Census

Census

A powerful and moving new novel from an award-winning, acclaimed author: in the wake of a devastating revelation, a father and son journey north across a tapestry of towns.When a widower receives notice from a doctor that he doesn’t have long left to live, he is struck by the question of who will care for his adult son—a son whom he fiercely loves, a boy with Down syndrome...

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Title:Census
Author:Jesse Ball
Rating:
Edition Language:English

Census Reviews

  • Joachim Stoop

    After Silence once begun and A Cure for suicide I had high expectations of the latest Jesse Ball, but Census didn't disappoint at all. It's an absolute triumph of imagination, writing skills and finesse. More than with his previous books there is a lot of -personal- emotion involved.

    Don't miss this one!

  • Jennifer

    Absolutely stunning.

    is a deeply personal novel for

    and you need to know this before starting the book. Mr. Ball has a thorough introduction that shares his inspiration for this novel: his brother Abram. Unfortunately, Abram is now deceased but Mr. Ball gifts readers with a loving and tender meet-and-greet with this beautiful soul throughout the story. Abram lived with Down syndrome which gave Mr. Ball a front-row seat to how Abram innocently experienced the world and how the w

    Absolutely stunning.

    is a deeply personal novel for

    and you need to know this before starting the book. Mr. Ball has a thorough introduction that shares his inspiration for this novel: his brother Abram. Unfortunately, Abram is now deceased but Mr. Ball gifts readers with a loving and tender meet-and-greet with this beautiful soul throughout the story. Abram lived with Down syndrome which gave Mr. Ball a front-row seat to how Abram innocently experienced the world and how the world chose to experience Abram.

    was written to pay tribute to Abram and also to provide gentle education and perspective to readers about how people with Down syndrome are often misrepresented and not understood. This story may be fiction in its dystopian father/son road trip setting and census-taking tasks but the emotions it solicits are as real as they come: joy, humor, worry, fear, and a soul-aching longing for the world to be a better place for your favorite person.

    is my absolute favorite

    novel to date. Please check it out ♥

  • Jessica Sullivan

    It's no secret that I'm a Jesse Ball fanatic. I think he's one of the most exciting living writers. I hold his novels on a high pedestal, and find that he is unmatched in his ability to write surreal, experimental, abstract, yet still accessible works of fiction.

    I liked Census quite a bit, but it's not the most intellectually exciting Ball novel, nor is it one that I would recommend to first-time Ball readers. Like most of his other books, there's a sense of mystery and unknowing, but the differ

    It's no secret that I'm a Jesse Ball fanatic. I think he's one of the most exciting living writers. I hold his novels on a high pedestal, and find that he is unmatched in his ability to write surreal, experimental, abstract, yet still accessible works of fiction.

    I liked Census quite a bit, but it's not the most intellectually exciting Ball novel, nor is it one that I would recommend to first-time Ball readers. Like most of his other books, there's a sense of mystery and unknowing, but the difference is that it remains largely unresolved. It's not the point. The characters (a father and his son with Down syndrome) are the point.

    The father, knowing he is dying, gives up his job as a doctor and becomes a census taker so that he and his son can spend time together on the road. It's unclear what the point of the census is in Ball's world. It's different than how we know it—it's mysterious, perhaps authoritarian. But again, none of that is really the point.

    As the father and son travel the county, they meet different people. Each town they enter, each person they meet serves as a sort of parable for human experience. There's not a lot of narrative here, mainly disparate encounters.

    Ball wrote Census as a tribute to his brother with Down syndrome, who died when he was still young. You can feel that this is personal for him. Tenderness and sincerity fill every page.

    Never do we learn the true purpose of the strange and elusive census, apart from what the father gains from it. Through the census, he explores the essence of life, humanity, and goodness. He copes with his own mortality, and with the gravity of leaving his son in this world alone.

    A blurb on the back of Census described Ball's world view as "tender nihilism," and this is indeed a fitting description. Census is deeply meditative and moving; though not one of Ball's more bizarre and intellectually stunning stories, it's quietly profound and emotionally resonant.

  • Angela M

    There were a few times that I wanted to put this book aside because I wasn’t getting what was happening in this society, this country with unnamed towns designated by letters from A-Z. I wasn’t understanding what this census was all about, why this unnamed agency of the government was conducting it. It was just too philosophical in places. But I couldn’t stop thinking about what Jesse Ball tells us in the introduction:

    “It occurred to me last month that I would like to write a book about my brot

    There were a few times that I wanted to put this book aside because I wasn’t getting what was happening in this society, this country with unnamed towns designated by letters from A-Z. I wasn’t understanding what this census was all about, why this unnamed agency of the government was conducting it. It was just too philosophical in places. But I couldn’t stop thinking about what Jesse Ball tells us in the introduction:

    “It occurred to me last month that I would like to write a book about my brother. I felt, and feel that people with Down syndrome are not really understood. What is in my heart when I consider him and his life is something so tremendous, so full of light, that I thought I must write a book that helps people see what it is like to know and to love a Down syndrome boy or girl. It is not like what you would expect, and it is not like it is ordinarily portrayed and explained. It is something else, different than that.”

