams, sounding its rage and grief, I wonder at my neighborhood’s silence. I wonder why silence is the sound of our subsumed rage, our accumulated grief. I decide this is not right, that I must give voice to this story.

I’m telling you: there’s a ghost in here, Joshua said.

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. And then I must revisit each of the five young black men who died: follow them backward in time, from Rog’s death to Demond’s death to C. J.’s death to Ronald’s death to my brother’s death. At the same time, I must tell this story forward through time, so between those chapters where my friends and my brother live and speak and breathe again for a few paltry pages, I must write about my family and how I grew up. My hope is that learning something about our lives and the lives of the people in my community will mean that when I get to the heart, when my marches forward through the past and backward from the present meet in the middle with my brother’s death, I’ll understand a bit better why this epidemic happened, about how the history of racism and economic inequality and lapsed public and personal responsibility festered and turned sour and spread here. Hopefully, I’ll understand why my brother died while I live, and why I’ve been saddled with this rotten fucking story.

We Are in Wolf Town

Distant Past–1977

In pictures, some of my ancestors on my mother’s and my father’s sides are so light-skinned as to look white, and some are so dark the lines of the nose, a mouth, look silver in the black and white picture. They wear long-sleeved, full white shirts tucked into dark skirts, and muted cotton shirts tucked into loose pants. Inevitably, they stand outside in these pictures, but the backgrounds are so faded, one can only see trees like smoke behind them. None of them smile. My grandmother Dorothy tells me stories about them, says some of them were Haitian, that others were Choctaw, said they spoke French, that they came from New Orleans or a nebulous elsewhere, searching for land and space, and they stopped here.

Before DeLisle was named DeLisle, after a French settler, the early settlers called it Wolf Town. Pine and oak and sweetgum grow in tangles from the north down to the south of the town, to the DeLisle Bayou. The Wolf River, brown and lazy, snakes its way through DeLisle, fingers the country in creeks, before emptying into the bayou. When people ask me about my hometown, I tell them it was called after a wolf before it was partially tamed and settled. I want to impart something of its wild roots, its early savagery. Calling it Wolf Town hints at the wildness at the heart of it.

I want to tell them, but don’t: I’ve seen foxes, small and red and thin-boned, darting along ditches before slipping into woods again. This thing that I saw once was different. It was night, and my friends and I were riding through a part of DeLisle that had been previously untouched, a wild tangle of wood that someone had cut a dead-end road into in hopes of building a subdivision. The creature loped out of the woods before us, and we startled and shouted, and it looked at us and loped back into the darkness, and it was darkness, colored black, and had a long, fine snout, and it was soundless, this wild thing that looked at us like the intruders that we were before we drove away from it to more well-traveled roads, away from that place that was everything but dead end, that place that seemed all beginning, a birthplace: Wolf Town.

But I am not that eloquent, so I shut my mouth and smile.

Most of the people here are kin. It is something that the Black people will talk about among themselves, the way our families intertwine and feed one another, and it is something that White people will speak about among themselves, but it is something that we rarely speak to each other about, even when those on both sides of the color divide share the same last name. We are conscious of the way bloodlines are so entangled in our community, so much so that back in the early 1900s, adults in DeLisle would arrange visits with other communities of mixed-race people in Alabama or Louisiana to match children with marriageable mates to vary the gene pool. Sometimes this worked, and sometimes it didn’t. Sometime the matches the young found were closer to home. Sometimes they were cousins, or in other ways had relationships that were taboo.

My maternal grandmother, Dorothy, remembers when she was very young, before her mother, Mary, and father, Harry, had all of their twelve kids, riding in her father’s old car to visit relatives farther up in the country, north of DeLisle. Harry’s father was a dark, rich brown, but his mother was, by all accounts, White, and her sister lived in a cluster of White communities farther north. Harry’s children ranged from cinnamon to nutmeg to vanilla, and on that trip north, the children curled in on themselves in the car’s rumble seat and rode through the hot bright Mississippi wilderness under blankets. Harry was light enough to be mistaken for White. While there, the children played inside the house, and when the sun began to set, my great-great-grandmother’s sister told her, Well, it’s about time for y’all to be getting down the road. What she said without saying was: It’s not safe for you here. The Klan are here. You should not be caught out on these roads in the dark. So my grandmother and her siblings folded their small bodies in two and hid under the suffocating blanket again, and a seemingly White man and his White mother drove south to DeLisle, to the mostly Creole, mixed-race community they called home.

