From Jesmyn Ward—the two-time National Book Award winner, youngest winner of the Library of Congress Prize for Fiction, and MacArthur Fellow—comes a haunting masterpiece, sure to be an instant classic, about an enslaved girl in the years before the Civil War.
“‘Let us descend,’ the poet now began, ‘and enter this blind world.’” —Inferno, Dante Alighieri
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.
From one of the most singularly brilliant and beloved writers of her generation, this miracle of a novel inscribes Black American grief and joy into the very land—the rich but unforgiving forests, swamps, and rivers of the American South. Let Us Descend is Jesmyn Ward’s most magnificent novel yet, a masterwork for the ages.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Jesmyn Ward’s stunning and harrowing historical novel paints a visceral portrait of slavery as a lived experience. Annis is a young, enslaved woman in antebellum North Carolina. Her father and owner are one and the same, and when he separates her from her mother and sends her on a treacherous march to be sold in New Orleans, he turns her world inside out. But Annis finds strength by drawing on the ancestral memories her mother instilled in her and communing with the spirits of those who came before her. Ward’s prose is pure poetry and lets us fully inhabit Annis’ inner world. Full of unspeakable hardships and transcendent beauty, Let Us Descend is a vital portrait of the Black American spirit.
Ward (Sing, Unburied, Sing) returns with the wrenching and beautifully told story of a young enslaved woman on a rice farm in the Carolinas. Annis picks up survival skills from her mother, Sasha: foraging herbs and mushrooms, fighting in self-defense, calling upon spirits of nature for guidance, and knowing when to run. But after Annis's enslaver father attempts to rape her and Sasha intervenes, Sasha is sent away to be sold. Later, Annis is forcibly taken to the New Orleans slave market with Safi, another enslaved girl with whom she's fallen in love. After Annis is made to work on a sugarcane plantation, she soothes her fear and anger with the memory of Sasha ("Didn't Mama say I was my own weapon? That I was always enough to figure a way out?"). She also encounters Aza, a tempestuous wind spirit who has taken the name of Annis's grandmother. When Annis learns the truth about Aza and Sasha, she must decide if she will trust Aza or heed the bewitching calls of the other spirits to give in and join them in another realm, and thereby alleviate her suffering. Throughout, Ward uses stark and striking language to describe Annis's pain ("Every step feels like bone studding the ground: not flesh, not foot"; "My jaw aches. When I wake, my teeth are loose in my mouth"). Readers won't be able to turn away.