Monday, October 19, 2015

Books: Salvage the Bones

Salvage the Bones
by Jesmyn Ward
Copyright 2010?
288 Pages

This winner of the 2011 National Book Award deserved the accolades it received when it came out. This book was a read for my book club, and it is one of the better books I've read this year.

This is the tale of a poor family struggling to survive in the ten days prior to Hurricane Katrina, which created havoc and devastation in southeast Louisiana in 2005. We see the story unfold through the eyes of Esch, the nickname for a 14-year old black teenager who struggles to understand her three brothers and drunken father. They live on an inherited plot of ground, apparently on their father's disability check. Their mother died giving birth to the last son.

The story is heartbreaking in its humanity, and eye-opening in that it exposes the depths of poverty and how people struggle to survive in an America that offers them few options and no way to climb out of the Pit in which they find themselves. Living in Appalachia, I know families like this - the ones who sell tomatoes for a pittance to pay for extras, those who struggle daily to keep the roof from literally falling in on their heads. I've written about them as a news reporter and tried to make those of us who have more understand how fortunate we are.

Ward did an excellent job in writing this book, creating an inner atmosphere for Esch by using her school reading of mythology as a background for her life, along with the symbolism of a pit bull dog named China that her brother Skeeter was using as a fighting dog. The story opens with China giving birth, a fitting symbol for many things, including the little fetus growing inside the young teenager. The reader knows what's coming - the hurricane and its terrible winds and floods - and the reading speeds along as we try to determine who in the family will survive the calamity about to befall them.

The book makes one question how people survive at all - and how do people who already have next to nothing recover when the little they have is taken from them? This question is answered in a very direct way at the end, but that answer is not spelled out.

So I shall spell it out for you: when all is lost, we help one another.

This is a quick read - maybe four-five hours. Pick it up and wash it down. You won't be sorry.


  1. One of my nurses, one of my favorite ones, was from New Orleans. She went through that stuff. She still had the haunted look in her eyes.

  2. Sounds like a gripping story.


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