From Jesmyn Ward—the two-time National Book Award winner, youngest winner of the Library of Congress Prize for Fiction, and MacArthur Fellow—comes a haunting masterpiece, sure to be an instant classic, about an enslaved girl in the years before the Civil War.
“‘Let us descend,’ the poet now began, ‘and enter this blind world.’” —Inferno, Dante Alighieri
Let Us Descend is a reimagining of American slavery, as beautifully rendered as it is heart-wrenching. Searching, harrowing, replete with transcendent love, the novel is a journey from the rice fields of the Carolinas to the slave markets of New Orleans and into the fearsome heart of a Louisiana sugar plantation.
Annis, sold south by the white enslaver who fathered her, is the reader’s guide through this hellscape. As she struggles through the miles-long march, Annis turns inward, seeking comfort from memories of her mother and stories of her African warrior grandmother. Throughout, she opens herself to a world beyond this world, one teeming with spirits: of earth and water, of myth and history; spirits who nurture and give, and those who manipulate and take. While Ward leads readers through the descent, this, her fourth novel, is ultimately a story of rebirth and reclamation.
From one of the most singularly brilliant and beloved writers of her generation, this miracle of a novel inscribes Black American grief and joy into the very land—the rich but unforgiving forests, swamps, and rivers of the American South. Let Us Descend is Jesmyn Ward’s most magnificent novel yet, a masterwork for the ages.
About the Author
Jesmyn Ward received her MFA from the University of Michigan and has received the MacArthur Genius Grant, a Stegner Fellowship, a John and Renee Grisham Writers Residency, the Strauss Living Prize, and the 2022 Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction. She is the historic winner—first woman and first Black American—of two National Book Awards for Fiction for Sing, Unburied, Sing (2017) and Salvage the Bones (2011). She is also the author of the novel Where the Line Bleeds and the memoir Men We Reaped, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and won the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize and the Media for a Just Society Award. She is currently a professor of creative writing at Tulane University and lives in Mississippi.
"A devastating, deeply moving masterpiece."—Good Housekeeping
"[Ward's] most masterful work yet... Pitting ancestral wisdom and human connection against the arbitrary brutality of slavery, this book will have readers torn between wanting to savor the richness of every sentence and needing to know, immediately, what happens next."—Oprah Daily
"Annis’s story, told in Ward’s musical prose, is nothing short of epic, magical, and intensely moving."—Vogue
“Imaginative... Combining magical realism with historical fiction, two-time National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward’s fourth novel tells the story of Annis, an enslaved girl in the antebellum South... To survive, she must tap into the mystical in this heart-wrenching narrative of the American South in the age of slavery.”—Time
"Jesmyn Ward does not miss. The fourth novel from the two-time National Book Award winner, MacArthur 'Genius' fellow, and heir apparent to Toni Morrison is every bit as haunted, furious, and beautiful as 2017’s Sing, Unburied, Sing... Let Us Descend is another triumph."—LitHub
“Shatteringly beautiful . . . In yet another masterwork, pain and sweetness alike haunt Annis. But she keeps walking.”—Garden & Gun
"Two-time National Book Award-winner Jesmyn Ward (the first woman and the first Black American to achieve that feat) follows her fierce and tender novel Sing, Unburied, Sing with a historical narrative about survival, iron will and spiritual rebirth. Taking its title from Dante’s Inferno, the story follows Annis through the hell of enslavement and the saving grace of ancestral memories."—LA Times
"Annis is strengthened by stories of her warrior ancestors as she struggles to retain her sense of self through the pain and terror of her journey."—St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“The power and artistry of Ward's work has been celebrated with numerous major awards, and her new novel will be a magnet for readers.”—Booklist (starred review)
"[Ward] employs her prodigious skills to craft a deeply moving and empathic story... This testament to Ward’s mastery of language should leave readers scrambling for a highlighter.”—Library Journal (starred review)
“Readers won’t be able to turn away.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Saturated with terror and enchantment… What gives this volume its stature and heft among other recent novels are the power, precision, and visionary flow of Ward’s writing.”—Kirkus (starred review)
“Jesmyn is, quite simply, the best of us.”—Ta-Nehisi Coates
"In Let Us Descend, Jesmyn Ward resurrects an enslaved girl out of the lost folds of the antebellum South, twists magic through every raindrop, mushroom, and stalk of sugar cane, and drops you into the middle of her harrowing, unendurable, magnificent song. This is a gripping, mythic, bone-pulverizing descent into the grim darkness of American slavery—and yet somehow this novel simultaneously leaves you in awe of the human capacity to not only endure, but to ascend back to the light. A spectacular achievement."—Anthony Doerr, author of Cloud Cuckoo Land and All The Light We Cannot See
“This harrowing, haunting story about an enslaved girl in the years before the Civil War is inspired in part by Dante’s Inferno and the descent into the underworld... Ward, the youngest winner of the Library of Congress Prize for Fiction, among many other distinctions, turns her brilliant gaze to the grief and joy of the Black American experience.” — W Magazine, Most Anticipated of Fall
Praise for Jesmyn Ward's Sing, Unburied, Sing
"Ghosts, literal and literary, haunt nearly every page of Sing, Unburied, Sing — a novel whose boundaries between the living and the dead shift constantly, like smoke or sand. Set on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, the book’s Southern gothic aura recalls the dense, head-spinning prose of William Faulkner or Flannery O’Connor."—Entertainment Weekly
"However eternal its concerns, Sing, Unburied, Sing, Ward’s new book, is perfectly poised for the moment." —The New York Times
"Staggering ... A furious brew with hints of Toni Morrison and Homer’s “The Odyssey.”—Boston Globe
"Sing, Unburied, Sing, which is longlisted for a 2017 National Book Award, establishes Ward as one of the most poetic writers in the conversation about America’s unfinished business in the black South." —The Atlantic
"Some chapters sound like fairy tales. This, and her ease with vernacular language, puts Ward in fellowship with such forebears as Zora Neale Hurston and William Faulkner." —The New Yorker
"[A] tour de force ... Ward is an attentive and precise writer who dazzles with natural and supernatural observations and lyrical details ... she continues telling stories we need to hear with rare clarity and power." —O, the Oprah Magazine
“Macabre and musical... Her lyrical language elevates desperation into poetic reverie … a gripping and melodious indictment of modern racial injustices.” —Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"If William Faulkner mined the South for gothic, stream-of-consciousness tragedy, and Toni Morrison conjured magical realism from the corroding power of the region's race hatred, then Ward is a worthy heir to both." —The Dallas Morning News