cover image Let Us Descend

Let Us Descend

Jesmyn Ward. Scribner, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-1-982104-49-8

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. Agent: Rob McQuilkin, Massie & McQuilkin. (Oct.)