Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing

5.0 Stars

»»» Possible Spoilers Ahead «««

Processed with VSCO with c7 preset“We believe the one who has the power. He’s the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history, you must always ask yourself, whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there, you begin to get a clear yet still imperfect picture”  (227).

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi weaves a multigenerational tale addressing the history, colonialism, and slavery of Ghana and America by following the stories of two half-sisters. One sister “marries” a white British slave trader because her tribe and family are in the business of selling their African brethren. The other sister is sold as a slave and ends up in America. Each chapter introduces us to a new descendent and a new struggle. Gyasi gives us a glimpse of each person’s life and their hardships. We meet Ness who tries to run away from her slaveowner and ends up captured; but secures freedom for her son, who in turn never knows his mother and grows up as a free man. Across the ocean, we are introduced to James, an Asante, who leaves the bloodstained wealth of his tribe to marry a poor girl whom he loves.

Gyasi’s narrative allows you to only have a portion of each person’s story. There is no end, no closure for some of these characters and that is one of the important lessons of her book. One of the great tragedies of slavery is how much history was lost. Descendants of slaves can only trace themselves back to a certain point – a point in which they were sold, traded, or an ancestor was killed. It is a haunting quality that aches in the minds of people of color today. Imagine being a child with brown skin having to listen, around Thanksgiving, as your white counterparts brag about being able to trace themselves back to the Mayflower or back to George Washington. There is a whole race of people in America who are excluded from that pride because their heritage leads them to slave ships, African slavers, and white slave traders. When white people boast about being able to trace their lineage back to the Mayflower, are they also sorry if they can trace their lineage back to the Confederacy?

This book makes you take a hard look at what being Black was and is like. Gyasi holds you captive in a slaves’ dungeon, sells you in the South, helps you run away from a cruel white master, urges you to leave your Asante lands and tribal wealth, makes you fight in the Civil War, gets you arrested by implementing the black codes, kills you at the hands of a white missionary, forms a union for Black workers, makes you a teacher of your colonizer’s language and religion, helps you escape the Jim Crow South, takes you to Harlem where you are forced to face colorism and the limitations of being too black and not black enough, through the doping and drug-addicted 80s, makes you live in Alabama, all the way to making you a college graduate and becoming your ancestor’s wildest dreams.

The narratives of these characters leaves you longing to learn more, but the point of the book is not to tell you each character’s life story. It is to build on the shared experiences of pain, regret, terror, ignorance, assimilation, pride and strength until what is forged is Black healing- American and African. The reconciliation of the history of colonialism and slavery, and what was lost by the atrocities of the slave trade births a healing that comes regardless of whether you can pinpoint where that pain started. It is a concept that eludes most people today unless you study Black history and Black writings. This is the great achievement of Gyasi’s book: it takes centuries of pain and history, and condenses it into 300 pages using stories that bring to life the subjugation, humiliation, pain, and terror of Black people based on the history of colonialism and slavery, without you having to be well-read and learned in Black history. If all you know about the Civil Rights Movement is that MLK had a dream, if you never cared to read Malcolm X, if you never asked yourself why Confederate statutes exist, if you simply never found it relevant to understand Black Lives Matter; then this is the book for you. It will open you up to centuries of pain and leave you with unfinished stories that have you longing to find out why? When? How come? How could this happen? And hopefully, that will lead you to other books on the history of race in America, which in turn will lead you to understand the current events around race and culture.

A few non-fiction recommendations:

•·• Letters from a Birmingham Jail by Dr. Martin Luther King

•·• The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

•·• The Half Has Never Been Told by Edward E. Baptist

•·• The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley

•·• Stamped From the Beginning by Ibram Kendi

•·• Color of Law by Richard Rothstein

•·• When Affirmative Action was White by Ira Katznelson

•·• Born A Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

Fiction recommendations:

•·• Beloved by Toni Morrison

•·• Half of the Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

•·• Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende

•·• Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Quotes:

“If we go to the white man for school, if we just learned the way the white man wants us to learn. We will come back and build the country the white man wants us to build. One that continues to serve them. We will never be free” (223).

