Monday, November 25, 2019

Review: Men We Reaped

Men We Reaped Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After discussing Sing Unburied Sing with a group, some seemed to have more insight after reading Jesmyn Ward's memoir and made me want to read it too. It isn't easy going - chapters alternate between her life and the stories of five men in her family/community that died within a period of five years. Highly recommended especially as a companion to her fiction, but really for anyone interested in how a person can share difficult personal stories in an honest way.

This is memoir 9 of my Nonfiction November project for 2019.

Bits I saved for future discussion....

"I knew the boys in my first novel, which I was writing at that time, weren't as raw as they could be, weren't real. I knew they were failing as characters because I wasn't pushing them to assume the reality that my real-life boys... experienced every day. I loved them too much: as an author, I was a benevolent God. I protected them from death, from drug addiction, from needlessly harsh sentences in jail for doing stupid, juvenile things like stealing four-wheel ATVs. All of the young Black men in my life, in my community, had been prey to these things in real life, and yet in the lives I imagined for them, I avoided the truth."

"Everything about the night seemed stolen, lived in those murky hours while others slept or worker. We crawled through time like roaches through the linings of walls, the neglected spaces and hours, foolishly happy that we were still alive even as we did everything to die."

"Like for many of the young Black men in my community across generations, the role of being a father and a husband was difficult for my father to assume. He saw a world of possibility outside the confines of the family, and he could not resist the romance of that. But like many of the young Black women in her generation, my mother understood that she had to forget the meaning of possibility, the tender heat of romance, the lure of the vistas of the world. My mother understood that her vistas were the walls of her home, her children's bony backs, their open mouths. Like the women in my family before her, my mother knew the family was her burden to bear."

"I was the eldest daughter of an eldest daughter, and I had to do as she had done and help keep the household together... [description of hanging laundry] ... This is how things were done in my mother's house."

"I looked at myself and saw a walking embodiment of everything the world around me seemed to despise: an unattractive, poor, Black woman. Undervalued by her family, a perpetual workhorse. Undervalued by society regarding her labor and her beauty. This seed buried itself in my stomach and bore fruit. I hated myself. That seed bloomed in the way I walked, slumped over, eyes on the floor, in the way I didn't even attempt to dress well, in the way I avoided the world, when I could, through reading, and in the way I took up as little space as possible and tried to attract as little notice as I could, because why should I? I was something to be left."

"...This is how my brother and I understood what it meant to be a women: working, dour, full of worry. What it meant to be a man: resentful, angry, wanting life to be everything but what it was."

"My entire society suffered from a lack of trust...Because we trusted nothing, we endeavored to protect ourselves, boys becoming misogynistic and violent, girls turning duplicitous, all of us hopeless. Some of us turned sour from the pressure, let it erode our sense of self until we hated what we saw, without and within."

"Grief doesn't fade. Grief scabs over like my scars and pulls into new, painful configurations as it knits. It hurts in new ways. We are never free from grief. We are never free from the feeling that we have failed. We are never free from self-loathing. We are never free from the feeling that something is wrong with us, not with the world that made this mess."

"As an adult, I see my mother's legacy anew. I see how all the burdens she bore, the burdens of her history and identity and of our coutnry's history and identity, enabled her to manifest her greatest gifts. My mother had the courage to look at four hungry children and find a way to fill them. My mother had the strength to work her body to its breaking point to provide for herself and her children. My mother had the resilience to cobble together a family from the broken bits of another... As the eldest daughter of an eldest daughter, and having just borne a daughter, I hope to teach my child these lessons, to pass on my mother's gifts."

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