‘Sing Unburied Sing’ by Jesmyn Ward Review

‘Sing Unburied Sing’ is the third novel by the American author Jesmyn Ward. It focuses on a mixed-race family in the American South and their family road trip to collect the father, Michael, from prison.

There is a buldingsroman in the story, focusing on the coming-of-age of the protagonist Jojo, who turns thirteen at the beginning of the novel. He has a lovely relationship with his younger sister Michaela and takes care of her throughout the novel. However, it becomes clear that he does not have a close relationship with his biological parents, not addressing them as mother or father but rather calling them by their first names, Leonie and Michael.

Jojo, Leonie and Michaela are able to see ghosts and while Jojo and Michaela can see Richie, Leonie sees the ghost of her deceased brother Given, whose death haunts Leonie’s family. The characterisation of Leonie is of a troubled, struggling mother who has worries about the future and her relationships with other characters are mostly negative. Meanwhile her children, Jojo and Michaela do not appreciate her very much and Jojo is critical of her.

Aside from Leonie, the story focuses on Jojo and his experience meeting Richie, a friend of his pop’s (grandfather) and his coming-of-age experience. The description of the characters such as their skin colour, height and hair texture are repeatedly mentioned. For example, Michaela has her father Michael’s green eye colour and Jojo has Leonie’s brown eyes, which he believes are similar to mam’s (his grandmother.)The family travel with a friend, Misty, upstate to Mississippi State to collect Michael from prison and on the way back Jojo is accompanied by a ghost Richie who wants to find out how he can go ‘home’. Jojo, Leonie and Richie take turns narrating the novel.

Misogyny and Intersectionality

This is a short commentary on misogyny, colourism and sexism.

I have recently finished my Journalism degree and have been thinking about the perspectives of black women in the media. The sexism is amplified by racial issues and its effects are wide-reaching. In my opinion, much of the discussion in the media relating to black people focuses on men and male perspectives rather than women. Moreover, the darker your complexion, the less visibility you can expect to receive. In addition to this, there is a lack of representation of dark skinned black women in the media outside of stereotypical roles such as loud or angry.

Meanwhile, the effect of intersectionality creates a sliding scale of how severe your experience is. Factors involving your class, age etc. all affect how much misogyny you experience and those with more cultural capital are typically less affected. However, within this framework even a woman with considerable privilege such as beauty or social status can receive criticism and commentary about her appearance, for example: the Everyday Sexism Project. These comments can create body image issues that can result in eating disorders and self-esteem issues that are well documented.

Focusing specifically on black women, there are additional restrictions on our behaviour as sexism and patriarchy intertwines itself with racism and classism. Even resulting in the use of chemical perms which, studies have shown, contain chemicals harmful to health. Once it became a trend to have curly, big hair the natural hair movements emphasised 3c grade hair and textures less kinky and more curly.

The conversation about the effects of this misogynoir has begun but the results of a patriarchal system hundreds of years long means that attitudes can be slow to change. It begins with changing actions and mindsets and stubbornness can prevent the necessary improvements.

New study shows the vast majority of hair products aimed at black women contain toxic chemicals linked to infertility, obesity and cancer

Misogynation:The True Scale of Sexism by Laura Bates

Review of The Sun is Also a Star

*no spoilers

Although it didn’t end the way I thought it would, it showed some interesting perspectives of love, life, being an immigrant and having your future decided for you.

Image: Suloshini Jahanath via Star2.com (2018)

Everything takes place within a day or two and the two main characters dialogue makes up a large part of the story. Between the story itself, there are chapters with additional information on cultural aspects of the characters, which adds context to what they are saying. With an interracial relationship as the focus of the story, there is Korean written in italics which is later explained in English.

Some of my favourite quotes from the book:

“The Sun is also a star, and it’s our most important one”

“Dark matter is love, it’s the attracting force”

It has humour but also deep discussions of fate, destiny, science and the meaning of family.

I enjoyed the book very much and would recommend it if you like love stories, or even just a good read while on the train.

  • The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon