Sing, Unburied, Sing


I’m not America’s nightmare. I’m America’s dream.

— Janelle Monáe

In the movie The Neverending Story, Bastian is so engrossed in the book he’s reading that he feels he’s become part of the story (in fact, he has). What the book’s protagonist, Atreyu, feels, Bastian also feels. This is the connection I felt with Jojo in Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing. I don’t know the last time I was that engrossed in a novel.

There’s a point where Jojo recalls cutting his foot, the description so vivid it settled into my mind as if it were my memory. When not reading the book that day, I kept coming back to that moment and the sharp pain of the laceration, the blood, the fear, the curiosity of being sliced open. I dreamed about it that night. When I opened the book the next morning, I reached down towards my own foot feeling the phantom of an injury I never personally experienced.

When his stomach hurt, mine twisted in knots. When he was disappointed, I was heartbroken. When he protected his sister, I believed I would do the same. When the terribleness of the world reveals itself to him, and he stands up to meet it, I stood with him as if we were one.

There’s mysticism at the root of this story, and magic in Ward’s words. The perspective shifts between three characters, all damaged by the terrible traditions of race in America. It’s Jojo, though, who is our hero. Somehow his spirit overcomes all that wants to sink him. He’s not indomitable or indefatigable, but his humanity is undeniable. Unburied despite being born in the dirt. Who he is resonating like a song from the pages.

I sang along.

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