Book excerpt:

Tooba Shakir 7 months ago 0 0




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“Let Us Descend” (Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, part of Paramount Global), the latest novel from two-time National Book Award-winner Jesmyn Ward, is thick with ghosts, history and searing poetry, in its dramatic story about an enslaved Black girl in the American South, a descendant of a warrior in Africa.

Read an excerpt below. 

“Let Us Descend” by Jesmyn Ward

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The first weapon I ever held was my mother’s hand. I was a small child then, soft at the belly. On that night, my mother woke me and led me out to the Carolina woods, deep, deep into the murmuring trees, black with the sun’s leaving. The bones in her fingers: blades in sheaths, but I did not know this yet. We walked until we came to a small clearing around a lightning-burnt tree, far from my sire’s rambling cream house that sits beyond the rice fields. Far from my sire, who is as white as my mother is dark. Far from this man who says he owns us, from this man who drives my mother to a black thread in the dim closeness of his kitchen, where she spends most of her waking hours working to feed him and his two paunchy, milk-sallow children. I was bird-boned, my head brushing my mother’s shoulder. On that night long ago, my mother knelt in the fractured tree’s roots and dug out two long, thin limbs: one with a tip carved like a spear, the other wavy as a snake, clumsily hewn.

“Take this,” my mother said, throwing the crooked limb to me. “I whittled it when I was small.”

I missed it, and the jagged staff clattered to the ground. I picked it up and held it so tight the knobs from her hewing cut, and then my mother bought her own dark limb down. She had never struck me before, not with her hands, not with wood. Pain burned my shoulder, then lanced through the other.

“This one,” she grunted, her voice low under her weapon’s whistling, “was my mama’s.” Her spear was a black whip in the night. I fell. Crawled backward, scrambling under the undergrowth that encircled that ruined midnight room. My mother stalked. My mother spoke aloud as she hunted me in the bush. She told me a story: “This our secret. Mine and your’n. Can’t nobody steal this from us.” I barely breathed, crouching down further. The wind circled and glanced across the trees.

“You the granddaughter of a woman warrior. She was married to the Fon king, given by her daddy because he had so many daughters, and he was rich. The king had hundreds of warrior wives. They guarded him, hunted for him, fought for him.” She poked the bush above me. “The warrior wives was married to the king, but the knife was they husband, the cutlass they lover. You my child, my mama’s child. My mother, the fighter—her name was Azagueni, but I called her Mama Aza.”

From “Let Us Descend” by Jesmyn Ward. Copyright © 2023 by Jesmyn Ward. Excerpted with permission by Scribner, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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