Review: Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

Over four years, Ward experiences the loss of five men she grew up with all by different circumstances, yet all connected in that being black, male and Southern affect your life and ultimately your death. This is her tribute to those men, but also a sort of story of herself as well. In between the chapters of Ward speaking of the men she lost and how she lost them, she talks about her life and how she grew up as a black woman in the South.

There’s actually no way for me to review this memoir. And I won’t try. What can I say about this deeply personal and emotional account Jesmyn Ward has given us? In the end, you must experience what she’s written for yourself. What Ward lays out for us is raw emotion, all anger, fear, confusion, grief and deep love. And all those things were what I felt as I read though I’m not from the rural South.

But my ghosts were once people and I cannot forget that.

How can the system be so messed up? How can it allow the black men in our lives to have a fate that in some cases could be avoided? But, it could only be avoided if anyone gave a fuck about them and about us. That’s the anger. That’s the confusion.

What has happened to the young boys I used to walk by in my school halls when I was younger? Were their stories similar to the men Ward highlights in her book? I’ve read countless Facebook posts from friends and former classmates mourning the black men, whether friends or family, they lost. I worry for my own brother, and even my mom, everyday. That’s the grief and fear.

I wonder why silence is the sound of our subsumed rage, our accumulated grief. I decide this is not right, that I must give voice to this story.

I’ve grown up around black men and women all my life. Their lives, stories, ways of speaking, lessons and care run all through me and carry me through life. That’s my family. That’s my community. That’s the deep love.

I know Ward said she hoped that by writing this that she might gain some understanding of this fucked up story she got. I still don’t understand. I don’t think it’s something I can or will ever understand. But, I’m glad she wrote this down. I’m glad she shared these stories with us. I’m glad she shared herself.

I’ve definitely loved all the memoirs I’ve read so far (not many but I’m working on it), but this one is special. I urge you to read it and grapple with what Ward presents here.