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Homegoing
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2018 Book Discussions > Homegoing - Part Two and Whole Book (Spoilers Allowed) (May 2018)

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message 1: by Hugh (last edited May 02, 2018 12:37AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2833 comments Mod
Open discussion of the second half and whole book here - expect spoilers. This section starts with the chapter on H.


Susan | 4 comments I was totally absorbed in this book and fascinated by the efficiency of Gyasi's storytelling. I will come back to this thread over the coming weeks to compare my impressions with those of others in the group.


Hugh (bodachliath) | 2833 comments Mod
Thanks Susan. Efficiency is a good description - for me the book packed a lot of facts and events in, but I found the episodic nature of the story made it more difficult to remain absorbed - there were definitely some chapters and characters that were more interesting than others. My review


Vicky | 16 comments I really enjoyed Homegoing, but I wish the chapters had been longer. I kept finding I was getting really interested in a character's story, then once it was getting interested and I was getting invested it would move on to the next generation. I thought Homegoing was really beautifully written and would definitely like to read more from Yaa Gyasi. I particularly enjoyed the chapters set in Ghana as I know very little about this country and its culture, and it was really fascinating to learn more about it and the tribalism and aftershocks from the slave trade.


Julie (readerjules) | 197 comments Vicky wrote: " I kept finding I was getting really interested in a character's story, then once it was getting interested and I was getting invested it would move on to the next generation. ..."

I read this a year ago and had the same problem. It was a little disappointment each time. Otherwise I really liked the book and the writing. Except the end....that was a little too coincidental for me.


Vicky | 16 comments Yeah, I know what you mean. I was expecting them to find the second necklace in the dungeon for that added summing up. It was a bit cheesy and tidy, but also kind of satisfying.


Whitney | 2245 comments Mod
If they had found the other necklace I probably would have thrown the book across the room.


Hugh (bodachliath) | 2833 comments Mod
Perhaps the ending was contrived just because some means of tying the two strands together was necessary to the structure. At least Gyasi is not saying they lived happily ever after...


message 9: by Marc (last edited May 08, 2018 08:43AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2874 comments Mod
I ended up liking how short the chapters were, although not at first. Ultimately, it gave the book quite a feeling of pace and I thought Gyasi was able to paint some rather nuanced portraits effectively within these tight constraints.

Kanye's recent asinine comments about slavery made me think this book, as well as some others that dealt instead with communism (The Big Green Tent, The Orphan Master's Son, Do Not Say We Have Nothing), did a remarkable job of allowing one to get a sense of how such oppression works and is able to continue to work for generations. It doesn't take much power to turn people against one another, and as soon as a person knows that their loved ones will suffer for their actions, obedience becomes much more manageable (i.e., the individual may be willing to die and fight for freedom, but not to cause the death of their children/parents/spouse/lover).


Kathleen | 292 comments Thanks for reminding me of The Big Green Tent, Marc. I loved that book, and it is like this, only much longer. :-) I have to admire Gyasi. It is much easier to rely on length to tell your story better. She did something sort of miraculous here.

Like others have mentioned, I did think parts of this were too tidy, but all together there was a good balance of getting what I expected and being surprised. The ending was like that too--not too pat, but enough to tie it all up and make a beautiful whole.

I think I liked the Akua and the Sonny stories best--the magic of the fire, and the grit of the drug abuse. Did anyone else have favorites in this part?


message 11: by Lia (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lia Kathleen wrote: "I think I liked the Akua and the Sonny stories best--the magic of the fire, and the grit of the drug abuse. Did anyone else have favorites in this part?"

I find the earlier short chapters a bit awkward. Others have criticized the comparison to Tolstoy and I agree - Tolstoy's characters reappear through the monstrous doorstop, you see almost all of them gradually grow into maturity, we don't see any of that here, things happened to some people and then next story kicks in. This is more like Ovid's Metamorphoses -- you get a brief tale of what each figure experienced "once upon a time," in a sort of mythical past, and that somehow leads us down to now.

I also like the later chapters with cliffhangers, and you have to wait to decipher the fates and mysteries of the previous generations through subsequent ones. That functions to tie the stories together as one coherent tale.

I am partial to the "crazy woman" prophetess.


message 12: by Meike (last edited May 13, 2018 10:37PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Meike (meikereads) I was very moved by H`s story, and how Gyasi describes the different forms of enslavement/oppression (slavery/false imprisonment/forced labor/becoming an outcast in society). I also liked how she describes the power of solidarity - I just read Fukuyama's new book, and he points out that currently, the economically disenfranchised are fighting minorities. In Gyasi's book, the (black and white) workers unite against the powerful, and although they suffer losses, they can also achieve something because they stick together.

Lia, the prophetess is pretty disturbing - I felt like she is traumatized by what happened to her with the white missionary, and although the knowledge is suppressed, it finds a way to manifest itself in her subconsciousness which finally acts out.


message 13: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2833 comments Mod
Thanks Meike, Lia, Kathleen and Marc - some very interesting comments there.


Kathleen | 292 comments Meike wrote: "Lia, the prophetess is pretty disturbing - I felt like she is traumatized by what happened to her with the white missionary, and although the knowledge is suppressed, it finds a way to manifest itself in her subconsciousness which finally acts out ...."

