The Jakarta Post
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward (JP/Devina Heriyanto)
What would you say the ideal family is? I think of a family living in a nice house in a nice neighborhood, with nice children and a nice friendly dog. This stereotype is one of the most common for a perfect family. You get them in cartoons, comics and children books. But realistically, it’s never like this.
Perfectly described in Jesmyn Ward’s book Salvage the Bones, we are introduced to a poor family living in Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, the United States. The story takes the course of 12 days before and after the devastating hurricane Katrina.
Through the eyes of 14-year-old Esch, the reader is introduced to her family life. With her mother dead because of childbirth and her father mostly out of the picture as he is often drunk, Esch and her three brothers had to rely on one another growing up. Without any parent to guide or protect her and being surrounded by boys, Esch found herself pregnant at the age of 14 by her oldest brother’s best friend.
The reader is also introduced to Skeetah, the second child of the family. He is the closest to China, his prized pit bull who just gave birth at the beginning of the novel. Skeetah is struggling to keep China’s puppies alive, although they died one by one. Often entered in dogfights, China gives Skeetah good money. Esch described Skeetah’s love to China as tender, loving—the kind of love that she had always yearned for.
The other two children in Esch’s family is Randall, a boy who believes that basketball is a way to get out of poverty, and Junior, whose birth caused his mother to die. Growing up wild, Junior is the perfect example of a child who doesn’t get enough attention. He’s hard to talk to and misbehaves for the attention of his siblings.
The first thing that captured my attention in this book was the description and the raw emotions. Jesmyn Ward described the situation perfectly to the very last detail. I could imagine the brutal and graphic pit-bull dogfight of China against Kilo, the exhilarating fear Esch and her family felt when the flooding as a result of hurricane Katrina began to seep into the living room and I could see Skeetah’s love for China very clearly. It’s so vivid and it feels very real.
One of the recurring themes in this book is motherhood. The symbolism can be seen through China becoming a mother to her puppies at the start of the book and Esch coming to accept that she’s about to become a mother at the end of the book. Esch longs to be like China, and she comes to the conclusion that she has to be as strong as the dog.
Through this amazing book, Jesymn Ward has shown us different types of love—the sacrificial love between brother and sister, the pure love between man and dog and the fluctuating love between man and woman. She has built realistic situations and this story really hits home.
It’s no wonder that Salvage the Bones won the National Book Award in 2011. Overall, this is a great book to read and I really recommend this book to anyone. (ely/wng)