“Sonny would tell Marcus about how America used to lock up black men off the sidewalks for labor or how redlining kept banks from investing in black neighborhoods, preventing mortgages or business loans. So was it a wonder the prisons were still full of them? Was it a wonder that the ghetto was the ghetto? There were things that he used to talk about that Marcus never saw in his history books, but that later, when he got to college, he learned to be true. He learned that his father’s mind was a brilliant mind, but it was trapped underneath something” (285).

“…but the deeper into the research he got, the bigger the project. How could he talk about Great-Grandpa H‘s story without also talking about his Grandma Willie and the millions of other black people who had migrated north, fleeing Jim Crow? And if he mentioned the Great Migration, he’d have to talk about the cities that took that flock in. He’d have to talk about Harlem. And how could he talk about Harlem without mentioning his father‘s heroin addiction – the stints in prison, the criminal record? And if he was going to talk about heroin and Harlem in the 60’s,  wouldn’t he also have to talk about crack everywhere in the 80’s? And if he wrote about crack, he’d inevitably be writing, too, about the ‘war on drugs’. And if he started talking about the war on drugs, he’d be talking about how nearly half of the black men he grew up with were on their way either into or out of what had become the harshest prison system in the world. And if he talked about why friends from his hood we’re doing five-year bids for possession of marijuana when nearly all the white people he’d gone to college with smoked it openly every day, he gets so angry that he’d slam the research book on the table…And all they would see would be his skin and his anger, and they would think they knew something about him, and it would be the same something that justified putting his Great-Grandpa H in prison, only it would be different too, less obvious than it once was” (289).

“How could he explain that he wasn’t supposed to be here? Alive. Free. That the fact that he had been born, that he wasn’t in a jail cell somewhere, was not by dint of his pulling himself up by the bootstraps, not by hard work or belief in the American dream, but by mere chance. He had only heard tell of his great-grandpa H from Ma Willie, but those stories were enough to make him weep and to fill him with pride. Two-Shovel H they had called him. But what had they called his father or his father before him? What of the mothers? They have been products of their time, and walking in Birmingham now, Marcus was an accumulation of these times. That was the point” (296).

I’m pairing this book with Dogfish Head’s Romantic Chemistry IPA. I chose this beer because the fruity notes of mango and apricot, ginger and the hoppy finish worked well together. The blend of fruity and hoppy seemed like the perfect combination for this book, bitter but with an underlying sweetness.

Format: Hardcover.

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André Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name

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3.0 Stars

Call Me By Your Name is written in a manner that is somewhat reminiscent of the days of old when people wrote about their love and lust for one another so painfully eloquent that it penetrated deep into the reader’s being. Their words bordered on the obsessive, “That foot in the water– I could have kissed every toe on it. Then kissed his ankles and his knees” (27). That is exactly what Elio’s thoughts are like. This book is so painfully relatable to my past self. Actually, to anyone who has been in love, been in lust, been so enamored by another being that all of your thoughts are a jumbled heap of praise, admiration, captivation, self-loathing, and brooding amongst over things, “What’s liking when we’re talking about worshipping?” (103). This is an ode to adolescent love, teenage lust.

In the instance in which a movie adaptation is created for a book, I usually favor and enjoy the book more. This is the first time I have loved both book and movie for telling the same story but in different ways, from different perspectives. They compliment each other, in my opinion. Perhaps I would have a different opinion had I read the novel prior to seeing the movie, but I’m glad it turned out this way.

Pointless Side Note: Towards the end of the book (not a spoiler, promise), Elio asks Oliver, “Do these things die out on their own or do some things need generations and lifetimes to sort themselves out?” I found this interesting mostly because it reminded me of something I read in Louise Erdrich’s LaRose, “Can’t solve that loneliness. It sets deep in a person. Goes down the generations, they say. Takes four generations” (71). The idea that feelings and desires can be so strong that they travel down familial lines is intriguing to me. Something worth delving into when I’m not lazy.