My mother’s paternal grandfather Adam Jr.’s family also bears stories like this. My mother has a picture of Adam Jr.’s father, Adam Sr., and he looks White. In fact, he was half White and half Native American. Adam Sr.’s father was Joseph Dedeaux, a White man, in a family of White Dedeauxes that had some money and owned some of the most beautiful land in DeLisle. The land sits in the curve of the bayou and is graced by almost unbearably grand live oaks. The sun sets over the marsh grass and water, turning it into a tableau so gorgeous it haunts my homesick dreams. This White man fell in love with his Native American housekeeper, and he began a relationship with her. When his family found out, they disowned him. So Joseph married Daisy and bore my great-grandfather. Later, my mother told me that Joseph and Daisy established a general store, where my White great-great-grandfather would die, a victim of a shooting and a botched store robbery. My Native American great-great-grandmother followed him a few years later from illness.

My mother’s maternal great-grandfather, Jeremy, also was fairly wealthy. It is rumored that his wife’s people came from Haiti but that he was a Native American. When he realized that the White government would do nothing to educate his children and grandchildren, he built a one-room school on the land he owned and hired a teacher. He also spent some of his time out in the woods on his multi-acre property, tending to liquor stills, which was a common pastime in the community during Prohibition. One of those days, he and his son-in-law Harry were working them together, and the Revenues found them. I imagine these White men wearing white shirts and dark pants, their hair lank and sweaty, their guns smooth and cool in their moist hands. Harry ran and escaped, and would later live to hide his children under blankets to take them upcountry to visit their White relatives, but my great-great-grandfather Jeremy was shot and killed. The Revenues left his dead body to grow cold

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  • (4/5)
    This year I have read a great deal about what it means to be Black in a nation designed to advance the interests of White people. This was not by design. Certainly it is an area of interest for me, personal and professional, and the brutal costs of endemic racism have been thrown into stark relief over the past 5 years. The primary reason though for this immersion is that there have been a whole lot of great books published in the past few years whose authors have made themselves vulnerable, who have endured the pain of remembering unimaginable trauma, to tell their story and the stories of others in the Black community that get heard too infrequently by people outside that community. I am grateful. I owe a debt to these writers, to Kiese Laymon, to Anita Heiss (who wrote about this from an indigenous Australian perspective, which widened my lens), Robin DiAngelo, Angie Thomas, Eric Michael Dyson, Candice Carty-Williams, and now Jesmyn Ward.Ward tells her story through tales of 4 young Black men she grew up with in Mississippi, all of whom died very young. They died in different ways, but all in ways that connect back to the devaluation of Black life, and the limitations placed on the dreams and goals available to the dead men in their lifetimes. The story of these men is also the story of the women who loved them, who raised them, who bore their children. Its is a story about the pain and exhaustion, physical and emotional, of those women and children left to just put down their heads and get things done. Its a story I have not heard well told, and it helped me to understand some things I had not understood before about the definition of fatherhood and the expectations placed on girls and boys nearly from birth in many communities. We need to understand the roots of a problem to make changes. The roots are exposed here, and once again the roots are strangled by systemic racism, by the ways in which we see Whiteness as the default "normal" and view success for Black people by their ability to act white, seem white. be white also-rans. Its appalling that this is still true. White folks need to get off our asses to start to change that. Ward is a beautiful writer, and her tributes do honor to the young men lost, but this book really comes together in the last chapter where she goes to the social science. I wish there had been more of that. I wanted the personal stories, but I wanted to understand them in a broader context. We need to be having a conversation about the epidemiology of racism and other types of oppression and the harm it causes. This book, the stories and the social science are a great start.
  • (4/5)
    Devastating grief memoir. Ms Ward is unflinching in detailing the impact her brother's death had on her and her family. It's a brave and raw telling of a tragic and deeply personal story.

