Contemporary Literature

Homegoing

In my About Me section, which is (very cheese-ily) named “Paige’s Story,” I wrote a little about the subscription box I got myself as a graduation present last year. Every month, there’s a wonderful surprise in my mailbox: a new book and a tea to match! So far, I think I’ve gotten it for 7 months. I can say for sure that the teas have all been fantastic. I’ve only gotten through 4 of the books so far (the reader’s curse – books get added to the TBR list much faster than they get checked off), and though none of them have disappointed, I wanted to highlight my favorite so far. It’s also one of my overall favorite books from the past few years. Plus, in a small world twist, one of my good friends from grad school is actually friends with the author – cool!

Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi

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“This book was gorgeous. Absolutely stunning. Beautifully written, paced, planned. The snapshots of life from generation to generation as a family was split and brought back together were so real. And what an amazing exploration of the different paths life can, and did, take for the members of this family based on, at times, nothing more than chance. And through those individual stories, we get to experience the development and history not just of two family lines, but two nations, two peoples.

Starting with half sisters Effia and Esi, who didn’t know about the existence of the other, and a black stone they were each given to hold onto by their mother, we watch one branch of the family pass the stone down through generations of turmoil in Africa (and eventually brought to America freely) and another whose stone was stolen as she was shipped to America as a slave and was nothing but a memory to pass down, until that too was lost (taken from) her family. And in the end, we see a rejoining of the family many generations later, the remaining black stone brought home to Africa to visit the very same place where it’s twin was buried and forgotten, where the stories split at the very beginning, brought back by the present day generation whose history and family connections are long lost to time.

The author gives us a truthful, painful, heart-wrenchingly touching tour of what it has meant, what it still means, to be black – in Africa, in America, and especially in the in-between of not fully belonging anywhere. The development of black family, traditions, and daily life for both changed dramatically and at the same time, perhaps not at all: p.290 “they’d think they knew something about him, and it would be the same something that had justified putting his great-grandpa H in prison, only it would be different too, less obvious than it once was.”

This is a must read for everyone – for the truth it tells, the frustration it illustrates, the individuality it brings to the lives of those lost in the generalizations of today. With it’s unforgiving and, at times, harsh truths, this story is told with such feeling, but also impressive objectivity. A judgement-free presentation that almost borders on the detached, and in that way, gives even further gravitas to the truths it illuminates.  This book can give us all a chance to recognize, come to terms with, and work together to move forwards together from a history of pain, guilt, and discomfort. Every story of this novel is a representation of something larger, done in such an unassuming way, and I couldn’t put it down.”

I recommend this one for anyone who has ever felt like they don’t know who they are or where they belong – you’ll find some solace and lots of identification and commiseration, from the characters in this novel. Also, for anyone interested in the history of race, partially internationally, but primarily within the United States, this is a great read. It shines light on many historic issues, gives insight into how those grew into what we are facing today, and does so with a “fictional” cast – representative of so many real stories, but told in a perfectly paced way that (in my opinion) makes it easier to read than non-fiction. But do beware, when I say “easier,” I mean in relation to the words themselves, the way it’s written (I find pacing and language for fiction vs non-fiction to be drastically different, no matter what the intentions of the author are), not that the topics or severity of the stories will toned down for easier swallowing. These are the types of stories that should be hard to read. And we should do it anyways.

If you’ve already read Homegoing, here some other, similar, recommendations:

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue It focuses more on a present day family story, instead of a generational saga, but explores many of the same feelings, disenchantments, and race-based challenges between African and the United States.

Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Y. Dennis-Benn A similar story, family based but with a fully female-lead cast of characters and the eerily similar challenges and relationships they face in Jamaica.

The Orchard of Lost Souls by Nadifa Mohamed. For those who enjoyed the parts of Homegoing that took place in Africa, here is a contemporary story of three women in Somalia that explores how large, world changing events can irrevocably change and disrupt the lives of any single “normal” person.

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini. Try this one if you’re looking for an examination of how families change over time, how past decisions affect future generations, in a story that spans different continents and is told from different perspectives.

 

Remember, if you’re interested in this read, don’t forget to buy from an independent bookstore – find one near you!

 

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