    I’m so glad I continued reading because I found moments of beauty and of joy among the things I didn’t quite get and a poignant tribute to Ball’s late brother. That tribute is depicted in the journey of a man, a widower, who is ill and near the end of his life, a surgeon who becomes a census taker for some unnamed agency of the government. He decides to do this so he can spend time with his adult son who has Down Syndrome. Like the places they travel through, the father and son are also unnamed. While I didn’t get the census thing or what this society was about, this journey and the people they meet and count along the way become a revealing mechanism for learning about his son through the reactions of the people to his son and the reactions of his son to them. They meet people who are accepting, people who are hostile, children who laugh with him and don’t want him to leave, a woman who understands in her heart because of her daughter who passed away and was “like” his son. They meet people who knew the man’s wife and we get to know her a little more through his reminiscences about her and her relationship with their son. The son is kind. He lets the man he is playing checkers with call it a draw when he is winning. The son is inquisitive. His father tells us :

    “My son has gotten lost on many occasions....that thing he loved to do is wander off...When he is found it is clear that he was if anything, working adamantly to not be found, but in an entirely passive way. By that I mean, he joins the scenery of the place, delighted to learn the things he can learn there....I have never sought to change what is essentially to my eyes, a basic resourcefulness that finds at any moment something profound.”

    The unconditional love and understanding of this man and his deceased wife for their son is touching and beautiful. I recommend that you watch Jesse Ball tell you about his brother Abram and hear him read an excerpt. You might not be able to pass up this book. It’s a meaningful story.

    (The quotes are from an uncorrected proof.)

    I received an advanced copy of this book from Ecco/HarperCollins through Edelweiss.

  • Neil

    This was my first experience of a Jesse Ball novel. I did however come across him in Granta magazine’s "Best of Young American Novelists" where he wrote a short story called "A Wooden Taste is the Word for Dam a Wooden Taste is the Word for Dam a Wooden Taste is the Word for" which was startlingly original enough for me to think I needed to read more and therefore to not turn my back on a chance to get a review copy of Census via NetGalley. My thanks to the publishers for approving this request

    This was my first experience of a Jesse Ball novel. I did however come across him in Granta magazine’s "Best of Young American Novelists" where he wrote a short story called "A Wooden Taste is the Word for Dam a Wooden Taste is the Word for Dam a Wooden Taste is the Word for" which was startlingly original enough for me to think I needed to read more and therefore to not turn my back on a chance to get a review copy of Census via NetGalley. My thanks to the publishers for approving this request and sending this copy for me to read.

    Census is a remarkable book. The plot is simple: a doctor receives a diagnosis that tells him he does not have long to live so he decides to make a journey with his son who requires round-the-clock supervision. He registers as a census taker and travels, literally in this case, from A to Z. "Literally" because all the towns are named after letters of the alphabet and he lives in A and travels alphabetically to Z. This is the first sign that all is not quite "normal" in the world of Census.

    A lot of the book is recognisably our world. But it is all slightly skewed. Take, for example, the idea of a census. Our unnamed narrator explains the census as follows:

    Our narrator and his son travel from town to town taking this unusual census and marking each person with a tattoo to show they have been counted. The journey is both an encounter with a multitude of human experiences and a way for a father to say farewell to his son. It includes flashbacks as our narrator looks back on his life and his relationship with his wife. It includes bizarrely normal encounters with people. And it includes the narrator’s son who clearly has problems.

    It is in this inclusion of the son that the story hides its power. In an introduction, Ball explains that his brother died twenty years ago and suffered from Downs’ Syndrome. He goes on to say:

    Once you have read those words, this sets up the rest of the book and, I think, makes it a very different book than you would experience if you skipped this introduction. Because you read with an awareness that Jesse’s brother is there even if you can’t see him. It makes it a very emotional book.

    The only reason I have not given this 5 stars is that the cormorant is a recurring motif and, as a keen birdwatcher, I couldn’t help but notice that some of the facts given about cormorants were wrong (they DON’T have waterproof plumage, which is why you see them standing with their wings spread so often to dry them out, they CAN fly easily and the cormorant and the shag are DIFFERENT birds). However, I could easily be persuaded to increase my rating to the full 5 stars if someone can show me how these apparently wrong facts actually fit into the overall story as deliberate.

    Ball writes very economically. His narrative jumps around from topic to topic which makes the whole far greater than the sum of its parts, but I think this is the plan and one of the main attractions of Ball’s writing. The overall impression is a powerfully emotional story calling for compassion and tolerance.

    An absorbing and refreshing read. I need to read some more of Ball’s work.

  • Jill

    I am an unabashed fan of Jesse Ball. I’ve read many of his books – The Curfew, The Lesson, Silence Once Begun, A Cure for Suicide, How to Set a Fire & Why – and have often marveled at his metafictional, fablelike, and sometimes provocative works.

