Homegoing: A novel
Homegoing is set in the latter half of the 1700s and finds two half-sisters born in different villages in Ghana. The two never meet but learn of each other only to be separated by circumstances. Effia is married off to a white man to live a relatively comfortable life in a nearby castle literally built on the back of and containing an ever rotating dungeon of slaves. Esi is captured and sold into slavery and eventually arrives in America. The two narratives then swap back and forth following each sister’s descendants through history, both American and African.
Homegoing is a powerful book. Gyasi’s writing is lyrical and flows beautifully, and the book should be read if only to experience that. However, it delves deep into issues of race, gender, and identity. The early chapters, especially, are fantastic at painting vivid descriptions of life in 18th century America and Africa. The later chapters begin to shift into more short stories capturing snapshots of each descendant’s life at a tumultuous period in history. Despite the minor issues, Homegoing has the potential to become a modern classic.
Claire Bramany is en route to Tulsa, Oklahoma for one reason: to make her partner Jessie Friedman whole again. It is only eight months since Claire lost Jessie to a car crash. Together for over twenty years, Claire is certain that she knows everything that there is about the love of her life. But as she goes through Jessie’s desk drawers, Claire stumbles upon a set of notebooks. It’s not until Claire reads them that she discovers Jessie’s horrific childhood. Certain that she is “the instrument of justice in the world for Jessie,” Claire’s objectives are clear: to search out the man who tainted Jessie’s life, “and to kill him.”
Marilyn Oser’s latest read is an unnerving tale about love, death, and a day of reckoning. A work of love and collaboration, the actual conception for Even You began with Oser’s partner, Mary Lou Kallman, who at the time of her death in 2003 laid the foundation for Jessie’s narrative. It wasn’t until Oser provided a voice for Claire that the elements of the plot finally fell into place. Alternating between the split third and first person narratives respectively, Claire’s portion is set during 1994-95, while Jessie’s goes back fifty years to the time of World War II (WWII).
Oser works her novel much like a tapestry. Tightly interweaving themes of death/life and retribution/redemption, Oser’s descriptions constantly compare the trials and triumphs of two women with various aspects of history. Examples include, WWII, Jim Crow Laws, racism, the Oklahoma bombing, and the Greenwood riots in Tulsato name a few. Amid the comparisons, Jessie’s childhood accounts slowly unfold while Claire’s narrative follows a different format. Oser opens with a scene set in the futureClaire making her way to Oklahomabefore delving into a slew of flashbacks (how Claire meets Jessie and developments in their relationship) and more recent backstories (conversations during Claire’s bereavement support group sessions and her kleptomaniac moments). Both narratives are replete with unexpected twists and turns that slowly build up to the story’s climax.
A wonderful addition to LGBTQ collections, Even You is a profound work of literature. Indeed, a gripping read from beginning to end.
Rated 5.00 out of 5Animal Magnet
Animal Magnet opens with an ill-fated footman and his terrible story of madness, incest, and murder. He records his unintentionally entertaining woes in a letter to a local nobleman requesting intercession on his behalf. Poorly educated and uninformed of the world beyond his employer’s walls, the footman is charming, naive, and ultimately unsuccessful in gaining pardon. The narrative then jumps forward two generations to playwright Georges on his twenty-third birthday. Georges has just burned his life’s work, a play/parable about the government, and intends to commit suicide at the end of the evening. The script of his doings does not end as planned. And so it goes. Each bud on this family tree meets with an untimely and tragic end. The prophet in Vermont gets arrested by discontented followers and dies in prison. The dog-faced boy in Mexico succumbs to his malaise and commits suicide. The pharmacologist sheds the trappings of civilization and founds a cult of toad-lickers in the rainforest only to be a victim of forceful succession. And so on. Eventually, the family’s genes find their way to Reggie, a talking ape with an IQ of 130. And Reggie may be the most human of them all.
The draw of Animal Magnet is its outlandish characters and its narrative structure. Essentially, the book is a series of short stories threaded together by the family connection. Each one has a different structure and a different voice. Anderson wields a letter, play, manuscript, newspaper article, as well as the traditional story format, to tell of each character’s wild experience. And wild they are. Each section plumbs the depths of man’s animal nature, particularly his rampant sexuality. The experience is jarring at first, particularly before understanding the structure of the book, but worth the initial disorientation. The amusing anecdotes leave the reader wondering how civilized man truly can be.
The Bones of Grace: A Novel
The Bones of Grace is a series of stories that create one larger narrative connected through the main character Zubaida Haque. The backbone of the story is Zubaida’s internal monologue as she explains everything to Elijah, the man she loves. She starts with their first meeting, their separation, her marriage to another man, and her hunt for connections to the past. The narrative veers between Zubaida and Elijah, a local man and his search for his lost love, and eventually Zubaida’s search for her own biological parents. Along the way, Zubaida finds herself in increasingly exotic locations including a paleontological dig and a shipyard where massive ships are broken apart.
