OPRAH’S BOOK CLUB PICK • Instant New York Times Bestseller • Named one of the best books of 2023 by The Washington Post, Vanity Fair, The Boston Globe, Time, The New Yorker, and more.
“Nothing short of epic, magical, and intensely moving.” —Vogue • “A novel of triumph.” —The Washington Post • “Harrowing, immersive, and other-worldly.” —People
From “one of America’s finest living writers” (San Francisco Chronicle) and “heir apparent to Toni Morrison” (LitHub)—comes a haunting masterpiece about an enslaved girl in the years before the Civil War that’s destined to become a classic.
Let Us Descend describes 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. A journey that is as beautifully rendered as it is heart wrenching, the novel is “[t]he literary equivalent of an open wound from which poetry pours” (NPR).
Annis, sold south by the white enslaver who fathered her, is the reader’s guide. 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 Annis leads readers through the descent, hers is ultimately a story of rebirth and reclamation.
From one of the most singularly brilliant and beloved writers of her generation, this “[s]earing and lyrical…raw, transcendent, and ultimately hopeful” (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) 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.
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.
Annis’s journey as a slave
This book is well written in poetic prose.
The reader’s imagination is turned on as the protagonist, Annis, after facing numerous incidents of abuse, enters the ‘spiritual’ realms. The stories of 3 generations of slaves is entwined with Annis’s personal journey both physical and psychological within slavery.
Nonsensical wandering through memories and spirit worlds. There was a story to tell here, but it didn’t get told.
The horrible lives led by some slaves is made clear in this book. The author makes that abundantly clear. I got lost a bit in the use of the spirits and was sorry when the book ended, which to me is a good sign,