Jesmyn Ward's "Sing, Unburied, Sing", winner of National Book Award for Fiction 2017, is simply a literary masterpiece. Set in the American South, it depicts the past and present of Mississipi with a contemporary African-American family. Jesmyn Ward's writing style is stunning with lyrical beauty of words.
The story revolves around the voices of three narrators: Jojo, Leonie and Richie. Jojo is a thirteen-year old innocent boy, lives with his maternal grandparents, whom he calls Mam and Pop. Mam is dying of cancer, and Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. Jojo has a younger sister, three year old, Kayla, to whom he is more of a parent than their mother, Leonie has ever been. He cares her sister a lot, and Kayla is more attached to Jojo. The kids mother Leonie, who is a Black lady, is a drug addict. She is lacking parenting skills and lives in her own way. Mam says Jojo about Leonie:
“She ain’t got the mothering instinct. I knew when you were little and we were about shopping, and she bought herself to something to eat and ate it right in front of you, and you were sitting there crying hungry. I knew then”
Leonie is waiting for Michael - a White, her children’s father, to finish a prison sentence from Parchman jail. When Michael is released from prison, she travels with her kids and a friend into the prison, Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary. During their travel to Parchman and in the return journey, the novel chronicles the various stories and incidents through the narration of its central characters, which brings an ocean of emotions into the your mind.
“I washed my hands every day, Jojo. But that damn blood ain’t never come out. Hold my hands up to my face, I can smell it under my skin”, a character says to Jojo.
Sing, Unburied, Sing is a brilliant tale on not-buried heart of the communities. Jesmyn Ward depicts the issues of race, injustice, and messy family set up with lack of parenting skills. The novel also depicts two ghosts: Richie and Given, to tell the story of injustice. Ghosts are representatives of injustice happened in the past, and it haunt the present.
This book would be a great read to everyone who loves great literary books. With this book, Jesmy Ward, two-time award winner of National Book Award for Fiction, proves that she is one of the best authors in the world among the contemporary novelists.