Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi

Summary from Goodreads:

Two half sisters, 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.

I am stunned that this is a debut novel. Amazed. Wowed. Flabbergasted. Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing is one of the best debuts – actually, one of the best novels – that I have read all year and it is deserving of all the hype that it has been receiving. Wildly ambitious in premise and elegant in execution, Homegoing is my favourite kind of novel and reading it reminded me why I fell in love with books in the first place.

The novel is laid out as a collection of linked stories (think Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, or Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad). Two sisters are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana; the first is married off to an English slave trader, the second is forced into slavery. Each subsequent chapter is narrated from the perspective of a descendant of either sister, alternating through the generations all the way up to the present day. As the narrative unfolds, the characters’ lives also trace the evolution of the slave trade and its domino effect on future generations. This format allows Gyasi to construct a panoramic view of history by tackling multiple aspects of slavery, including Africa’s complicity within it.

At first, this constant shifting of perspective was a little jarring, but I soon grew to appreciate it. My only complaint is that I wanted to read even more about each of the individual characters. As for the prose itself, I found it to be dynamic, compelling and charged with a fierce emotional intensity. Despite the fact that Gyasi covers a period of 250 years in roughly 300 pages, I did not find the novel to be overstuffed, which is a pretty mean feat in my opinion. Like all novels about slavery, it is incredibly difficult and distressing to read at times, but there are moments of joy to be found as well. This is a book that demands to be read quickly, but remembered for a long time afterwards. Highly highly recommended.

Have you read Homegoing? What did you think of it? I would love to hear your thoughts. 

~Anna

Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier

Summary from Goodreads:

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again . . .

The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady’s maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives–presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.

Oh my goodness, I haven’t had this much fun reading a book in so long! It’s like a gothic soap opera, but in the best possible way. It’s dark, atmospheric, melodramatic, and oh so decadent. Honestly, I don’t know why I only discovered this now.

From the very first sentence, which is one of the most famous opening lines ever written, I was totally immersed in the story. I got lost in the descriptions of Manderley. I wanted to walk those paths through the woods to the beach. I wanted to wander the halls and peer into rooms, long abandoned after Rebecca’s death. I wanted to touch, taste, and smell everything our heroine was experiencing. I wanted to sit by the fire in the Manderley library, watching the rain stream down the windows, and read this book until the end of time. Yes, it’s that good.

The characters in this book, especially the female characters, were utterly fascinating. Mrs Danvers sent chills down my spine and for most of the book, I found myself totally terrified of her, but then she also had these moments of incredible fragility and sadness. But just when I found myself sympathising with her, she would go back to being a manipulative hag. What a brilliant character. As for Rebecca, I could almost feel her presence in the room while I was reading. I could almost hear her malicious laughter and picture her at her desk writing her letters in her elegant, cursive script. In contrast to our timid, nameless, and ultimately forgettable narrator, Rebecca is someone who demands to be remembered, long after her death.

The book is often compared to Jane Eyre, but the dead Rebecca is much more vividly alive in Manderley than the madwoman in Mr Rochester’s attic ever was. In fact, she seems more alive than our little heroine, who seems to exist only to serve and appease others. Rebecca infuses every room with the strength of her personality, while our narrator flits through the house like a ghost, afraid to touch or disturb anything. Personally, I love that she remains nameless throughout the novel as it shows the extent to which her identity is subsumed by her husband’s and makes Rebecca seem all the more present.

Now I know there are a few Maxim de Winter fans out there, but I have to admit that I am not one of them. The whole time I was reading this book, I just wanted to slap him for being so condescending, brooding, and peevish. Yes, Mrs de Winter is portrayed as a sexless, child-like creature with very little personality, but that doesn’t mean that she should be treated as the human equivalent of a doormat. I mean, she is his wife after all. He asked her to marry him, not the other way around. This man who is more than twice his wife’s age never once calls her by her name, asks her how she is feeling, or gives her the freedom to form her own opinions. What a jerk. Ugh. It’s no surprise really that Rebecca turned out the way she did.

Overall, I cannot express how much I loved this book. In my opinion, it is the perfect book to read on a rainy day, while covered in blankets and sipping a hot cup of tea. If you haven’t already read it, I highly recommend adding it to your TBR. I just wish I had discovered it sooner.

Have you read Rebecca? Did you love it as much as I did? I would love to hear your thoughts. 🙂 

~Anna

Around The World in 26 Books!

Earlier this week, while talking to Tristen over at musingsfromablogabroad, I came to the realisation that the list of countries that I have read books from is shockingly short. I have read a lot of European, American, and Australian literature and, well, not that much else. It’s terrible, I know! Anyway, I’ve decided to remedy this by setting myself a challenge: I am going to try to read one book from a different country for each letter of the alphabet (i.e. A for Argentina, B for Belarus, etc).

As you can probably imagine, it gets a little tricky with letters like Q, Y and X, which is why I need your help. I thought I would post my very tentative reading list and if you have any recommendations, please let me know. I am finding it especially difficult to find Qatari, Omani and Yemeni literature that has been translated into English. Anyway, here it is!

A – Argentina, Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges

B – Belarus, Chernobyl Power by Svetlana Alexievich

C – Cuba, Before Night Falls by Reinaldo Arenas

D – Denmark, Out Of Africa by Karen Blixen

E – Egypt, Arabian Days and Nights by Naguib Mahfouz

F – Finland, Under the North Star by Väinö Linna

GGreece, Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis

H – Hungary, Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb

I – Iran, The Blind Owl by Sadegh Hedayat

J – Jordan, Snow in Amman: An Anthology of Short Stories from Jordan by Ibtihal Mahmood

K – Korea (South), The Vegetarian by Han Kang

L – Libya, The Return by Hisham Matar

M – Moldova, The Good Life Elsewhere by Vladimir Lorchenkov

N – Nigeria, We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

O – Oman, Earth Weeps, Saturn Laughs by Abdulaziz al-Farsi

P – Philippines, Noli Me Tangere by José Rizal

Q – Qatar, The Holy Sail by Abdulaziz al-Mahmoud or The Girl Who Fell to Earth by Sophia al-Maria (not sure if this one counts because she grew up in the US, Qatar and Egypt)

R – Romania, any book by Herta Müller

S – Singapore, Ministry of Moral Panic by Amanda Lee Koe

T – Thailand, Sightseeing by Rattawut Sapcharoeasop

U – Uruguay, The Ship of Fools by Cristina Peri Rossi

V – Vietnam, The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

W – Wales, Gillian Clarke: Collected Poems by Gillian Clarke

X – Mexico, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

Y – Yemen, A Land Without Jasmine by Wajdi al-Ahdal

Z – Zimbabwe, We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

Have you read any of these books? Do you have any recommendations? I would greatly appreciate your help and if any of you want to join this reading challenge, please let me know. 🙂 

~Anna

EDIT: I forgot to mention that Tristen and I will be attempting this challenge together. Well, I didn’t exactly forget – I’m just technologically challenged and couldn’t figure out how to add the link to her blog. Anyway, I figured out how to do it and you can find her blog here. I strongly recommend checking it out as her reviews are very good and she has read pretty much every book on the planet. Oh, and she is much better at posting regularly than I am.