Book Club

Magpie Book Club: Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing.

By: Jen Shoop

I read Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing for a book club with my sisters and sister-in-law and the reviews among us were varied, though generally positive. The book is a proliferation of stories across generations of a family from its roots in the Gold Coast to its (forced) cuttings and replantings in America. In it, Gyasi examines racism across a range of contexts and with stirring and occasionally controversial nuance: she addresses subjects as uncomfortable as the complicity of Africans in the slave trade to the relative “mildness” vs. severity of different slave owners in the Antebellum South to the problematic “passing” of lighter-skinned African Americans as white. But mainly, the book is a pastiche of incomplete narratives and clipped laments. Originally, I found this aspect of the book unbecoming in the sense that I found that the different chapters (each of which follows a specific character/family member) did not “hang together” particularly well and that it was strenuously difficult to keep track of the relationships. While reading, I considered this a technical shortcoming of the work, feeling that the novel was over-ambitious in its expansiveness and that there wasn’t enough stitching to bind. But my sister-in-law made the rousing point that there are so many abbreviated or lost or silenced stories from the violent history of this subjugated class that the text is necessarily, unsatisfyingly “rough” around the edges in its linkages. And I agree with that interpretation upon review.

I found the stories themselves uneven. The earlier ones that took place in the Gold Coast were exceptional. They were lucid, imaginative, original, and at times appealingly fabular. The latter chapters that take place in America felt more caricaturish, i.e., “ok, we need someone from the Great Migration now; here’s an outline of her character…go.” I couldn’t help but suspect writerly fatigue. At the same time, this is Gyasi’s first novel and she is young and I am bowled over by both her ambition and her dexterity.

On the whole, though, I found this a fascinating, impressive, multi-layered text. Some of the writing was positively brilliant — and often at the expense of its own characters, in the sense that I found that the most disturbing scenes were the most tightly written.

I would strongly recommend this book as a book club pick because there is a lot of meat on the bone here — but if you’re looking for a vacation read, I’d look elsewhere.

What did you think?!

More to Read…

+I am currently reading Rachel Cusk’s Outline and it is excellent. Very excited to discuss this soon!

+We have a family White Elephant book exchange every Christmas and it is an absolute blast — plus very interesting to learn what my siblings and siblings-in-law are interested in reading. Mr. Magpie’s contribution was Underland, a non-fiction exploration of “the Earth’s underworlds as they exist in myth, literature, memory, and the land itself.” This book was impossible to track down in hard copy prior to Christmas! It was back-ordered online and I went to three different book stores in pursuit — no luck! At our book exchange, it was one of the most often stolen/traded! So — this book has serious appeal it seems. I’m intrigued and intend to read it soon as well.

+I picked this book presenting the narrative of an Appalachian woman (a submission from my sister) that I am very excited to dig into soon. From the book jacket, it seems like an interesting examination of story-telling/story-crafting/language.

+My mom has been raving about A Woman of No Importance, her submission to the exchange. The novel tracks the true story of “a Baltimore socialite who talked her way into Special Operations Executive, the spy organization dubbed Winston Churchill’s “Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.” She became the first Allied woman deployed behind enemy lines and–despite her prosthetic leg–helped to light the flame of the French Resistance, revolutionizing secret warfare as we know it…the breathtaking story of how one woman’s fierce persistence helped win the war.”

+My pick for the book exchange was this non-fiction about the lives of the women who modeled for celebrated portraitist John Singer Sargent, recommended by multiple Magpies. I felt it would have appeal for most of my family.

+In my personal tsundoku once I finish Outline and Fair and Tender Ladies: The Essex Serpent (which my well-read sister-in-law described as a fantastic modern Gothic novel and the book jacket casts as a novel “set in late nineteenth-century England, about an intellectually minded young widow, a pious vicar, and a rumored mythical serpent that explores questions about science and religion, skepticism, and faith, independence and love.”) and Shari LaPena’s latest thriller.

+Unrelated to reading:

++How amazing are these mary janes?!

