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Let Us Descend by Jesmyn Ward
Literary fiction

Let Us Descend

Repeat author

Jesmyn Ward is back at Book of the Month – other BOTMs include Salvage the Bones and Sing, Unburied, Sing.

by Jesmyn Ward
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Quick take

Haunting and haunted, this is the powerful story of an enslaved girl seeking redemption with the help of her ancestors.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_HeavyRead

    Heavy read

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Supernatural

    Supernatural

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_LGBTQ

    LGBTQ+ themes

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Cerebral

    Cerebral

Synopsis

Let Us Descend is a reimagining of American slavery, as beautifully rendered as it is heart-wrenching. Searching, harrowing, replete with transcendent love, the novel is a journey from the rice fields of the Carolinas to the slave markets of New Orleans and into the fearsome heart of a Louisiana sugar plantation.

Annis, sold south by the white enslaver who fathered her, is the reader’s guide through this hellscape. As she struggles through the miles-long march, Annis turns inward, seeking comfort from memories of her mother and stories of her African warrior grandmother. Throughout, she opens herself to a world beyond this world, one teeming with spirits: of earth and water, of myth and history; spirits who nurture and give, and those who manipulate and take. While Ward leads readers through the descent, this, her fourth novel, is ultimately a story of rebirth and reclamation.

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Content warning

This book contains scenes that mention sexual assault.

Why I love it

Every generation, there comes along a storyteller who doesn’t just tell the story of America, but who sings it. Jesmyn Ward is one such griot. She spins sentences made of silk that land solid as stone. In this story about the love of women—a mother’s love, a mother’s mother’s love, and a daughter’s trust—readers are gathered together in the name of hope.

Annis is heartbroken and inconsolable after her mother is sold South to the slave market in nineteenth-century New Orleans. A descendant of West African warrior women, Annis sinks beneath the weight of her grief, unable to find the strength her mother always insisted she carried within. Then she finally finds healing and love in the arms of Safi, until the two of them are sold South just like Annis’s mother.

Along the journey, a weather spirit carrying the name of Annis’s grandmother appears to her. At times rejecting the spirit’s guidance and at other times seeking her protection, Annis begins to learn, through a careful piecing together of memory, how to create her own version of freedom.

This is a book not to be missed. You will pick it up and be held in its thrall until you turn the last page. Let Us Descend urges us to cast our eyes upward to the wind rustling the trees, to hear voices in the song of a bird, to know that spirits are ever-present, if we just pause long enough to listen.

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