Experiencing “Salvage the Bones” by Jesmyn Ward

I finished Salvage the Bones this morning because I couldn’t stay up for the last 60 pages last night. I am keeping a list of every book I read in 2014 and this is #11. I seldom read out of my comfort zone and this book is most definitely NOT in my typical reading wheelhouse. It’s also the 2011 National Book Award Winner and I tend to not care for National Book Award Winners. However, Salvage the Bones showed up on enough “you really should read this” lists that I gave in and read it.

Quick synopsis:

The narrator, Esch, is a 15-year-old girl whose mother died in childbirth when Esch was 8. She has two older brothers: one who has a fighting pit bull and the other hoping to make a name for himself in basketball. The youngest brother is only 7 and has some developmental disabilities. Their father, who clearly loved their mother very much, has checked into a bottle since she died. The Batiste kids are  pretty much on their own at the Pit, which is what they call their homestead in the fictional Gulf Coast town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi. The book covers 12 days in their lives in 2005. Esch realizes she is pregnant. The fighting pit bull has had a litter. Basketball scouts are coming. Their Daddy is worried about a hurricane out in the Gulf. The hurricane is named Katrina.

One doesn’t read this book as much as feel it. This book’s sense of foreboding is heart racing. The stricken reader knows what’s coming and knows it’s not good. Surprisingly, Salvage isn’t depressing. It is full to the point that it seems robust and stuffed like a pillow. The story is swollen so that the characters become pieces of each other, of the land and of the past. Salvage the Bones is crowded with fear, love, violence, poverty, profound sadness, and excitement.

I recommend it highly.

All that being said, I am also ashamed of myself.

This is what I imagined the Batiste family's house looked like.
This is what I imagined the Batiste family’s house looked like.

I remember Katrina. Of course I do, it will only be nine years this summer. I remember watching the news in disbelief, thinking “I’m never going to see what New Orleans was really like”. I donated money to the Red Cross and the Humane Society. I was annoyed with those foolish people who didn’t evacuate. Duh, get the hell out of there!

Why didn't the just leave?
Why didn’t they just leave?

And there is my shame. I have never been to the deep south. I don’t know what the communities are like there…rich or poor. Mostly though, I have no experience with extreme poverty. Why didn’t they just leave? Why were they so stupidly stubborn? It is my shame to realize they had no where to go. They had no food, no gas, no cable, no 24-hour news telling them what to do, no luggage — they had nothing to start with and less than that when the storm ended. How ignorant of me.


This book taught me about hurricanes: what the sky looks like and the heaviness of the air, the suffocating heat, and the terrifying water. It taught me about a population segment of the U.S. that I don’t see because I don’t have to. And now this book has me thinking some very uncomfortable thoughts about myself and the socioeconomic structure of this country. I’m not going to write a political post here and if people want to discuss the politics of then and now, I can; but that is not what I’m thinking about right now.

I am 49 years old. I read a short book (just 258 pages) and I have  been deeply moved and educated. I can keep on reading. Therein lies  the magic of books. Anything a reader wants can be found.

Katrina.French cooking.Space travel.Aliens.Dragons.Libraries.Murders.Jewel heists.Fantasy.Reality.Humor.Memoirs.Fairy tales.The Revolutionary War (U.S., French, Spanish, you choose).The presidency (of 4th grade, Russia, some imaginary university, you choose)

Read! Learn! Even if I think I won’t like a book or that a topic might upset me, I will keep reading just to see. And the book is always better than the movie; except for The Bridges of Madison County….the movie was way better.



14 thoughts on “Experiencing “Salvage the Bones” by Jesmyn Ward

  1. A book that not only teaches us new things but also makes us examine and question our own beliefs is a gift. The fact that it entertains us, too is the ribbon on top. Thanks for a great recommendation.

  2. Addie

    Read ‘One Dead in Attic’–written by the former entertainment editor of the Times Picayune, Chris Rose. It is his telling of the direct aftermath of Katrina. He’d taken his family to safety, then, went back to protect their home. As he said, until Katrina, his only job was to make Britany Spears miserable by camping out on her doorstep up in Kentwood.

    Mother and my brother and my nieces fled ahead of the storm. My Aunt Lee and her family stayed, our roots go back over 150 years. They lost everything. Everything. I remember the swollen skies and sheets of sideways rain of Betsy. I remember thinking Katrina was dead once she crossed Florida. We were all wrong.

    George Bush and his buddies Brown and Nagin should be in jail for what they didn’t do. At least they got Nagin for something. My brothers and I put together a convoy of semis within three days, carrying food and water and clothing and cots and medical supplies–and Brown’s FEMA people wouldn’t let us in the City, where people were dying on their rooftops and on overpasses and in front of the Convention Center. Even the Red Cross wasn’t there yet. We were, though. And, we knew Cajuns, who knew back roads…and we got in.

    A mark of pride in the City is to keep that bit of your house where they spray painted a huge cross, filling in with codes empty, animals, injured or one dead in attic.

  3. Pingback: I Kept My 2014 Revolution and Here is the Documentation. | Misc. Maggie

  4. I don’t have room in this post to address every criticism that has been leveled against us &#;do08Worl2Visi3n must have the first ever blogging platform that sets a hard upper word limit to its posts. Anyway, mine doesn’t, so you are very welcome to expand there if you do want more space to address all concerns.

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