++I am obsessed with my HHH nap dress. It is so soft and comfortable and — dare I say it? — chic?! I wear it around in the evenings. Loretta Caponi makes a similar style I’ve been seeing on chic peas, but more appropriate for wearing outside the home. A perfect vacation dress (especially for an expecting mama!)

++We were late adopters I fear, but mini now drinks out of a proper cup (no sippy top) and I needed to upgrade her feeding gear in general. I bought these bamboo cups, these small bowls, and these divided plates. All are (importantly!) microwave and dishwasher-safe! I have been very impressed with RePlay’s sippy cups (hold up well, simple design, easy to clean, unbreakable) so I am thinking I’ll love the RePlay plates.

++This stunning gown is on sale!!!

++Now is the time to buy discounted ornaments for next year. I am buying this (had to — Tilly girl!!) but how amazing are this one and this one from the same collection?! I’m dying!

++Speaking of Maisonette’s sale, I’m also eyeing a few items for the children: Sammy + Nat pajamas, which I’ve never tried but which get strong reviews — especially love these for Hill; anything from BusyBees’ sale selection (so well-made and timeless — Hill already has 3-4 of these stocked up for this summer and this dress and this tunic are in my cart for Emory); and Petite Plume jammies for next Christmas (love this).

++Still available, still haunting me.

++Love this fun sweater…mini can twin with me in this.

P.S. Random things that make me happy and the best sources for affordable stationery. OH, and: drive gently, dearie.

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10 thoughts on “Magpie Book Club: Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing.

  1. Thank you for your review of Homegoing! It’s STILL on my tsundoku pile — I bought it in hardcover when it came out a few years ago & haven’t yet gotten to it. Oops! I also have a copy of Outline that I haven’t yet read, and your initial thoughts on it has me wanting to bump it up my list.

    I’m currently reading The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger — it’s light-ish but has enough there to keep me engaged, and it’s pretty much a page-turner. Recommended to anyone looking for something along those lines (i.e. more of a beach read)

    For a white elephant exchange, depending on the crowd, I’d contribute one of the favorite books that I read in 2019: maybe A Place for Us (family) or My Year of Rest & Relaxation (friends). I know the latter is suuuper polarizing but: I LOVED IT.


    1. Ooh! My good friend (and artist) Inslee recommended “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” as well. Bumping that back up on the list too! Thanks!


  2. Did you read Americanah? Some similar themes but executed at a higher level. Also, my book of the year was Normal People. It blew me away.

    1. Seconding Americanah — Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is incredibly talented. I loved that book and can’t wait to read more of her novels!

      1. Yes! I agree with you both — Americanah felt like a more textured sister of “Homegoing.” I appreciated it but I wasn’t wild about it. I read it maybe five years ago, though, so I’m curious whether a second read would endear me more to it. I recall being wildly impressed but feeling as though the book took ages and ages to get through — it felt like work at some point. Possibly the intent?


    2. That’s interesting! I read it a few years ago, so my memory of the experience of reading it isn’t crystal-clear, but I do know (thanks to Goodreads, lol) that I got through it fairly quickly. I rarely re-read books (at least, the older I get, the less common it is for me to do so) but this one might be worth a re-visit. 🙂 xx

    3. Hi! Agree with you — overall, executed at a higher level, though I wasn’t totally wild over that one. I read it awhile back but the lingering impression was that it dragged? Still, I recall being impressed with it.

      I LOVED NORMAL PEOPLE. I loved both of of Rooney’s books so much that I went to hear her being interviewed out in Brooklyn when I was very pregnant and convinced I would go into labor while in transit there. HA! Excellent pick.


  3. Love your intellectual family white elephant book exchange! What a great idea!
    I just read “A Woman of No Importance” and found it somewhat boring for a spy book. Glad your mother liked it. That’s what is great about books…one loves it, another not so much.

    I’d love to hear what books your readers would give for their gift. Hmmmmm….

    I’d give “Praying for Strangers” by River Jordan. A deeply moving book (especially for those who believe in the power of prayer)!

    1. Thanks for the rec — had not heard of this book!

      The book exchange is so fun! Plus, it’s a great way to make sure we keep in good touch with family members we may not be particularly close to, i.e., a great reason to exchange emails about a book after a few weeks have elapsed. xx

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