Sing Unburied Sing – Jesmyn Ward

Chosen by Jodie

An intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle; the archetypal road novel is transformed for twenty-first-century America

Sing Unburied Sing was the first novel I have read featuring ghosts and Southern Gothic literature. In the past I would have run a mile but I thought I’d try something different and I’m so glad I did. 

“Southern Gothic literature include deeply flawed, disturbing or eccentric characters who may or may not dabble in hoodoo, ambivalent gender roles, decayed or derelict settings, grotesque situations, and other sinister events relating to or stemming from poverty, alienation, crime, or violence.”

“It’s a gritty, unbearably sad story of a Mississippi family, where the children, Jojo and Kayla, are brought up by their mother Leonie and her parents. Leonie has no idea how to parent but thankfully the grandparents do. Leonie and Jojo are haunted by ghosts, bringing a touch of magical realism to the mix.

“Half the book takes place over a two-day car ride that Ward manages to make riveting by giving so much life to the nuanced emotions between the characters. Each character plays a complex role binding the story together and addressing issues such as racism, poverty, violence, neglect, grief, addiction, racial identity and dysfunctional families. A lot in a small book! Sing Unburied Sing is relentlessly sad and beautifully written and I would recommend giving it a go.” – Jodie

⚑ “In Sing Unburied Sing, Jesmyn Ward has managed to combine and cross-reference many themes, historical moments and genres in a formidable novel. In it, a young, inept mother takes her two children on a car journey to retrieve their father from prison. Yet they are haunted both literally and figuratively by the past.

“Not only is it capitavating reading, but Ward manages to highlight so many injustices that deserve our attention: the history of American American slaves, pollution of the planet, modern day addiction and poverty, the US’s evolving justice system – it really is incredible how much she squeezes into one book, without it feeling full to the brim, nor moralistic.

“I appreciated how the history, traditions and beliefs of the African American people form the basis for the telling of this story, and that the connection between humanity and nature transcends time and race. On top of all this, Ward uses language in a mellifluous tone that is delightful, no matter what the subject matter.

“You my baby.” She breathes heavy, and the grate cracks and sinks to rusted stillness. “Like I drew the veil back so you could walk in this life, you’ll help me draw it back so I can walk in the next.”

“This is up there with the best books I have read and I don’t know how it was not a Man Booker contender.” – Rachel

⚑ “I am not really a proper reader. I mean, I’m not very literary, and I am sure much of what I read I don’t take in or really understand. Sing Unburied Sing was one of those books where I felt I was only understanding I little of what was there.

“That said, I felt like I was reading something briilliant and moving, and it was an easy, gripping read. I liked the way past and present were interwoven, the way contemporary themes like drug abuse and racism had their connection to the past. I loved the way the story was told through the different voices of key characters. Mostly, I liked it that I was moved by the story, that it hit me at an emotional level. It was a bloody good book.” – Sonya

Published 2017
285 pages



One Comment on “Sing Unburied Sing – Jesmyn Ward

  1. Rach – I agree re Booker contender. I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t on the list. I could not get it out of my mind. The prose was at all times resonant, lyrical and nuanced but never overwhelming. And although i wasn’t sure i understood everything it was just a riveting, astounding, feeling read. Love that you all read it. Soph x

    Liked by 1 person

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