Review: Salvage The Bones

Salvage The Bones is a visceral, true to reality novel of a poor family of six in the eye of the storm – Hurricane Katrina.

Hurricane Katrina made landfall in the United States of America in August 2005. The costliest tropical cyclone on record, the aftermath of the storm was nothing short of catastrophic. After having taking nearly 2000 lives and causing hundreds of billions of dollars in material damage, Katrina displaced almost one million people in the gulf coast region [1].

Salvage The Bones is also a story of love in the ugliest of places, filial affection amidst gut-wrenching poverty and strength where there is no strength to find.

Esch is 15. Esch and her brother, Randall are default parents to their youngest brother Junior, who doesn’t know what it’s like to have a mother. Esch adores her brother Skeetah, who in turn, only has eyes for his prized pit bull, China — so much so that he often sleeps in the dog shed. Esch is also pregnant and the father of the child won’t look Esch in the eye, won’t acknowledge Esch.

As the motherless family that lives among abandoned cars and chickens prepares for the disaster that’s about to hit them, there are other matters at hand that need to be dealt with first: an alcoholic father, a basketball match that could give Randall a much longed for scholarship, illegal pit bull matches, and a not so secret teenage pregnancy. But for the Baptiste children, it’s all going to be okay, because all that matters in the end is their unbreakable relationship with each other.

Jesmyn Ward writes like she’s not afraid, like she wants to rip open wounds. She uses extremely powerful prose and sets graphic scenes; so graphic that you will shudder in disgust and get carried away in the deluge of it. But this graphic setting is important, because it forms the backbone of Esch’s world. In Esch’s world, there’s parallels with China, because China is a mother and a fighter and that’s what Esch wants to be.

“She is her mother’s daughter. She is a fighter. She breathes.”

– Salvage the bones

Esch is an unlikely heroine, unlike the teenage girl stereotypes we are faced with. She’s the kind of heroine that strikes a chord in you, one that you’re going to root for even when the book is over, one that the world needs right about now.

From forceful depictions of reality, Ward dives into poetic metaphor, describing everything, from Oak trees and magnolias and the wood, to Esch’s undying love for the father of her child, Manny. “Seeing him broke the cocoon of my rib cage, and my heart unfurled to fly.”

But this book’s most striking feature is not Esch’s confusing yet love-filled world, but Skeetah’s undying passion for his beloved dog, China, feelings that are mutual. Here, the story is about the unconditional bond forged between a man and his dog. Ward is a magician in describing the relationship that Skeetah and China have.

Ward’s expression is so vivid and raw that you will feel the sultry heat of the fictional Mississippi town of Bois Sauvage stick to your skin and you will feel the ache of unrequited love in your heart. When the storm finally arrives, what Esch calls home — The Pit — is home no more, but war zone. Ward, who lived through Katrina herself, describes the storm with never seen before intensity; an intensity that almost hurts. When the sky is finally clear and the residents step out of the debris, you cannot help but imagine yourself standing in the rubble. And from Katrina too, Esch draws inspiration, for she is a female with unprecedented strength.

“Katrina is the mother we will remember until the next mother with large merciless hands, committed to blood, comes.”

– Salvage the bones

Salvage The Bones is an urgent book, a book that, above everything, unties the box known as privilege. In times like these, Ward’s narrative stands out because she has a story to tell, and she wants the monstrosity to show. She demands strong emotions from the reader. Ward does not shy away from having an uncomfortable conversation whilst also drowning you in poetry, and in the process, she creates a masterpiece.

~Ushashi

[1] https://www.history.com/topics/natural-disasters-and-environment/hurricane-katrina

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