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 ♥

  • 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.

  • Trudie

    * 4.5 *

    One of the great things about subscribing to Powells Indiespensable program is they make you read books that in a million years I would not have chosen for myself. This is one such.

    had experimental, lyrical warning signs posted all over it and some ho-hum reviews from people I follow. But startle me with a Double-crested cormorant if I didn't fall hard for this one.

    The deeply personal introduction helped me orientate myself to what was to follow and I became more open to the st

    * 4.5 *

    One of the great things about subscribing to Powells Indiespensable program is they make you read books that in a million years I would not have chosen for myself. This is one such.

    had experimental, lyrical warning signs posted all over it and some ho-hum reviews from people I follow. But startle me with a Double-crested cormorant if I didn't fall hard for this one.

    The deeply personal introduction helped me orientate myself to what was to follow and I became more open to the story than I otherwise might have been. I feel like the author was asking me to try to imagine a world the way his brother may have viewed it. A brother, whom he writes about specifically in the introduction and more obliquely within the text.

    This is an odd, almost Daliesque story, a melancholy road trip from towns A-Z, meeting random strangers in their homes and taking a "census" of their life. It's mood is philosophical, poetic, surrealist, certainly meant to puzzle. I think it does a disservice to potential readers to refer to this as a dystopian novel. Do not go in looking for world-building or literal census-taking or perhaps leave literal analysis at the door altogether ? This would be my advice. Do go into this happy to discuss cormorants, oddly appealing clown schools, what it means to be a citizen of the world, how it feels to be seen as 'other', these and many other disparate oddities are collected here.

    David Mitchell can be found citing

    as the most recent book to make him cry. If you really take the time to read this, and I think it needs to be digested slowly but also in a few sittings to make the most of the atmosphere, then it is very hard not to also be tearful by the end of it.

    As a reading experience it is a challenge, I think it is worth it.

  • Cheri

    --How Can I Help You Say Goodbye, Patty Loveless, Songwriters: Burton Collins / Karen Taylor-Good

    A father and son journey follows the father receiving the news from a doctor that he hasn’t much longer to live. His son, although adult, has Down synd

    --How Can I Help You Say Goodbye, Patty Loveless, Songwriters: Burton Collins / Karen Taylor-Good

    A father and son journey follows the father receiving the news from a doctor that he hasn’t much longer to live. His son, although adult, has Down syndrome, and the father now worries about how his son will manage, who will care for him, watch over him. His thoughts follow his path, as he follows the map, and as though a child recites the alphabet he begins their travels from towns A to Z, meandering as time and health allows. It is a journey for him to take, one last journey with his son.

    Hopefully, he thinks, a trip to give his son some lasting memories. He signs up to become a census taker, and they leave home for the first town. They travel from town to town, each town’s name a letter of the alphabet from A through Z, and as they travel he ponders his son’s life after he is gone, he revisits old memories of his wife, and the early years, happier years, of their lives together. He visits with the people as he takes the census of each town, and hears their stories, and sometimes shares his.

    In the preface, Jesse Ball shares that his brother Abram Ball died in 1998, at the age of twenty-four years old and had Down syndrome. This story is in some ways a re-imagining of his brother’s life; how Ball had once imagined it would be one day.

    There is an ethereal quality to this story, as thoughts float by untethered, unsummoned, unheeded, memories rush in unbidden, unwanted, beckoning to another world beyond.

    This story is a bit reminiscent of a crazy quilt, if you try to deconstruct it, or make sense of it while it’s in progress, there’s no way to really tell the direction it is heading, or how it will look when it is finished. You may think you have an idea, and then a piece is introduced that changes the course and you have to revise your ideas. Eventually realize that, if you just follow, appreciating each piece of this story, and knowing each piece holds a story in and of itself, you will see the overall picture as a whole when it is complete. You can listen as the stories of each piece of fabric are shared, and look again and see the love that went into this.

    Many thanks, once again, to the Public Library system, and the many Librarians that manage, organize and keep it running, for the loan of this book!

  • 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.

  • Meike

    Jesse Ball's brother Abram, who suffered from Down syndrome, was only 24 years old when he passed away. Ball dedicated this book to him, and as he had planned his life assuming that he will one day become Abram's primary caretaker, this is not story about two brothers, but about a father with a son who has trisomy 21 - Ball thought this would be more suitable to mirror the relationship he and Abram would have had in the future.

