Tag Archives: america

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Title: Homegoing
Author: Yaa Gyasi
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-1101947135
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

There are books you read that make you want to be a better person, they make your heart sing and leave you breathless because of their sheer beauty. There are books that break your heart, they keep stabbing at it with a curved blunt knife and you are in pain and you know that, but the magic of words doesn’t make you stop turning the pages. There are also books that do all of this – books that have the power to do it all, so to say and “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi (I still cannot believe that this is a debut novel) is one such book.

I love and enjoy books about families on a grand scale – something about them that makes you relate to what is going on and not so much – perhaps which is what makes it so desirable and not so. “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi is about two sisters who never meet during the book. One grows up in a sort of prosperous family where she is promised in marriage to a powerful man and the other grows up in a tribe where she is captured and caught into slavery. This action takes place in Ghana – more exacting would be in the coastal region. The book is about the sisters of course but also about their children and grand-children and great grandchildren and it is marvelous to see Gyasi loop through all these characters and give them a logical start, beginning and end every single time with every single chapter.

At given point I didn’t think the writing was overwhelming because of the several sub-plots. In fact, if anything, I found Gyasi’s writing to be quite simple, empathetic and most easy to read. The trials and tribulations of these sisters and their progeny makes you think of what goes on in this world as we live safe, protected lives. The narrative switches back and forth between each generation of the sister’s family lines and to me that was a lovely way to link stories of families and to know of the songs and tales passed down from one generation to the next.

Yaa Gyasi projects the conflict of the Asantes and Fantes – the tribes of Ghana and the readers will be pulled into their lives, customs and how one of them even work with the British to sell them slaves. Honestly, it didn’t even surprise me given what some people go through in India at the hands of their so-called “community people”. I felt a little cheated in the last couple of chapters and wished there was more to the characters and their lives – but I guess those can be overlooked.

“Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi is a novel that will take your breath away. It is meshed intricately with people across generations, timelines, emotions, men and women who are stuck with decisions they make and the ones that are forced on them. Most of all, the book is about what it takes to be human above everything else and what it really takes to make it through all the pain and hardship.

Academy Street by Mary Costello

Academy Street by Mary Costello Title: Academy Street
Author: Mary Costello
Publisher: Canongate Books
ISBN: 978-1782114185
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 180
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Very few times you come across a book that makes you feel and takes you beyond that, almost in another realm of consciousness. “Academy Street” by Mary Costello was one such book that did it for me this year (and the year has not even begun properly, so to say). If you are the sort of reader that only reads a book a month, then I will almost force you to read, “Academy Street”. It is a book which every reader (no matter what level of reader) should read at least once in his or her lifetime and I am not kidding about this.

“Academy Street” came to me at a time when I needed it the most. Yes, I do believe that books find you when they have to. Till then, no matter how hard you try, you cannot immerse yourself in the book. The book’s permission is needed. “Academy Street” is a novella of one woman and her journey from being a girl to an old woman and life as she sees it through those decades and years gone by. This is perhaps me simply putting it. The book is so much more and the layers to it are just phenomenal.

I had not heard of Costello before picking up this one but I am only too glad that I have now. Tess is not just a character. She is perhaps somewhere there in all of us in various forms or maybe just one. The book charts Tess’s story so to say from childhood till she is an old woman – all her happiness, her anxieties, her loves, her transitions, the loss of her mother (which is stated at the very beginning of the book) to her migration from Ireland to America, a new land with new possibilities, new hopes and new losses. How can one remain untouched by this novella? This was my only thought when I finished this gem of a book.

I am quite sure that other writers might have explored this theme in other books, but what makes this one different is of course the writing. Costello does not confuse the reader. The facts are laid out. The story-line is simple. The writing is simpler. The characters are not so many. So what makes me say that this book is astounding? It is all in the words and the sentences used by the writer.

At the core of the book, there is empathy, loneliness and sheer need to be accepted which intensified chapter after chapter. You get to know Tess like a close friend and there were times I just wanted to keep the book down, so there would be more reading time with it. The book is about her siblings, her friends, but above it all, it was to me, just a brief and simple testimony to life and the living. Tess is constantly finding herself. She is constantly seeking, trying to become that someone, and that will ring true for anyone who picks up this book. There is grace, devastation, eye for detail, elegance and above all empathy to Costello’s writing. I suggest you go and start reading this right now. Savour and cherish it, as books such as these are meant to.

Here are some of my favourite lines from the book. There are obviously more, but for now these will do.

In her life, ever, there were only a few people who had been a fit, with whom she had felt understood.

Ease her terrible ache for human touch, human love. The room was flooded with light and she was blinded, mesmerised.

And how all things change or end or disappear, and this would too, this day, this moment. She looked around. And you too, you will all disappear.

Oh honey, when it comes to the heart, it ain’t about men or women, but people.

