Men We Reaped: Book summary and reviews of Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

Men We Reaped

A Memoir

by Jesmyn Ward

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward X
Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward
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  • Published in USA  Sep 2013
    272 pages
    Genre: Biography/Memoir

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Book Summary

"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.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

BookBrowse Review

"Jesmyn Ward's memoir profiles five young African American men who have been lost in a spate of deaths in the small town of DeLisle, Mississippi. While the chronicles are important, and I really valued them, the book is unfortunately a really slow read. It doesn't hold the reader's attention long enough. Men We Reaped is a necessary book but sadly not an engaging one." — Elizabeth Whitmore Funk

Other Reviews

"Starred Review. A modern rejoinder to Black Like Me, Beloved and other stories of struggle and redemption - beautifully written, if sometimes too sad to bear." - Kirkus

"Ward has a soft touch, making these stories heartbreakingly real through vivid portrayal and dialogue." - Publishers Weekly

"As [Ward] reflects on her losses, telling the stories of her community, she gives us an intimate understanding of deep-rooted social issues. - Library Journal

"This is beautifully written homage, with a pathos and understanding that come from being a part of the culture described." - Booklist

"Jesmyn Ward left her Gulf Coast home for education and experience, but it called her back. It called on her in most painful ways, to mourn. In Men We Reaped, Jesmyn unburies her dead, that they may live again. And through this emotional excavation, she forces us to see the problems of place and race that led these men to their early graves. Full of beauty, love, and dignity, Men We Reaped is a haunting and essential read." – Natasha Trethewey, US Poet Laureate, author of Thrall and Native Guard, winner of the Pulitzer Prize

"Jesmyn Ward is simply sui generis. I am reminded of Miles Davis' quote: 'Don't play what's there, play what's not there,' after reading her memoir, Men We Reaped. This is one mighty virtuosic, bluesy hymn. Beautiful." – Oscar Hijuelos, author of Thoughts without Cigarettes

"Jesmyn Ward is an alchemist. She transmutes pain and loss into gold. Men We Reaped illustrates hardships but thankfully, vitally, it's just as clear about the humor, the intelligence, the tenderness, the brilliance of the folks in DeLisle, Mississippi. A community that's usually wiped off the literary map can't be erased when it's in a book this good." - Victor LaValle, author of The Devil in Silver

"Men We Reaped is a fiercely felt meditation on the value of life that at once reminds us of its infinite worth and indicts us - as a society - for our selective, casual complicity in devaluing it. Ward's account of these losses is founded in a compelling emotional honesty, and graced with moments of stark poetry." - Peter Ho Davies, author of The Welsh Girl

"Jesmyn Ward's memoir is a miracle. In it, she writes with such clarity and beauty that her discoveries and revelations could very well change the way her readers understand the world. She also makes the unbearable nearly bearable with her poetic prose and her life-affirming passion. This is fierce, brave exploration, but it is also - timeless, universal, and unrelentingly inspired." - Laura Kasischke, author of The Raising

"Jesmyn Ward returns to the world of her first two books, but here in the mode of non-fiction. A clear-eyed witness to the harrowing stories of 'men we reaped,' she quickens the dead and brings them, vividly alive again. An eloquent, grief-steeped account." - Nicholas Delbanco, author of Lastingness: The Art of Old Age

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Author Information

Jesmyn Ward Author Biography

Photo: Beowulf Sheehan

Jesmyn Ward received her MFA from the University of Michigan and was a recipient of a Stegner Fellowship, a John and Renee Grisham Writers Residency, and the Strauss Living Prize. She is currently an associate professor of creative writing at Tulane University and author of the novels Where the Line Bleeds and Salvage the Bones, which won the 2011 National Book Award. She is also the author of 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 lives in Mississippi.

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