I paired this with Omission Brewing Co’s Lager. I originally wanted to pair this book with an Italian wine because I felt it would be more appropriate, but I’m broke and all I had in my fridge was this beer. I find it still an appropriate pairing. It’s light, crisp and easy to drink akin to the effortless read Aciman’s novel was. It’s a great summer beer and this story is the epitome of summer. See? A decent pairing haha.

Quotes:

“You can always talk to me. I was your age once, my father used to say. The things you feel and think only you have felt, believe me, I’ve lived and suffered through all of them, and more than once– some I’ve never gotten over and others I’m as ignorant about as you are today, yet I know almost every bend, every toll-booth, every chamber in the human heart” (58).

“Now, in the silence of the moment, I stared back, not to defy him, or to show I wasn’t shy any longer, but to surrender, to tell him this is who I am, this is who you are, this is what I want, there is nothing but truth between us now, and where there’s truth there are no barriers, no shifty glances, and if nothing comes of this, let it never be said that either of us was unaware of what might happen” (78).

“…and even if this is all he is willing to give, I’ll take it– I’ll settle for less, even, if only to live with these threadbare scraps” (104).

“In a few days, you’ll be back, and you’ll be alone, and you’ll hate it, so don’t let anything catch you unprepared. Be warned. I had rehearsed losing him not just to ward off suffering by taking it in small doses beforehand, but, as all superstitious people do, to see if my willingness to accept the very worst might induce fate to soften its blow. Like soldiers trained to fight by night, I lived in the dark so as not to be blinded when darkness came. Rehearse the pain to dull pain. Homeopathically” (212).

Format: Paperback & E-Book.

LaRose by Louise Erdrich

3.0 Stars

I love Louise Erdrich and I enjoyed reading LaRose. I’m giving it three stars because there was something that seemed incomplete to me. In previous novels, sorrow and power are such strong forces in Erdrich’s storytelling. There are usually multiple points in her novels that wind me up and send me crashing through so many emotions and conflicts, leading me to dwell on a certain scene for weeks after I have finished the novel.
This novel seemed lacking in that aspect. If I had to speculate, I would assert that it’s because, Processed with VSCO with a5 presetdespite Erdrich selling this novel as a story of retribution, it reads more like a story of healing. It’s as though, these characters, whose predecessors were filled with magic and power, are slowly fading into “normal” Indians. They’re forgetting the language, forgetting how to use their power; but they’ve still got their stories. If I were to analyze this book in a hyper-critical sense, I would say that the story seems almost complacent and maybe that is where Erdrich, as a storyteller, was when she wrote this book. I’d argue that maybe this moment of healing and safety is just a prelude to greater things to come.

I’m pairing LaRose with a draft of Chimay Blue. The yeasty fragrance and roasted malt flavor set the mood for the reader as the story progresses. While I feel that the story of LaRose was borderline complacent, this beer certainly is not.

Quotes:

“She had been lying in her room – cooling off after another hot, hot shower. She had started to cry, alone. It was okay alone. But she still cut off the crying as quickly as she could, to toughen herself. She was a wolf, a wounded wolf. She’d sink her teeth in those boys’ throats.”

 

Format: Paperback.

Amy Stewart’s Girl Waits With Gun

3.0 Stars

Girl Waits With Gun is a historical fiction novel about one of the first female deputy sheriffs, Constance Kopp. The title of the book is taken from an actual headline in the early 1900s. Stewart’s prose is charming and steady. 

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I devoured this book easily enough. The Kopp sisters are fun, in a conservative 1920s kind of way. They are unmarried and living alone when they become the target of attack from a local businessman. The eldest Kopp sister, Constance, goes to extreme length (at the time) to protect her sisters and bring about justice. 

I would recommend this book as a great vacation read. It’s perfect for the plane or the boat. It’s a light, fun story that will have you engrossed cover to cover. 

I chose to pair this novel with a Hefeweizen since the Kopp sisters are part German. The Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier is a flawless beer with a smooth yeast taste that makes for perfect drinkability. 

