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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Cutting for Stone

Cutting for StoneCutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A very complex and detailed drama about the breaking and healing of family relationships. Exotic setting, mostly in a mission hospital in Ethiopia, and a range of interesting characters. Clearly autobiographical in many respects, and told with polished prose. But what is wonderful about this book is also its downfall – too much detail, especially about every medical procedure. The narrative was interrupted time and again to digress into the back story of one character or another. And yet it could have used more back story on the political events in Ethiopia and the Eritrean rebels. One character that seemed surprisingly shadowy – Marion’s twin, Shiva. The twin connection just seemed to be missing for me. The book could have been cut by 200-300 pages. By the time we got to the conclusion, it seemed to have run out of steam and didn’t have the impact it could have. Despite the flaws it is a wonderful book, well worth the time spent reading it, and one that I will remember for a long time. Just be prepared for a very meandering and detailed journey.

Book Description: Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon. Orphaned by their mother’s death and their father’s disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution. Moving from Addis Ababa to New York City and back again, Cutting for Stone is an unforgettable story of love and betrayal, medicine and ordinary miracles–and two brothers whose fates are forever intertwined.

An Echo in the Bone

An Echo in the Bone (Outlander, #7)An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Negative: Too long, too confusing with four different plot lines, pacing – we get bogged down with nothing happening and then everything happens at once, too many incidental characters that serve no real purpose, a number of incontinuities with previous books and even within this book (Willie and Ian, Jamie and Willie, etc.), characters in contrived situations that seem quite out of character (Claire and Lord John – seriously?), and of course four different cliff hanger endings. Well, I can wait for the next book. And in the meantime I feel as if I need to go back and reread the entire series from the beginning to try and sort everything out. This one desperately needed some serious editing.

Positive: I still love all the characters – Jamie and Claire, Roger and Bree, Jemmy and Mandy, Ian and Rachel, and Lord John. Not sure about Willie yet. And I like Lord John better in his own books. He seems a bit stiff in this one. I still love the immense period detail and descriptions of every day life. In the end, that’s all this book comes down to, because the plot arc is not resolved, but to be continued… probably in at least two more books. And I still love how Davina Porter (narrator) handles the various voices.

Book Description:
Jamie Fraser, former Jacobite and reluctant rebel, is already certain of three things about the American rebellion: The Americans will win, fighting on the side of victory is no guarantee of survival, and he’d rather die than have to face his illegitimate son–a young lieutenant in the British army–across the barrel of a gun.

Claire Randall knows that the Americans will win, too, but not what the ultimate price may be. That price won’t include Jamie’s life or his happiness, though–not if she has anything to say about it.

Meanwhile, in the relative safety of the twentieth century, Jamie and Claire’s daughter, Brianna, and her husband, Roger MacKenzie, have resettled in a historic Scottish home where, across a chasm of two centuries, the unfolding drama of Brianna’s parents’ story comes to life through Claire’s letters. The fragile pages reveal Claire’s love for battle-scarred Jamie Fraser and their flight from North Carolina to the high seas, where they encounter privateers and ocean battles–as Brianna and Roger search for clues not only to Claire’s fate but to their own. Because the future of the MacKenzie family in the Highlands is mysteriously, irrevocably, and intimately entwined with life and death in war-torn colonial America.

With stunning cameos of historical characters from Benedict Arnold to Benjamin Franklin, An Echo in the Bone is a soaring masterpiece of imagination, insight, character, and adventure–a novel that echoes in the mind long after the last page is turned.

The Founding

The Founding (The Morland Dynasty, #1)The Founding by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Four stars is perhaps generous, but I like family sagas and I like historical fiction where history is actually the focus. This is book 1 of a now 34 book series intended to cover British history from the middle ages through WW2 through the eyes of a fictional family. The author says on her website (www.cynthiaharrodeagles.com) “I wanted to include…not just the kings, battles and Parliaments, but how people lived, what they wore and ate, how they gave birth and died, how they built their houses and related to their servants, how they traveled, what they believed in.” Although the fictional setting of the Morland family is near York in England, the original Morland home in this book (Micklelith House) was based on Tretower Court in Wales. If I ever get back to Wales, this will be on my itinerary: http://www.gardenvisit.com/garden/tre…

And, although there is not really a plot, and the characters are mostly pretty flat and one-dimensional, I immediately wanted to reread the book after finishing it. I don’t know if that’s because I wanted to continue to immerse myself in the time period details, or because of some vague sense of having missed something that would make the story more complete. I do wish the publisher had included the royal family genealogy tables along with the Morland family tree provided, but I suppose that can be found readily enough. The political background of The Founding includes the reign of Edward IV and Richard III, and yes, the famous Princes in the Tower. The main character, Eleanor (nee Courteney) is strong-willed and ambitious. She will put the family fortunes ahead of every other consideration, even at the cost of the lives and happiness of her own children. She is arrogant and selfish, but yet she does elicit some sympathy and even admiration. Oh! and of course I liked that her personal device was a white hare.

I would like to have seen a lot more development of the characters, maybe over three books instead of one. The harrowing story of Eleanor’s daughter, Isabella, could have been a book in itself. Her strange son, Richard, and his wanderings could have been another fleshed out story. As it is, the book covers more than 50 years during the tumultuous Wars of the Roses. I will probably pick up the next book at some point to see how this fiercely Yorkist family survives the Tudors.