This is the most moving piece of fiction of 2023 for me borrowing it's title from Dantes Inferno. I am not someone who agrees that we have a responsibility to engage with fictional accounts of human injustice, but I would suggest it is the most visceral way to instantiate a powerful condemnation of these horrors.
Let us Descend is a brutal, unrelenting account following Annis, daughter of an enslaved woman sired by a white slave owner who eventually sells her. An arduous trek to the southern slave markets ensues. Annis is tied with other women and chained men, and made to travel on bare feet towards New Orleans from the Carolinas. Her only consolation is her mamas arcane mythical stories and survival teachings as she crosses rivers, deserts and swamps, struggling to preserve her humanity. In her lowest moments Annis draws on the stories of her warrior grandmother as sustenance and comfort until she can commune in a more sustaining mystical way.
The telling of this story is the thing of beauty here. NPR described it as an open wound from which poetry flows. In the US climate of political denial about the evils of slavery this is a necessary book. Certain human behaviors merit a grave portrait, luckily for us this particular narrative is also exquisitely lyrical, it will break and awaken your heart.
'Gripping, mythic, bone-pulverising ... A spectacular achievement'
'Jesmyn Ward is one of the greatest writers of all time. And Let Us Descend, once again, proves it'
'Transcendent ... The best book I've read in years'
'Stunning ... Will grip you from the first word to the last'
"The first weapon I ever held was my mother's hand."
On a slave plantation in the Carolinas, Annis has survived in the light of her mother's resilience, comforted by stories of her African warrior grandmother. Everything she knows, she learned from her mother how to fight, how to be strong, how to grow up in a world shrouded in darkness.
When she is sold south by the white enslaver who fathered her, Annis must venture onward through the rich but unforgiving landscapes of the American South alone- from the rice fields of the Carolinas to the slave markets of New Orleans, and into the fearsome heart of a Louisiana sugar plantation. Searching for relief in memories of her mother, she opens herself to a world beyond her own, teeming with spirits of earth, water, history and myth.
A reimagining of American slavery as beautifully rendered as it is heart-wrenching, Let Us Descend offers a magnificent portrait of the strength of the human spirit and its ability to emerge from darkness into light. This is a story of beauty, love, rebirth and reclamation a masterwork for the ages.
'A must' Margaret Atwood
'I am a huge fan of Jesmyn Ward's work, and this book proves that she is one of the most important writers in America today' Ann Patchett
'Ward is a lyrical, visceral storyteller' Daily Mail
'A visceral and intimate drama that plays out like a grand epic - Staggering' Marlon James
'A searing, urgent read' Celeste Ng