    If I have a quibble it's that I wasn't always 100% convinced by the broadening of the story. Of course there are socio-economic links between the five men who died and whose stories are told her. The suffocating poverty and racism is undeniable, but I wasn't always comfortable with the juxtaposition of deaths in road accidents with gang violence, drug overdose and suicidal depression. It's a fine work, nevertheless.
  • (4/5)
    During a 5-year period beginning in 2000, Jesmyn Ward lost her brother and four close friends from DeLisle, Mississippi. Ward weaves the story of these five men with the story of her childhood and young adulthood. She tells her life story chronologically, and the men’s stories in reverse chronological order. The two threads finally intersect with the tragic death of Ward’s only full brother in 2000. Ward’s brother and another of the young men died in car accidents, another young man died of a drug overdose, a fourth took his own life, and the last was murdered. For Ward, these tragic losses are indicative of the problems of poverty and racism that affect the lives of so many African Americans in the South. It’s a difficult book to read, and I could only manage a chapter or two at a time. It must have been infinitely more difficult to live.
  • (4/5)
    In California, … my mother could tend to her husband and her child only, free of family and the South.But her parents returned to the South, and in this memoir, Ward paints the social and literal landscape of late-20th-century small-town Mississippi, tells of her growing-up years in poverty there, and eulogizes five young men of color -- four friends plus her only brother -- who died there between 2000 and 2004.As in the quote above, Ward knew so many reasons to want to be away from Mississippi, and yet after years of education and work elsewhere, her childhood hometown is where she lives and teaches now. I’ve liked two now by Ward, and have designated her a “favorite” author.
  • (5/5)
    This is a heartbreaking memoir structured around the deaths of young African-American men in rural Louisiana and Mississippi. It is heartbreaking, the effects of these deaths are long-lasting, and Ms. Ward writes forcefully and beautifully. Read it!
  • (3/5)
    Not your average memoir. At times impersonal and observational, at others intensely emotional. The structure is original with two different narratives alternating chapters and then catching up to each other in the penultimate chapter about her brother's death.
  • (5/5)
    One of the most beautifully written and heartbreaking books that I have ever read.
  • (4/5)
    From 2000 to 2004, five young men who were close to Jesmyn Ward died. Each was killed in a different way, and each left an abiding mark in her life. This is their story, and hers: of growing up in rural Mississippi, Black and poor.Jesmyn's memoir has a unique format, starting with her family history and moving forward, but interspersed the stories of the "men we reaped," working backwards through those deaths until the stories converge at the very end. Her heartbreak and wrestling with grief and why this happened permeates every page. I struggled at times to wholeheartedly accept her understanding of events, but she writes powerfully and has created a loving tribute to her friends and family.
  • (5/5)
    A poignant memoir about growing up poor and black in the South and the damaging effects of subtle and offert racism. A wonderful book, beautifully written.
  • (5/5)
    At the end of this fine memoir, many very famous authors wrote about the wonder of this memoir. Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward is about a period of tragedy in Mississippi especially in the Black community. This community because of poverty and racism is causing the death of the young Black male. Jesmyn Ward is to be applauded for making her way through and over many obstacles as she strived to become an author. Her way was far from easy. She cried many tears for friends, cousins and her brother who unfortunately found a block in their path to success. It's important to realize these boy-men wanted success too. They didn't choose to settle for hustling drugs or not finding jobs. I blame it on the values and the place where they were born, and they had no choice in that matter. Throughout the memoir the author gives sad statistics for her birth state, Mississippi. While also including the statistics for the Black male who lives there. Once I had read the memoir and read the statistics I saw more clearly the battle a Black male fights daily. It is as if he has not escaped slavery. He is in a different bondage now. Perhaps, this bondage is more horrendous because it bears the name freedom. Also, the women who know and love these men are in a bondage as well.After the death of one male by suicide, his girl friend sits in the car with Jesmyn West regretting what she didn't say but what she wanted to say. She's hurt deeply. She feels at fault. She wants him back from the arms of death. There is no kindness in these episodes. Only a wild hunger to eat the poor and Black alive.After her brother's death, Jesmyn West think of suicide. To stop herself from cutting her wrists she tattoos Love Brother on one wrist. She also has the other wrist tattooed with, I think, his name. The latter wrist is tattooed first. She tattoos her wrists out of deep, forever love for Josh. She knew she could never put a knife to a place where anything about her brother is stamped. This is her creative way of striving to survive for the sake of the men cousins still in her life and most of all for the sake of her daughter. By the way, Josh doesn't commit suicide. His death is a different death. It is done by a drunk driver.The memoir is tragic. It broke my heart. It breaks the heart of the author daily. She walks and works with the dead on her mind. They are never forgotten. What words are sufficient to write about the author, her sisters, her father, her mother? I won't offer a shallow "I'm sorry." I'm too numbed by their pain. I can only end this book review by writing, "Jesmyn Ward, I heard you. I will not forget you. I thank you for reliving your pain in Men We Reaped. You moved me emotionally. nprreaped-is-a-reminder-that-no-one-is-promised-tomorrow
  • (4/5)
    Jesmyn Ward grew up in Mississippi, poor and black, and this story describes that world. It also chronicles the tragic deaths of four young black men. I really liked how she alternated chapters of her life growing up in chronological order and chapters of the young men and how they died in reverse order. Very sad. The most painful death, which colored each subsequent one, was her brother Joshua. This was riveting, especially in the beginning. Towards the end I felt like there were details we weren't privy to. My one significant quibble with the book is that it is supposed to show how their poverty stricken circumstances created these tragedies, but Joshua died in a random accident when a drunk driver crashed into his car. However, her grief at losing her brother is very real and has obviously, and understandably, overwhelmed her. Then others died in rapid order, and they were victims of their circumstances.
  • (5/5)
    I don't even know how to begin when it comes to this book. I have so many emotions going through my head and my heart right now, it's hard to capture them and share them with you. This memoir isn't just about Jesmyn Ward's losses or her life, it's also about the history of loss and lives of thousands of black men and women throughout America. Not only that, but this memoir is also proof that a sort of good, or hope can be fashioned from these losses and live and made to live on forever in the hearts of those of us who are lucky enough to stumble upon and read them.