Quotes:

“My sisters and I have no one but each other, and if anyone should take up a handgun in their defense, I will be the one to do it. “

“If I could give something to Fleurette-if I could give her one silent gift from a mother she didn’t know she had – it would be this: the realization that we have to be a part of the world in which we live. We don’t scurry away when we’re in trouble, or when someone else is. We don’t run and hide. “

Format: Paperback.

Paula Hawkin’s Girl on the Train

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3.0 Stars

Let me preface this review by saying, I absolutely loathed every single character in this goddamn book. They are all pieces of shit and I know there are people out there like this which makes me chuckle and also inexplicably angry. The only person I did not think was an asshole was Rachel, and that’s because she is pathetic. I felt bad for Rachel because she got dealt some shitty cards in life but I can’t relate with someone so dependent on another person that they destroy their own lives because they cannot live without said person.

Despite my inability to bond with any of the main characters I enjoyed this book which is super rare. If I don’t vibe with at least one character, I usually can’t bring myself to finish a book. The fact that this book was plot driven was what kept me turning the pages.

By the middle of the book, I had already guessed who had done what but I still kept reading because I was interested to see how and when the truth would be exposed. I don’t want to include any spoilers so I’ll leave it at that. The ending was a bit meh for me but I think it was because I was so engrossed in the events leading up to the unveiling of the mystery that I was expecting more. Still an entertaining, quick read.

Movie is out on October 7th. I’m interested to see how they portray this story on film. Here’s the trailer: Click (Plenty of hot dudes in the movie, haha).

I chose to pair this novel with Hendrick’s Gin because throughout the novel Rachel drinks a shitload of canned gin and tonics which always left me craving some good gin. Hendrick’s is my favorite gin. You don’t even need a mixer for it, you can just drink it straight or with just a bit of lemon.

Quotes: “I have never understood how people can blithely disregard the damage they do by following their hearts.”

“I have lost control over everything, even the places in my head.”

“Hollowness: that I understand. I’m starting to believe that there isn’t anything you can do to fix it. That’s what I’ve taken from the therapy sessions: the holes in your life are permanent. You have to grow around them, like tree roots around concrete; you mold yourself through the gaps”

” ‘When did you become so weak?’ I don’t know. I don’t know where that strength went, I don’t remember losing it. I think that over time it got chipped away, bit by bit, by life, by the living of it.”

“I want to drag knives over my skin, just to feel something other than shame, but I’m not even brave enough for that.”

Format: Paperback.

André Brink’s A Dry White Season

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2.5 Stars

While I enjoyed reading this book, I find myself highly judgmental of the protagonist. He is a white male living in South Africa who has never really understood the racial injustices faced by his black acquaintances until a series of events happens to a black man he knows. He has been content to enjoy his privilege and status as a white man in South Africa.

Now, to be fair, this book and the voice of the character in this book are directed to white people in South Africa who do nothing about the injustices that were going on. As a woman of color, I have had to accept the role of whites “leading the way.” I’ve had to accept how because of white feminists, we are able to have colored feminists. Somebody has to pave that road. Granted, it would’ve been great to be included from the beginning. This is a more complex issue that I won’t delve too deeply into with this review. I feel as though it is the same situation in this novel. I, personally, would prefer to hear the story from the black perspective. I would like the agency and the authority to be coming from the person who the racist injustice is acted upon, instead of that of the white savior. However, that is not the purpose of this novel. And that’s OK (I guess). It is still a very interesting read. It makes a statement for justice. It denounces the acts of violence and corruption that went on in South Africa; and it did it in a white voice for a white audience, to give them perspective and to hold them accountable.

Perhaps my biggest pet peeve with this novel was the “Affair.” The protagonist – a good, honest, church-going, exemplary white man – cheats on his wife at the end of the novel, but we knew that was coming. What really annoyed the shit out of me, was how the affair went down. The day before he fucked the new, younger chick, he fucked his old wife. And he was struck by how he was so shocked to see how old she had become. How after 30 years of marriage, her skin with wrinkled, her breasts were sagging, there with a mixture of revulsion and arousal…ugh… I’m sure his hairy balls weren’t dragging between his thighs. I was so glad that I already knew that this motherfucker dies at the end. (FYI, I’m the type of girl who still hates Robert Lowell for The Dolphin).

