Let Us Descend

Reading this book brought about a new feeling. The feeling of knowing you are reading a masterpiece (Jesmyn Ward’s writing is brilliant – no one writes like her) while also wanting desperately for the book to end. This is not an easy book to read; I actually felt like I was in physical pain for parts of it. Heartbreaking is not a big enough word; I found so much of it to be just plain devastating. Our narrator is Annis, born into slavery (a product of her mother being raped by their master). It opens with Annis’s mother teaching her to fight. Life on the plantation is hard: rape is a casual, normal everyday occurrence, the women are treated with violence. When Annis’s mother is sold, life gets harder. Annis connects with Safi, another enslaved woman, and they fall in love. Then they are sold and begin the journey (on foot) from the Carolinas to the New Orleans slave market. The journey is hard – through swamps, rivers, etc. all while the women are chained together. During this part, the book takes on a spiritual side as Annis is visited by a spirit who has accompanied her mother and grandmother. Annis finds herself sold into a sugarcane plantation, with an equally ruthless master. Ward does not spare us. The depictions are both casual and brutal. The atrocities Annis deals with are a part of her everyday life and so they are treated as such. I guess the best way to describe it is beautiful yet brutal. I was not a huge fan of the magical realism elements of the book but I see why they were there: a foil to the brutality; a light in the darkness.