    I recieved this book through Goodread's First Reads.
  • (5/5)
    An exquisitely written memoir, beautiful and heartbreaking.
  • (2/5)
    Men We Reaped is a memoir recounting the lives and deaths of several of the author's friends and relatives. Those who died were all young southern black men who died well before their time. The book is both a very personal account and a commentary on the societal problems that caused so many of the author's friends to die so young.

    I finished this book a few weeks ago, so it is hard to remember exactly what I thought. The book had such great potential, but I felt it fell a little short. While the plight of the individuals in the book is very real and heartbreaking, I found the organization of the book made it hard to relate to the characters.
  • (5/5)
    A gut wrenching memoir of growing up in Mississippi.
  • (3/5)
    The overall structure of the book was excellent. I loved the two threads, one traveling forward in time, the other traveling backward. This worked for me. But within the story, there were so many small details and I found myself lost in them and confused about basics like where people were in relation to one another physically (the geography of a scene, so to speak) or what the order of events was in a particular story. These were little things, but they disturbed the flow as I was reading.

    There was much that was incredibly poignant to me here: The legacy of hopelessness and the story lines repeated with minor variations throughout the generations, the gap that remains after the loss of a sibling, the questions and doubts we have about ourselves as a result of the choices our parents made in their---and subsequently our---lives. There's this intersection of lives that can feel protective in one moment and constricting in another, as the embrace of our close relationships can leave us feeling alternately warmed and trapped. Ward captures all of this quite well.