My judgmental critique on the protagonist aside, this novel does bring to light racial injustice. It highlights one of the most important relationships, that between a parent and their child. A child represents hope for the future. What happens in the black community when children are shot and killed and jailed? These are questions that in our modern, American society we are still facing. We have seen it in Ferguson, and Baltimore, and Milwaukee, and all over the United States. The questions and the struggle for racial equality and racial justice are real and relevant to not only our American society but a global society. The Impact in the black community in regards to over-policing and racial profiling and racial stereotypes are disregarded by the more privileged of our society. A Dry White Season does an excellent job of highlighting this and showing how it’s not just a problem of a few racists in power. What we fight against when we fight against racial injustice is something far greater. For the protagonist, he comes to this conclusion toward the end of the novel:

“today I realize that this is the worst of all: that I can no longer single out my enemy and give him a name. I can’t challenge him to a duel. What is set up against me is not a man, not even a group of people, but a thing, something, a vague amorphous something, an invisible ubiquitous power that inspects my mail and taps my telephone and indoctrinates my colleagues and incited the pupils against me and cuts up the tires of my car and paints signs on my door and fires shots into my home and sends me bombs in the mail, a power that follows me wherever I go, day and night, day and night, frustrating me, intimidating me, playing with me according to rules devised and whimsically changed by itself.”

We face almost the same enemy in American culture, except that instead of wiretapping phones and slashed tires; we have indoctrination through white pride, racial stereotyping, inadequate representation, redlining and an eschewing of history to favor the white male.

Memorable Quotes:

“My time and your time is passing…but the time of our children is still coming. And if they start killing our children, then what was it that we lived for?”

” ‘One always reads about this sort of thing,’ he said absently. ‘One hears so many things. But it remains apart of a totally different world really. One never expects it to happen to someone you actually know.’ ”

“But if you were given a choice, Colonel: wouldn’t you rather be a white child in this country than a black one?”

“You’re white. ” as if that summarized everything. “Hope comes easy to you”.

I’m pairing this book with Einstok‘s Icelandic Toasted Porter. This is one of my favorite beers. It has a nice toasted malt taste and a medium-bodied mouthfeel. It balances the caramel and coffee flavors well, making it a pleasant brew for almost any book.

Format: Paperback.

Danielle Fisher’s A Bit Witchy

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 1.5 Stars

I received this book in exchange for an honest opinion and review.

So I enjoyed the lead character, Lena, in the beginning for a few reasons; one of them being she wasn’t described as being an impossibly perfect girl. In fact, she’s full figured, dirty minded and incredibly clumsy. I enjoyed her self-deprecating way of speaking and thinking.

On the other hand, the men in this book are all overtly horny at all times. They all sound like fuckboys. It was funny the first few pages but after a while, it became trite and annoying. The constant objectification of women and Lena’s somewhat begrudging acceptance of it I honestly didn’t dig.

The lore of this book is hella disjointed. Since it’s the first book in the series, it should have a lot more background information that is explained clearly. The entire guardian angel premise was confusing and was not fleshed out enough. So there’s a god who assigns angels but also reincarnation is a thing but none of this is ever explained. And where did the Fates come from, are they similar to the ones in Greek mythology? In addition to this, the story didn’t flow well. The author introduces characters and then they disappear and you never hear from them again. What happened to them? The battle scene towards the end was an incoherent shit show. I had no idea what the hell was happening. The conversations throughout the book are terrible, often times cringe worthy.

I feel like this book has potential due to its interesting concept but at best this reads like an incomplete first draft. Also, I think the book needs a different title, there is nothing witchy about this book; the title is misleading.

I decided to pair this book with GolfBeer‘s G-Mac’s Celtic Style Pale Ale. There is no distinct flavor to this beer or anything that makes it stand out. The book has potential unlike this beer but I felt it was an appropriate pairing; a mediocre beer for a mediocre book.

Format: E-Book.