While this book is the third in a trilogy, it can stand alone. Tahmima Anam’s writing is lyrical and intimate, granting the reader an insight into Zubaida that breathes her vividly into life. It is powerful and beautifully written, tinged with hope but beset by tragedy. It is a modern love story that examines all the various forms of love. The Bones of Grace glimmers with hope, shimmers with beautiful prose, and shines with vivid characterization.
Simmer and Smoke: A Southern Tale of Grit and Spice
Growing up in a rural environment, Shelby Preston has had to struggle for everything. But her love for cooking does not stop her from dreaming of someday becoming a great chef. Shelby also carries the hope that she’ll be able to provide a better life for her and Miss Ann, her young daughter. On the contrary, Mallory Lakes, who has had everything handed to her on a silver platter, has a successful career as a food blogger for a popular newspaper. But behind her affluent persona, Mallory struggles with unresolved conflicts from her past. While neither women have crossed over into nor fully understand each other’s world, Shelby and Mallory will meet at crossroads that will change their lives forever.
First time author and food blogger, Peggy Lampman knows the exact ingredients needed to create an appealing story. Written in split narrative format, Lampman’s debut novel features the lives of two women faced with challenges during changing yet turbulent times in Georgia. Alternating between Shelby and Mallory’s narratives, Lampman’s 2011 plot persistently balances opposites. Where there is hopelessness, there is always a ray of hope in some form or fashion. A prime example is how Lampman incorporates the warmth of food. A shared trait between the principal characters, Lampman closes most chapters with a commentary on various recipes that reflect Georgian cuisine.
Another opposite Lampman laces heavily throughout her storyline is dreaming for a better life amid adversity. While it is obviously understandable why Shelby seeks to improve her situation compared to her dead-end rural surroundings, it is difficult to imagine that a person of wealth would need to dream of improvement. Period. But in creating Mallory, what Lampman does is strip away all the posh and zero in on her humanness. That said, Mallory has dreams, too. Included in the lineup of split narratives, though, is Miss Ann, who while only mentioned a few times, plays a minor yet pivoting role. A determined second-grader, Miss Ann has her own set of dreams in the works.
Yet in the midst of all these characters, Lampman utilizes the above-mentioned theme in connection with the plight of Mexican immigrants, who constantly fear deportation while working demeaning jobs for extremely little pay. To add insult to injury, Lampman also meticulously underscores the flip sidethe harsh realities of bigotry prevalent in Georgian society and the legal system toward Mexicans. Undoubtedly, pondering this latter lifestyle leaves both cast members and readers to pause as they realize that their adversities pale in comparison.
Although Lampman’s story closes on a positive note that includes a slew of wonderful recipes, she sends a powerful reminder that bigotry is not dead and that the immigration system still has major problems. With a portion of the book’s revenue going directly to the Southern Poverty Law Centeran American nonprofit legal advocacy organization specializing in civil rights and public interest litigationSimmer and Smoke is an eye opening and thought-provoking must read.
Eli Cochran is your average, spunky young adult. He comes from an average family, and might appear even to blend into the vast majority of people within his demographics. However, when you look closer you see a young man struggling to stay afloat. One minute he is being hired for a wonderful position after receiving his bachelors degree, the next minute he is waking up in jail. His sudden bursts of rage and craze also set him apart from your average Joe. His journey through young adulthood takes you on a remarkable adventure that shows relationships, family, finances, and success are all in someway dependent on his addiction and current mental state, whatever that state might be at any given time. When he reaches his thirties he realizes that all the hard work and education he has is doing nothing for him. He is nothing. Finally, there comes a time when Eli wants help. He realizes he is older, fatter, and that one more wrong move could kill him. As he embarks on his journey of recovery, we delve in even deeper to who he is and how he became a man he loathes.
As I started this book, I did not know what to expect. Most of us have had some exposure to books about coming of age as well as battling mental illness. This is a tough subject to navigate. What is an even heftier challenge is executing a narration of someone journeying through mental illness of some sort. However, Alex de Schweinitz did an excellent job at portraying this feeling. He truly grabbed my attention and pulled me into this book. At first, I felt that the writing was very dizzying and threw me in many different directions. I found myself reading things over again and feeling a bit crazy.Then it dawned on me that I felt crazy, just like Eli. Genius! Brilliant! This was the point in The Deadender where I really connected. I started to think less of Eli as a crazy kid that needed some serious help and more as a lost soul who was going through something that any one of us could go through. As far as I’m concerned the only main character in this book is Eli. All of the other characters ended up feeling minuscule in my mind. I believe this was caused by how deep I was inside the alcoves of Eli’s mind. Every other person in the story was somewhere in the background. It wasn’t until Eli started to change that the dialogue within the story also started to change. This is when I felt other characters held more of a presence in the story. Overall, this is an easy and enjoyable read. However, you must be ready for an emotional journey through Eli’s ups and downs- and as I mentioned prior, they can become quite dizzying- in the best literary way possible, that is.