    But this time it’s personal – for the author and perhaps for this reader, too. Jesse Ball dedicates the book to his deceased brother, Abram Ball, who had Down Syndrome, and in the prologue, writes about the struggle to create this book and how he sol

    I am an unabashed fan of Jesse Ball. I’ve read many of his books – The Curfew, The Lesson, Silence Once Begun, A Cure for Suicide, How to Set a Fire & Why – and have often marveled at his metafictional, fablelike, and sometimes provocative works.

    But this time it’s personal – for the author and perhaps for this reader, too. Jesse Ball dedicates the book to his deceased brother, Abram Ball, who had Down Syndrome, and in the prologue, writes about the struggle to create this book and how he solved it: “I would make a book that was hollow. I would place him in the middle of it, and write around him for the most part. He would be there in his effect.” Like Jesse Ball, I have a loved one – a young nephew – with Down Syndrome and I was curious to see how he would develop this concept.

    This is how: an ill widower, a doctor, takes on the role of census taker and sets off with his Down Syndrome son to take the census, from point A to point Z. Each census taker must forego his or her rights of protection. Consider the census as “a large instrument made up of living cells—and each cell is a census taker.” Yet half way through the book, the unnamed narrator develops a new method of the census – not gathering certain information but instead, deciding what information to look for. The journey into less urban, more unplanned areas is a metaphor for the father’s own journey into the edges of where life and death convene.

    To that end, Census becomes a tapestry of representation – who will stand up and be counted. Indeed, father and son are discovering the heart and soul of America – the kindness, the anger, the humanity, the fear, the gentleness, the ignorance, and the brutality. Each person who participates in this census must allow the census taker to leave a tattooed mark. And indeed, the mark may well be a reminder of how they reacted to life and treated a boy who was not viewed by them as part of the norm.

    The conceit is not quite as accessible than Mr. Ball’s previous works and if truth be known, there were times when I wondered what Mr. Ball was trying to tell me…and found myself admiring the book more than loving it. But the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and by the end of the book, I believed I knew. He was writing about the inevitability of saying goodbye and of being part of a world that demands we deal with the good and the bad.

  • Truman32

    An unnamed widower receives news from his doctor that he is suffering from a fatal condition and will shortly die. He quits his medical practice and loads his adored son, a boy with Down Syndrome, into his car and takes off across the country to render the census. He is hoping to spend these fleeting remaining moments traveling and experiencing life with the one he loves most before he is forced to say goodbye forever.

    And so starts one of the most cheerful, lighthearted, and downright jolly book

    An unnamed widower receives news from his doctor that he is suffering from a fatal condition and will shortly die. He quits his medical practice and loads his adored son, a boy with Down Syndrome, into his car and takes off across the country to render the census. He is hoping to spend these fleeting remaining moments traveling and experiencing life with the one he loves most before he is forced to say goodbye forever.

    And so starts one of the most cheerful, lighthearted, and downright jolly books of the Spring,

    by Jesse Ball. If this playful little caper doesn’t have you crackin’ wise, have the blue birds singing all day long, and put a little dance in your step than I just don’t know. Your heart must be made of Vibranium.

    OK, maybe it’s not exactly a happy romp. But trust me this book is not completely doomy and gloomy either.

    The first thing we have going is hotshot author Jesse Ball. Mr. Ball has a pretty sterling reputation, he has been long listed for the National Book Award and has won numerous awards. The New York Times, Chicago Reader, Boston Globe and many others all declared

    as one of the most anticipated books of 2018. And if you doubt for a moment the caliber of serious writer we are dealing with, just Google images of Ball. A more solemn and stoic individual has not been seen since Abraham Lincoln declared Civil War on the Confederate states of America. The pain of creation weighs so heavily on Ball, it appears that his head would shatter into a million dangerously sharp pieces if he were to force his lips into anything resembling a smile. Make no mistake, this guy is a major writer.

    But even more than Ball’s impressive writing pedigree is that this book is a recognition—maybe even a valentine-- to his own brother who had Down syndrome. As he states in the opening pages, this deeply personal story was written to reconnect on some level to his brother who as a child he was looking forward to living, taking care of, and growing old with for the rest of their lives.

    is written like a fable in the sense that it reads like an oral telling and there is minimal detail and verisimilitude used to ground the events (i.e. “The house was decorated all over with small cheerful gestures of color and textures”). The main characters have no names, the actual census sounds like something from a science fiction dystopian saga where those counted have the date of the interview tattooed on their ribs and the reason never clarified. Yet all other details indicate we are operating in our current world. In that way it resembles Mohsin Hamid’s super popular

    . To say I am not a fan of this type of format is somewhat of an understatement. I kind of loath it with a surge of animosity usually reserved only for those who kick their dogs, make young children bawl, or garnish their casseroles with crunched up potato chips. Still the emotional wallop at the end cannot be denied and hits you with all the force of an uppercut from feared Russian boxer Ivan Drago before Rocky Balboa cut him down to size in front of a sold out Moscow audience back in 1985.

    I was hoping for more here, but this is still a poetic and intimate meandering that delivers in philosophical musings with an emotional conclusion.

  • Shawn Mooney

    This is a novel about a census-taker. This is a novel about a census-taker. This is a novel ab— Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.....

    (Bailed a third of the way in.)

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