    This is the first book of Ward's that I've read, and I look forward to reading her fiction.
  • (5/5)
    Ward grew up in rural Mississippi, during the late 70s and 80s. She lived mostly at the poverty line, with just her mother supporting the family. In just a few scant years, she lost five men in her life, to drugs, accidents and suicide. This beautifully written memoir, is her exploration of those young men's, pitifully short lives and her own struggles growing up and dealing with racism. She also examines her own alcohol abuse and bouts of depression. This book will break your heart and more than once but it is a must read.Ward also writes fiction and I loved her last novel, [Salvage the Bones].
  • (4/5)
    "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 poorly financed and largely segregated schools, and that combined with the lack of good jobs in the region for those without higher education, or for most blacks regardless of their level of education, condemned them to a series of low paying jobs that kept them in poverty and put a great strain on their marriage. Ward managed to escape this trap due to a lawyer that her mother worked for as a maid, who paid for her education at an all-white private school that was vastly better than the public school in DeLisle that she had been attending. She performed well there despite frequent racial harassment from her fellow students, and she was accepted to Stanford University, where she received her bachelor's degree, and the University of Michigan, where she earned a master's degree in fine arts. After years of struggling to find a good job that would take advantage of her education and writing skills she eventually found a publisher for her first novel, [Where the Line Bleeds], which was set in a Mississippi Gulf Coast town ravaged by Hurricane Katrina whose African American residents struggle to overcome poverty, racism and drug addiction. She was subsequently chosen as a writer in residence at the University of Mississippi and during that time she wrote [Salvage the Bones], which significantly elevated her career. She accepted a teaching position at the University of South Alabama, and she is now an associate professor of English at Tulane University in New Orleans.In addition to overcoming poverty and racism, Ward also had to deal with alcoholism and depression, due in large part to her family's struggles in DeLisle, her inability to find a decent job, and especially the loss of the men in her life. Her father divorced her mother after she gave birth to their fourth child, and his lack of income and presence in their lives left her, her three siblings and her mother financially distressed and emotionally wounded. In 2000 her brother Joshua was killed, and subsequently four other young men in her community died, of different causes, over the next four years, which was devastating to her and her community. In [Men We Reaped], Ward describes the often difficult lives of these five men and their sudden deaths, in an effort to eulogize them, to tell the story of herself, her family and those closest to her, and to help those of us who didn't grow up under those oppressive circumstances, including myself, understand why men like these made the choices they did, the devastating consequences that resulted from them, and how their failed lives adversely impacts their communities, and ultimately all of us.
  • (4/5)
    MEN WE REAPED is very well written and in a style that feels as if the author is right there with you having a conversation. The prose is beautiful, and the descriptions are vivid and make the scenes come alive.The author revealed her life very eloquently even though her life growing up wasn't very eloquent. Jesymn had to suffer through a premature birth, a father who wasn't true to her mother, a dog mauling, poverty, drugs, drinking, and deaths of loved ones.The book was enlightening as well as heartbreaking to hear the narration of her life and her family's struggles.I normally do not read memoirs, but I am glad I read this book. It is an eye opener. Thanks for writing this book, Ms. Ward.This book was given to me free of charge and without compensation by the publisher in return for an honest review.
  • (4/5)
    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. The pain and guilt she feels from having escaped this circle of devastation is something her writing poignantly displays. Interesting read from an author I admire. Love the urban grittiness in her book [book:Salvage the Bones10846336]and hope she is in the process writing another fiction book.
  • (5/5)
    Good .
  • (5/5)
    Awesome .
  • (5/5)
    Its interesting :) .
  • (5/5)
    As an older sister to a younger brother, this book was like a punch in the gut to finish. The writing is beautiful and in it we are allowed to experience the life lived by Jesmyn Ward and those she grew up with, to see how very different their experience is from our own (or, it was very different from mine, anyway). I am so grateful that this book exists and I cannot wait to read more from her.
  • (5/5)
    Thats interesting .
  • (5/5)
    Nice .
  • (5/5)
    Thats breathtaking... .
  • (1/5)
    Really An Amazing Book. I Really Love Reading this Book.
  • (5/5)
    Cool .
  • (5/5)
    Really An Amazing Book. I Really Love Reading this Book.