Affiliate Link:

Academy Street

The Americans by Chitra Viraraghavan

The Americans by Chitra Viraraghavan Title: The Americans
Author: Chitra Viraraghavan
Publisher: 4th Estate
ISBN: 9789351362593
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

A lot has been written on the migrant experience. It has been written from various points of view. Sometimes, it is a man’s voice and sometimes it is a woman’s voice, journey and careening their way through an unknown land. I have also managed to read quite a few books on the topic. So when I picked up, “The Americans” by Chitra Viraraghavan, I was apprehensive. However, one hundred pages into the book and I could not stop reading it.

“The Americans” is about different people and how their stories merge together, at a point in the United States of America. This is what I loved about the book – the entire concept of six degrees of separation and how it was rolled in beautifully in the narrative.

There is an old man trying to find his way in a new land, on a vacation albeit. There is Tara, a single woman who visits America to look after her niece, as her sister is struggling with other issues. There are eight other stories that merge with these two and to me that was the highlight of the book. I am also somehow fond of books with short chapters and this one was written in that manner, which made me cry: Hurrah!

Viraraghavan has an acute sense of surrounding and nature to her writing. The book is set in 2005 and one can see that she knows America inside-out as she of course studied there and that has definitely helped in the research of the book.

The writing is lucid and heart-warming in most places. For me, what worked the most were the journal entries (or so they seemed) of books read by a teenager and her view of the American life. “The Americans” is a thought-provoking book on what it means to cross borders – physically and emotionally and sometimes what it takes to perhaps not cross them.

Affiliate Link:

Buy The Americans : A Novel from Flipkart.com

387 Short Stories : Day 68 : Story 68 : The Toughest Indian in the World by Sherman Alexie

The Toughest Indian in the Word by Sherman Alexie Title: The Toughest Indian the World
Author: Sherman Alexie
Taken from the Collection: The Toughest Indian in the World and Other Stories

The story I read on the 15th of February was a very unique one. Not that the story was any unique but I guess the way it was written. Sherman Alexie is for sure one of my favourite short story writers and rightly so.

I read the title story called, “The Toughest Indian in the World” and there are various themes running through this story. The story is about American Indians and coping with the modern culture, while trying to remain true to the Indian ways of life.

The story is about the narrator recalling life as it was, till Indians moved to reservations and how the Indian way is slowly disappearing. The story is striking and is mainly about two cultures and identities.

Affiliate Link:

Buy The Toughest Indian in the World Toughest Indian in the World from Flipkart.com

Book Review : Desperate Characters by Paula Fox

Desperate Characters by Paula Fox Title: Desperate Characters
Author: Paula Fox
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
ISBN: 9780393318944
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 156
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

It is not easy to write a book about marriage. It takes a lot. Sometimes I also think you have to go to that place to experience it and put it on paper. And then to talk about a failing marriage is something else. The emotions that seethe under and to bring them to fore, is not an easy feat. “Desperate Characters” by Paula Fox is one of those few books that manage to do it. It manages to evoke almost every emotion in the characters and the reader and but obviously, the sense of void, remains, as it always does, at the end of a good novel.

I got to know of “Desperate Characters” when I chanced across Jonathan Franzen’s favourite books and this one was somewhere on the top of the list, after Christina Stead I think. The book starts off with an accident and ends almost in the same manner. A couple – who seem happy on the surface – Otto and Sophie Bentwood, living in Brooklyn – the epitome of suburban bliss so to speak. The complete works of Goethe line their bookshelf, they own a Mercedes, and of course all materialistic gadgets of the time in which the story is set – 1969. Sophie is then bitten by a neighbourhood stray cat and from there on their lives change. The marriage crumbles. The decay is visible and for all to see.

America is changing, rapidly at that and in the book; their marriage to a large extent cannot handle the changes. The bite almost becomes metaphorical of their marriage – not healing, dark and almost septic. Fox’s characters are reckless. I think she conjures them that way. They cannot be anything or anyone else. The writing then is nuanced. So much so that you find yourself going over sentences, again and again, to soak yourself in the language and the emotions they convey.

What is most surprising is that the book released in 1970 and not many people know of it. I hope this will change, because I wish more people would read Paula Fox. She is one of the most underrated authors and deserves a chance for sure. Go and buy this one. Read it.

Here is a flavour of her writing:

Thus, they stand facing each other “rigidly, each half-consciously amassing evidence against the other, charges that would counterbalance the exasperation that neither could fathom.”

“Life is desperate.”

“You don’t know what’s going on,” he said at last. “You are out of the world, tangled in personal life…People like you …stubborn and stupid and drearily enslaved by introspection while the foundation of their privilege is being blasted out from under them.” He looked calm. He had gotten even.’

Affiliate Link:

Buy Desperate Characters