Homegoing

HomegoingHomegoing by Yaa Gyasi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 rounded up because I think it is an “important” book. Important to realize that slavery and colonization didn’t just affect the United States, nor is slavery just a white man’s crime, and that there are no easy answers for the lingering effects of war, slavery, poverty, drug use, and discrimination. Also, that the whole notion of race is very artificial. White and black become mixed into both lines of descent. This book is told in alternating short stories following the descendants of two sisters – two sisters who never knew each other – and yet, the sense of family is strong on both sides. I especially liked the character called “Crazy Woman” – crazy because of her dreams where her ancestors spoke to her. She provided the needed link between all the stories, reminding us that whether we know them or not, we are the product of those who have gone before us.

The TV show “Finding Your Roots” has much the same message. We will never know everything about the people in our past, but we can learn bits and pieces, and tell the story of who we are. No matter what tragedies and hardships they went through, they survived. The evidence is that we are here. It may be uncomfortable to read about, it may make us cry, but there’s also a powerful message that there is always the hope of redemption and reconciliation and healing.

The writing itself is beautiful. Hard to believe that this is a debut novel. I predict a great career for Ms. Gyasi. I think it could be read by teens as well as adults, and ought to be required reading in high schools across the country. This will be a classic some day.

Book description: Effia and Esi are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.

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The Weird Sisters

The Weird SistersThe Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 rounded up. A quick, fun read. I loved the Shakespeare angle. Told in first person plural voice as if the three sisters were one person or telling the story collectively. It worked. Not terribly deep – we don’t really know how these sisters got to be so dysfunctional, and so wrapped up in themselves that they haven’t grown up yet. The oldest sister seems to have held the family together for years (or thinks she has) and can’t give up her martyr role. She holds out hope of getting a job at the local college, while her fiance is off teaching in England. She has rigid ideas about what her future will look like, and needs to learn to let go and step out of her comfort zone. The middle sister seemed the most lost to me – pursuing the fast life, clothes, money, men – trying to fill the void of feeling worthless compared to her sisters. She returns home in disgrace having been caught embezzling money at her job. And the youngest – filled with wanderlust and unable to commit to anything. Now she is pregnant. Back home together again, the three sisters debate the past and present, their life choices, and the nature of happiness and self-worth.

Book description: Three sisters have returned to their childhood home, reuniting the eccentric Andreas family. Here, books are a passion (there is no problem a library card can’t solve) and TV is something other people watch. Their father-a professor of Shakespeare who speaks almost exclusively in verse-named them after the Bard’s heroines. It’s a lot to live up to. The sisters have a hard time communicating with their parents and their lovers, but especially with one another. What can the shy homebody eldest sister, the fast-living middle child, and the bohemian youngest sibling have in common? Only that none has found life to be what was expected; and now, faced with their parents’ frailty and their own personal disappointments, not even a book can solve what ails them…