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Men We Reaped: A Memoir Hardcover – September 17, 2013

4.3 out of 5 stars 162 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In four years, five young men dear to Ward died of various causes, from drug overdose to accident to suicide, but the underlying cause of their deaths was a self-destructive spiral born of hopelessness. Surrounded by so much death and sorrow, Ward closely examined the heartbreakingly relentless deathsof her young relatives and friends growing up in the small town of DeLisle, Mississippi, with few job prospects and little to engage their time and talents other than selling and using drugs and alcohol. She herself had partially escaped, going on to college in Michigan and California; but the pull of close family ties and a deep appreciation of southern culture lured her back each summer. Ward, author of Salvage the Bones (2011), lovingly profiles each of those she lost, including a brother, a cousin, and close friends, and their tragic ends as she weaves her family history and details her own difficulties of breaking away from home and the desperate need to do so. This is beautifully written homage, with a pathos and understanding that come from being a part of the culture described. --Vanessa Bush

Review

“An important, and perhaps even essential, book.” ―Skip Horack, San Francisco Chronicle

“[Ward] chronicles our American story in language that is raw, beautiful and dangerous… [Her] singular voice and her full embrace of her anger and sorrow set this work apart from those that have trodden similar ground… With loving and vivid recollection, she returns flesh to the bones of statistics and allows her ghosts to live again… [It's a] complicated and courageous testimony.” ―Tayari Jones, The New York Times Book Review

“Heart-wrenching… A brilliant book about beauty and death… at once a coming-of-age story and a kind of mourning song… filled [with] intimate and familial moments, each described with the passion and precision of the polished novelist Ward has become… Ward is one of those rare writers who's traveled across America's deepening class rift with her sense of truth intact. What she gives back to her community is the hurtful honesty of the best literary art.” ―Hector Tobar, Los Angeles Times

“A memoir about loss in rural Mississippi that burns with brilliance.” ―Harper's Bazaar

“A memoir that is as searing as her fiction, as poignant and as timely... in a country that is supposed to be post racial but still seems hell-bent on the epidemic destruction of young black men.” ―Edwidge Danticat, The Progressive

“A memoir that, in plainsong prose punctuated with sudden poetic flashes, schools us in the unforgiving experiences from which [Ward] has drawn her triumphal fiction… It paints in unshowy colors her impoverished coming-of-age in the narrow strip of lowlands where Mississippi touches the Gulf of Mexico… [Ward is an] eloquent envoy from a forgotten part of America… [Men We Reaped is an] unvarnished and penetrating view into the infernal machinery of race hatred, pervasive mistrust, self-loathing, drugs, guns, and life's bloody accidents.” ―Ben Dickinson, Elle

“Devastating… Ward is a vivid, urgent writer, and here she is bearing witness to poverty and racism, the inequality that plagues her community and so many others like it… Her story shines a light on this darkness, reminding us we will never be able to lift it if we do not at least look.” ―Oprah.com

“An important contemporary voice: a sensitive, lyrical narrator of difficult stories from the land of Faulkner and Welty.” ―The New York Times

“A lovely book about stuff so painful that Ward must have written it in a kind of fever… The final chapters are so moving you have to avert your eyes, both for the trauma and the tenderness.” ―Entertainment Weekly

“[A] riveting memoir of the ghosts that haunt her hometown in Mississippi… Ward has a soft touch, making these stories heartbreakingly real through vivid portrayal and dialogue.” ―Publishers Weekly

“A vivid and searing look at the legacy of racism in the U.S. by a writer with exceptional narrative gifts... In [Ward's] hands, the cultural and personal are inseparable… Men We Reaped is a stunning look at racism, the people it marginalizes and how we are all implicated. It is moving, honest, compassionate and rigorous. It is loving and raw, full of grief and anger, personal and objective, shocking and inevitable. Ward stands alongside writers like Edwidge Danticat, Alice Walker and Maya Angelou as a gifted chronicler of the crucible of an inequitable culture.” ―Shelf Awareness

“Ward closely examined the heartbreakingly relentless deaths of her young relatives and friends growing up in [her] small town… [She] lovingly profiles each of those she lost, including a brother, a cousin, and close friends, and their tragic ends as she weaves her family history and details her own difficulties of breaking away from home and the desperate need to do so. This is beautifully written homage, with a pathos and understanding that come from being a part of the culture described.” ―Booklist

