I really, really wanted to like this one more than I did. Some of the sentences were really beautifully written. I think Laing and I are looking for dI really, really wanted to like this one more than I did. Some of the sentences were really beautifully written. I think Laing and I are looking for different things aesthetically. I'm not sorry I read it, but it was a struggle, and I can't realistically see myself going back to it....more
About 10 years ago, I spent 3-4 months teaching English in a tiny Ghanaian village (electricity only in two or three houses, no running water) in theAbout 10 years ago, I spent 3-4 months teaching English in a tiny Ghanaian village (electricity only in two or three houses, no running water) in the heart of the Ashanti region. I realize that a) this does not make me an expert on Ghana, and b) is not a particularly unique experience; however, it does mean that I have a very soft spot in my heart for Ghana. After reading the blurb on this, and reading about the author's backstory after seeing her short story in last year's Best American, I was excited to dig into this one.
Honestly, I finished it a few days ago, and I've been struggling with what I thought about it. For about the first 50 pages, I vacillated a lot in my opinion of Selasi's writing - stylistically speaking. It's very impressionistic, very poetic, and has a lot of beautiful sentences, but I also thought she had quite a few annoying tics (the one word paragraph, the redundant proliferation of several phrases to describe one thing when one would do just as nicely, etc.) and that it was in need of an editor by about half. Also, for a novel that is primarily about how a family breaks apart over time (and their struggles to come back together), and in which very little in the present time actually happens, I thought some of the backstory seemed a little farfetched and overly melodramatic (especially the storyline with the twins- not that it couldn't happen, but couldn't something a little less over the top have happened to drive them apart?). The sensational nature of what happened to the twins made it difficult for me to stay with them as real characters rather than caricatures, moreso than I did with the moments between Sadie and Fola, Kehinde and Kweku, or Olu and all of them.
But - and it's a big one - I'm giving it four stars. Because my two most important reading criteria are: 1) I feel genuinely moved by the time I finish a piece, and 2) it stays with me after I close the book. It might be a little early to tell for #2, but I haven't stopped thinking it over since I finished it. And as for the 1st one, I will say that Selasi has a tremendous ability (despite the narrative tics that got to me here and there) to render very real, very nuanced characters. She is great with details, with dialogue, and with pacing, and very subtly handled what was a rather complicated chronological approach in this novel. By the time I finished the book, I cared very, very deeply about the Sai family, and hoped for the best for them, despite their faults. I'll be excited to read whatever Selasi puts out next, but for now I'm glad she's been getting a lot of attention for this one....more
Comprehensive, coherent and succinct. It probably helps to have done some background reading in the Rwandan genocide and to have followed some currentComprehensive, coherent and succinct. It probably helps to have done some background reading in the Rwandan genocide and to have followed some current events from the area in the years since. But it is a very good, informative overview of the conflict in Central/Eastern Africa for the last 15 years....more
It's easy to understand why this book is so seminal, and why it is assigned in so many classes. But honestly, it felt much more like a treatise than aIt's easy to understand why this book is so seminal, and why it is assigned in so many classes. But honestly, it felt much more like a treatise than a proper novel. I admire it more as a discussion piece than I actually enjoy reading it....more
This thing is clever. Very sly. In fact, it seems to me anyone writing with this much irony, self-deprecation and self aware humor must be a much moreThis thing is clever. Very sly. In fact, it seems to me anyone writing with this much irony, self-deprecation and self aware humor must be a much more engaging individual than the "John Coetzee" explored within this book's pages. Our subject is examined through the lens of a biographer doing research on said author, narrated through several interviews with people once close to him. Well, not really close - because, as we find out, Coetzee is essentially disembodied, a nervous cloud of dis-ease, more comfortable making gestures of emotion rather than actually submitting to one. And so it raises all kind of interesting questions, not least of which about the nature of narration itself. The traumatic scar of fraudulence (symbolized here by the original sin of Afrikaner appropriation of lands & labor) leaves the subject in a permanent state of internal exile, a violence to which he responds with as much cool-headed, intellectual control as possible. Bookended by "unfinished fragments" however, we find the story is never finally told, and loose ends continue to wisp away and untie themselves. It is not his masterpiece, but it is a very interesting exercise, and a fun continuation of his series of refracted memoirs....more