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.
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.
Ward employs several strangely tethered narrators and allows herself to reach back in time while keeping this family chained to the rusty stake of American racism ... These are people 'pulling all the weight of history,' and Ward represents those necrotic claims with a pair of restless ghosts, the unburied singers of the title. Readers may be reminded of the trapped spirits in George Sanders’s recent novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, but Toni Morrison’s Beloved is a more direct antecedent ... If Sing, Unburied, Sing lacks the singular hypnotic power of Salvage the Bones, that’s only because its ambition is broader, its style more complex and, one might say, more mature. The simile-drenched lines that sometimes overwhelmed Ward’s previous novel have been brought under the control here of more plausible voices. And the plight of this one family is now tied to intersecting crimes and failings that stretch over decades. Looking out to the yard, Jojo thinks, 'The branches are full. They are full with ghosts, two or three, all the way up to the top, to the feathered leaves.' Such is the tree of liberty in this haunted nation.