Men We Reaped...A review.
This was my first experience with Jesmyn Ward's work. And it was heartbreaking. She wrote with a sadness that was past the point of anger (or so it seemed). She lost five men in her life and she writes about her relationship with them and what took them from this world.
Some of the hurts and struggles she wrote about were foreign to me—things I never think about in my life, but I know others deal with on a daily basis. But she brought me in, made me feel them if only for the time it took me to read the pages. I felt like I was walking next to her through each and every party, gathering, conversation.
It isn't a book that points fingers or even calls for someone to bring justice. It's a declaration of facts that led to tragedies that points to societal wrongs and systemic discrimination. I kept thinking, "Well it's just not fair," as I finished one chapter and then another. When I find myself getting worked up, I know it is a book worthy of attention.
I so value this book and what it represents. In it, I saw her emotions: frustration, defeat, resignation, nostalgia, and finally, hope.
The most poignant part of the book for me was the physical distance she tried to create between herself and the pain. She left her home and came back multiple times. I read about her struggle between wanting to run from a place because of old fears, old wounds, crippling memories and injustices, but all the while recognizing that this place is home and the only way these injustices change is if they are brought to the light. I applaud her for returning to a hard place and for writing about something so deeply personal. I want everyone to read this book.
Who is this book for?
People who feel confused about racial tensions in America right now: Please. Read this.
Someone looking for a good beach read: Nope.
People who haven't lost anyone special to them: Absolutely.
People who have lost too many people who are special to them: Yes.
What does this book say?
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.
The tradition of men leaving their families here seems systemic, fostered by endemic poverty. Sometimes color seems an accidental factor, but then it doesn't, especially when one thinks of the forced fracturing of families that the earliest African Americans endured under the yoke of slavery.
How could I know then that this would be my life: yearning to leave the South and doing so again and again, but perpetually called back to home by a love so thick it choked me?