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Census Hardcover – Illustrated, March 6, 2018
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“Census is a vital testament to selfless love; a psalm to commonplace miracles; and a mysterious evolving metaphor. So kind, it aches.” (David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas)
“If there’s a refrain running through [Ball’s] large body of work, it’s that compassion, kindness and empathy trump rules and authority of any kind...this damning but achingly tender novel holds open a space for human redemption, never mind that we have built our systems against it.” (Los Angeles Times)
“With echoes of Paul Auster and Cormac McCarthy, Jesse Ball’s road novel is anything but traditional. The prolific, award-winning author tells the story of a father and his son who has Down syndrome, bringing out their connection in luminous and unexpected ways.” (Entertainment Weekly)
“Strange and wonderful ... A melancholy and grief-filled book, Census also serves a healthy helping of compassion. I highly recommend it for fans of Paul Auster and Samantha Hunt.” (LitHub)
“Ball is too smart… to rely on cheap tricks of sentimentality...the result is an understated feat.” (Washington Post)
“Ball writes dystopia and fabulism with a hushed, poetic grace; as with his other work, Census promises to be beautifully and precisely wrought.” (AV Club)
“Emotionally riveting and shot through with the most pressing issues of our time, Ball’s exploration of humanity in modern America is not to be missed.” (Popsugar)
“[Ball is] a writer of an elegantly poetic bent… Explore with Ball, fall into his quirky rhythms, and you’ll discover a burning plea for empathy. It will break your heart.” (Entertainment Weekly)
“Ball’s poignant dedication to his late older brother Adam, who had Down syndrome, adds yet another layer of complexity to this surreal and powerful story....grounded by the most enduring theme of familial love.”
From the Back Cover
When a widower receives the devastating news that he doesn’t have long to live, he is struck by the question of who will care for his adult son—a son whom he fiercely loves, a boy with Down syndrome. With no recourse in mind, and with a desire to see the country on one last trip, the man signs up as a census taker for a mysterious governmental bureau and leaves town with his son.
Traveling north, farther into the country, through a tapestry of towns named only by ascending letters of the alphabet, the man and his son encounter a wide range of human experience. While some townspeople welcome the pair into their homes, others, who bear the physical brand of past censuses on their ribs, are wary of their presence. Toward the edges of civilization, the landscape grows wilder and the towns grow farther apart and more blighted by industrial decay. As they approach Z, the man must confront a series of questions: What is the purpose of the census? Is he complicit in its mission? And just how will he learn to say goodbye to his son?
Wrenching and beautiful, Census is a novel about free will, grief, the power of memory, and the ferocity of parental love. It is also an indictment of the cruelties of our society by a major writer.
- Publisher : Ecco; Illustrated edition (March 6, 2018)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 272 pages
- ISBN-10 : 006267613X
- ISBN-13 : 978-0062676139
- Item Weight : 13.6 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 0.93 x 8.25 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #678,333 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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But this time it’s personal – for the author and perhaps for this reader, too. Jesse Ball dedicates the book to his deceased brother, Abram Ball, who had Down Syndrome, and in the prologue, writes about the struggle to create this book and how he solved it: “I would make a book that was hollow. I would place him in the middle of it, and write around him for the most part. He would be there in his effect.” Like Jesse Ball, I have a loved one – a young nephew – with Down Syndrome and I was curious to see how he would develop this concept.
This is how: an ill widower, a doctor, takes on the role of census taker and sets off with his Down Syndrome son to take the census, from point A to point Z. Each census taker must forego his or her rights of protection. Consider the census as “a large instrument made up of living cells—and each cell is a census taker.” Yet half way through the book, the unnamed narrator develops a new method of the census – not gathering certain information but instead, deciding what information to look for. The journey into less urban, more unplanned areas is a metaphor for the father’s own journey into the edges of where life and death convene.
To that end, Census becomes a tapestry of representation – who will stand up and be counted. Indeed, father and son are discovering the heart and soul of America – the kindness, the anger, the humanity, the fear, the gentleness, the ignorance, and the brutality. Each person who participates in this census must allow the census taker to leave a tattooed mark. And indeed, the mark may well be a reminder of how they reacted to life and treated a boy who was not viewed by them as part of the norm.
The conceit is not quite as accessible than Mr. Ball’s previous works and if truth be known, there were times when I wondered what Mr. Ball was trying to tell me…and found myself admiring the book more than loving it. But the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and by the end of the book, I believed I knew. He was writing about the inevitability of saying goodbye and of being part of a world that demands we deal with the good and the bad.
I liked Census quite a bit, but it's not the most intellectually exciting Ball novel, nor is it one that I would recommend to first-time Ball readers. Like most of his other books, there's a sense of mystery and unknowing, but the difference is that it remains largely unresolved. It's not the point. The characters (a father and his son with Down syndrome) are the point.
The father, knowing he is dying, gives up his job as a doctor and becomes a census taker so that he and his son can spend time together on the road. It's unclear what the point of the census is in Ball's world. It's different than how we know it—it's mysterious, perhaps authoritarian. But again, none of that is really the point.
As the father and son travel the county, they meet different people. Each town they enter, each person they meet serves as a sort of parable for human experience. There's not a lot of narrative here, mainly disparate encounters.
Ball wrote Census as a tribute to his brother with Down syndrome, who died when he was still young. You can feel that this is personal for him. Tenderness and sincerity fill every page.
Never do we learn the true purpose of the strange and elusive census, apart from what the father gains from it. Through the census, he explores the essence of life, humanity, and goodness. He copes with his own mortality, and with the gravity of leaving his son in this world alone.
A blurb on the back of Census described Ball's world view as "tender nihilism," and this is indeed a fitting description. Census is deeply meditative and moving; though not one of Ball's more bizarre and intellectually stunning stories, it's quietly profound and emotionally resonant.