    In the book, the father, a surgeon, is diagnosed with a terminal ill

    Jesse Ball's brother Abram, who suffered from Down syndrome, was only 24 years old when he passed away. Ball dedicated this book to him, and as he had planned his life assuming that he will one day become Abram's primary caretaker, this is not story about two brothers, but about a father with a son who has trisomy 21 - Ball thought this would be more suitable to mirror the relationship he and Abram would have had in the future.

    In the book, the father, a surgeon, is diagnosed with a terminal illness and decides to become a census taker in order to be able to travel the country with his son. The mother has already passed, so the father is very worried about his son's future. While they are travelling they encounter numerous people from all walks of life, and we learn more about the past of the whole family.

    Ball chose a very particular pacing that the reader needs to embrace, but then the flow of the text becomes absorbing. We also do not get any names, neither of people nor of the country they are crossing - they are simply traveling from A to Z. I was fascinated by the metaphor of the census, because the father is clearly not doing the work you might expect. Rather, the census stands for a mode of encountering people, one the father learnt from

    This measurement is crucial in all human relationships, because

    , so in this census,

    When one of the people interviewed tells the father that he has always been a census taker, I could not help but feel that what she meant is that all of us are census takers - at least when it comes to this kind of census. The significance of this becomes even clearer when you read the father's stories of how his disabled son has been ridiculed and treated cruelly by others.

    Whenever the father and the son have talked to someone, they mark this person with a tattoo to indicate that they have been registered. In my quest to understand the meaning of this, I found this quote:

    - just as the census takers left their mark on the person, the person changed the census takers who now carry on the story, in their own way.

    It might sound cheesy, but these census takers can only do their task because they open up to people, which means that they are vulnerable and might get hurt:

    Again, there's a parallel to the destiny of the son and what he has been through because of his condition:

    And then there's the cormorant on the cover, which seems to stand for nature and is accordingly brought up in the context of a character named Mutter (German for "mother"). Mutter wants to be a cormorant, but she is aware that

    Society also tried to change the son - but this would make him less than he already is. His deceased mother was a famous clown, and she knew that a real school must teach its pupils

    , which is a little like - and now we've come full circle - the census.

    As you see, this is a book full of puzzles, metaphors and ideas, and I really enjoyed trying to solve all of them. When the last sentence of this fascinating text brings tears to your eyes (which happened in my case), be careful to look at the pictures at the end of the book - I did not see that coming.

  • Dan Friedman

    Jesse Ball’s

    is the slow, contemplative, and deeply affecting story of a dying man’s deep devotion to and love for his intellectually disabled son:

    and

    Jesse Ball’s

    is the slow, contemplative, and deeply affecting story of a dying man’s deep devotion to and love for his intellectually disabled son:

    and

    recounts a nameless father and his nameless son's meandering automobile journey north through nameless towns, known only as letters of the English alphabet, in a nameless country. The father, anticipating his own imminent death, has abandoned his surgical practice and become a governmental census taker. Many mysteries, or at least questions, remain at the core of

    : what’s purpose of the census, both as a governmental and as a literary device?; what’s the purpose of the census tattoos?; why does the father choose to become a census taker? what does Ball hope to accomplish through keeping people, towns, and the country nameless?; why is the country divided, and why the increasing apparent poverty and isolation as the father and son move further north?; and perhaps most troubling of all, why the cormorants? Bell answers some of these questions, to others he provides hints, and to others none at all.

    Reading

    , I found myself wondering what fiction I read years ago with similar plots and similar tones. Bernard Malamud’s classic short story, “Idiots First,” was initially published in the

    , and provides an emotional wallop similar to

    but with a very different father. And tone? I remain unsure, but I’m wondering about Jerzy Kosinski’s

    , which I don’t have currently available for rereading.

    is probably best read and reread by only patient readers and those who tolerate ambiguity, enjoy allusions, enjoy mysteries, and can deal with sadness. As I read

    , I sometimes felt like a hitchhiker joining two strangers on a long road trip, not knowing just where the road trip was going or even why it was going there. But by the crushingly sad end of

    , the “where” and the “why” become clear, rewarding this reader’s patience.

    4 stars.

  • 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.

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