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When a widower receives notice from a doctor that he doesn’t have long to live, he is struck by the question of who will care for his adult son—a son whom he fiercely loves, a son with Down syndrome. With no recourse in mind, and with a desire to see the country on one last trip, the man signs up as a census-taker for a mysterious governmental bureau and leaves town with his son.

Census is a novel about free will, grief, the power of memory and the ferocity of parental love, from one of America’s most captivating young writers.


Bait for Bookworms blog
Washington Post

Jesse Ball
About the Author

Jesse Ball (1978–). Novelist, absurdist. Born in New York. His many and varied works are beloved in a dozen languages.

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Text publication date:
2 April 2018
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Praise for Jesse Ball

‘A young genius who hits all of the right notes.’

‘Jesse Ball [is] among our most compelling and daring writers today.’

Census is a vital testament to selfless love; a psalm to commonplace miracles; and a mysterious evolving metaphor. So kind, it aches.’

Census, Ball’s new work, [is] his most personal and best to date…Think The Road by Cormac McCarthy with Ball’s signature surreal flourishes.’ 

‘A poet by trade, Ball understands the economy of language better than most fiction writers today.’

‘Explore with Ball, fall into his quirky rhythms, and you’ll discover a burning plea for empathy. It will break your heart.’

‘Ball indulges our natural curiosity about what’s real and simultaneously repudiates the idea that it matters. This is a writer too interested in the transformative power of language to come down on one banal side or the other.’

‘This novel is a devastatingly powerful call for understanding and compassion.’

‘Some books resonate more deeply than others; they don’t merely reflect the world we’re presented with, but instead they refashioned it, even warp it, revealing essential truths. Ball’s poignant dedication to his late older brother Adam, who had Down syndrome, adds yet another layer of complexity to this surreal and powerful story.’

‘The novel’s most vivid moments are when the narrator meets someone who knew his wife, a famous professional clown in the mold of iconic mime Marcel Marceau who died while writing a book titled A Fool is a Mirror. Ball creates a brilliantly absurd caricature of the woman and her life, and the narrator thrives on memories of her. /…/ The narrator of Census is neither hero nor antihero. He is everyman, and Ball does an excellent job of revealing his experience of life’s aches and joys. Throughout the story, the reader knows that the dying man’s journey must end, and Ball provides a finish suitably heartbreaking and redeeming (plus an unexpected and wonderful appendix). When Bill Moyers suggested to The Hero’s Journey author Joseph Campbell that people are not on a journey to save the world but to save themselves, Campbell famously responded, “But in doing that you save the world. The influence of a vital person vitalizes.” Census is an odd, poignant, vitalizing novel well worth the journey.’

‘An understated feat, a book that says more than enough simply by saying, “Look, this is how some people are.”’

‘This is a book that will give you an expanded sense of what it means to have compassion, and what it means to love.’

‘Absorbing, reflective and deeply moving, Census is the most necessary kind of book — one that urges us to see and feel with all the wonder that the world deserves.’

‘What could be a sentimental or treacly parable Ball transforms into a thrilling, imaginative work that explores both the limits and powers of language and empathy.’

‘What’s impressive about Jesse Ball is not just how prolific he is—and he’s most certainly that; he is not yet 40 and has written 14 books, including six novels, since 2004—but how good and, more importantly, human his works are. The author consistently crafts high-concept fabulist tales with sensitivity and quiet poetry.’

‘There are glimpses in here of The Road and of the zany travels in Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, but in a style that is Ball’s very own. Census is the phantasmagoric road trip that breaks your heart in more ways than one and leaves you all the better for it.’

‘It’s an emotional book that honors Jesse Ball’s own brother, who had Down syndrome and passed away 20 years ago.’

‘Subtle and breathtaking.’

‘Strange, brief, beguiling…Ball’s talents, both as a storyteller and a writer of prose, tend to burst the borders of his structures.’

‘A novel that is simultaneously powerful and elusive, whose dreamlike textures and sense of dislocation lend its reflection of our own fears genuine power, suggesting not just unsettling questions about our own unease about suffering, but also probing the uncertain intersection of fiction and reality, memory and imagination.’

Other editions ofCensus
  • Census
    ISBN: 9781925626483
    2 April 2018
    Buy ebook