“An assured yet scarifying memoir by young, supremely gifted novelist Ward… A modern rejoinder to Black Like Me, Beloved and other stories of struggle and redemption--beautifully written, if sometimes too sad to bear.” ―Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1 edition (September 17, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 160819521X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608195213
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (162 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #158,717 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jesmyn Ward is a former Stegner fellow at Stanford and Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi. Her novels, Where the Line Bleeds and Salvage the Bones, are both set on the Mississippi coast where she grew up. Bloomsbury will publish her memoir about an epidemic of deaths of young black men in her community. She is an Assistant Professor at the University of South Alabama.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
MEN WE REAPED is very well written and in a style that feels as if the author is right there with you having a conversation. The prose is beautiful, and the descriptions are vivid and make the scenes come alive.

The author revealed her life very eloquently even though her life growing up wasn't very eloquent. Jesmyn had to suffer through a premature birth, a father who wasn't true to her mother, a dog mauling, poverty, drugs, drinking, and deaths of loved ones.

The book was enlightening as well as heartbreaking to hear the narration of her life and her family's struggles.

I normally do not read memoirs, but I am glad I read this book. It is an eye opener. Thanks for writing this book, Ms. Ward.

This book was given to me free of charge and without compensation by the publisher in return for an honest review
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I purchased Men We Reaped after a riveting hour-long interview Jesmyn Ward gave to NPR radio stung me with anticipation.

The book changed my life.

Ward takes you back and forth through time seamlessly, on a journey to uncover meaning behind the deaths of five men in her life. Along the way I played devil's advocate in my head. As the answers begin to appear through the Louisiana fog, I looked for 'holes' in the theory. I found no valid reasons why a critic might dismiss her case.

That's just one of the themes. There are others, but simply listing them here in a sentence would be an injustice. Ward weaves them into the memoir using the very personal thread of her own life story. Technically, the writing is a virtuoso; I found myself re-reading paragraphs and wondering, 'How did she just do that?' Emotionally, it is raw electricity.

Simply put, everyone needs to read this book. It is too important not to.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book because our local newspaper ran a favorable article on the author. Additionally the idea for the memoir was interesting. However its execution was disappointing. I felt like I never got to know these men. There is no chronological progression of time making it difficult to form a picture of these men as they progressed from boyhood to early adulthood. I wanted to know more about their makeup...their character, their hopes and dream, their struggles....the basic details of a life. Instead I came away with the impression of young men who liked to drive around, take drugs, and drink. So if the author wanted me to feel compassion for these young men and their life difficulties. she failed and in the end short-changed the memories of her friends.
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Format: Hardcover
Jesmyn is in such a unique situation to give a nuanced and thoughtful window into this crisis, but I felt she never got there. She never followed the "why" trail all the way back and never made us care about the young men. Yes, their lives were bleak, and I loved some of her points about what it is that makes and shapes young disadvantaged black men, but I never felt she truly got to the heart of the matter. And if anyone could have gotten there, it's her. Lovely writing but I came away feeling I was missing something.
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Format: Hardcover
Everyone I know loves Salvage the Bones, Ward's most recent book before this one. I heard an interview with the author on the radio and could not wait to buy this book. It has a great title. It was disappointing, however. Too much reading about people (including the author) getting high and smoking and drinking. Okay, so they got together and drank and smoked again and again and again. What is the reason for repeating that scene so often? Racism, poverty, substance abuse, death. Tragic stories. The book is missing transcendence, a thread, something to hold it together. Just before this I read Brother I'm Dying by Edwidge Danticat and it's like night and day. Two memoirs which include a lot of suffering--but Danticat's somehow successfully touches on the larger themes. I am still looking forward to reading Salvage the Bones.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The author's powers of description are strongly engaging, and the stories she tells of life on the Mississippi Gulf Coast are fascinating, if somewhat depressing. Her narrative, however, is occasionally disjointed so that the reader struggles to keep track of chronology. Being a Mississippian, I was especially drawn to her stories of love and tragic loss and and her intimate descriptions of those parts of the lives of Black Southerners not usually seen by White people.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Every now and then I read a book that educates me in ways no other book has; Men We Reaped is one of those books. It should be required reading for anyone who wants to begin to understand race relations in the U.S. What a treasure. Thank you Ms. Ward.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Immensely moving and insightful. We are defined by those we have lost. So few understand the struggles of living with loss or the hardships of poverty and racism.
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