I wondered about that too, Meike, and love the way you explain it. I also felt like it was all that pain inflicted on prior generations that had to bubble over and come out in a violent manner.


message 15: by Lia (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lia That’s a great explanation of why she is that way, Meike.

I actually had in mind the modern use of mythical divine inspiration presented as madness, which was how Virginia Woolf engaged Greek myths as a way of coming to terms with her own mental illness.

Here’s a quote from an essay about Woolf’s blending of myths and madness:

The prophet is blessed with knowledge that is a curse: his is a privileged understanding that spills beyond normal linguistic and cerebral capacities and destabilizes him, particularly in the eyes and ears of a skeptical audience. A figure whose mental state is challenged by divinely inspired visions, and whose difficulty in sharing those visions serves to detach him from the very community that should value the knowledge most, the prophet either pitches towards insanity or projects the appearance of insanity

- Emily Pillinger,
Finding Asylum for Virginia Woolf’s Classical Visions


I thought that’s pretty apt as well.


message 16: by Meike (last edited May 14, 2018 08:26AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Meike (meikereads) Thanks Kathleen, I think you are right that the fact that history is never really over plays an important part here - she carries the weight of her ancestors, especially when you consider her mother's gruesome end which is connected to her own birth.

Lia, thanks for that quote. I felt like Gyasi was playing with the idea of the divine: The mother is killed because she doesn't oblige to the missionary's religion, and the daughter is killed because the religion of her own people demands it (she's seen as a witch). So I would maintain that she does not really have divine visions, the religious aspect is only ascribed to her. In fact, she suffers from severe mental distress. She does not "pitch towards insanity", she, who kills her kids, really is "insane" (traumatized).

Now is that insanity in itself somehow divine? I would say in this case, no, because the insight never reaches her consciousness. But you certainly could also argue that her "privileged understanding" is that of the plight of her people, and she feels the pain so deeply that she goes mad.

Hard to say, and an interesting point to argue! :-)


message 17: by Lia (last edited May 14, 2018 08:59AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lia Meike wrote: "Thanks Kathleen, I think you are right that the fact that history is never really over plays an important part here - she carries the weight of her ancestors, especially when you consider her mothe..."

Nicely argued :-)

OTOH, “seers” in Greek mythologies do sometimes do terrifying things, or rather, people in mythologies who did monstrous things (killing/ eating their own children/ husband etc) sometimes explain that away as being inspired by/ agent of the gods. (Seems they STILL do that today!).

One of the mythical figures Woolf repeatedly used (Philomela) had been raped, her tongue cut out, but then she slaughtered and cooked her rapist’s children and fed it to him. (Sounds like Game of Thrones.) They don’t just act crazy, they do inspire terror. (Terror seems inherently related to divinity in myths.)

Which gets back to the sense that she’s “disturbing” — I think I am especially interested in her partly because of the sense of “terror” she inspires, it’s a negative emotion, but that takes nothing away from the worth of the character.

I also love that she is one of the very few (only?) characters who lived long enough to transcend episodes. She started out in extreme distress, marginalized, not belonging. She developed into someone whose “strangeness” is accepted, even admired, by her grandchildren. I thought that makes her the most well-rounded, complete, satisfying “fate.”

P.S. I do apologize for imposing Greco-Roman tradition on a story that represents a different culture and its struggle to establish its own narrative. That’s the only model I am familiar with, but it does come out very “colonial.”


Meike (meikereads) Lia, after reading this, I am terrified!!! :-)


message 19: by Sue (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sue Finished the book last night. I found the second half to move much more quickly than the first half, but that could be because I was used to how the book was structured by that time.

My favorite character was H. We got to follow most of his life from before he was born until he died, with many major events in between.

I thought he echoed the "Big Man" characters from the African thread of the story.


Meike (meikereads) It took me quite some time to get through the book, because I felt like I couldn't just hop from one story to the next, but now I finished it. Here's my review.


Bretnie | 702 comments Just joined here, so I'm jumping into this discussion late, but it's great timing since I got to hear Gyasi speak last week and was really moved by a few things she said.

She spoke about covering such a huge expanse of history and intentionally leaving out major historical events - that her characters' stories are more about the impact of those events than the events themselves.

Someone in the audience asked about the fire and water themes, that the Ghana lineage had a fire theme and the American lineage had water as a theme. She said this was intentional since the chapters and characters were so disjointed, she wanted a theme to tie them together. I had noticed the fire theme, but not the water, and looking back there's a water theme in every American character.

She also talked about how much research went into the book since it spanned two continents and 250+ years. Someone asked something about the brutality of what the characters experienced and Gyasi said that the realities in her research were often worse. I can't imagine spending seven years immersed in such a hard subject. But I also recognize that's coming from a place of privilege and that for a lot of people, that history of brutality and injustice is a part of their family history.

I loved this book and look forward to reading more by her!


Meike (meikereads) Bretnie wrote: "Just joined here, so I'm jumping into this discussion late, but it's great timing since I got to hear Gyasi speak last week and was really moved by a few things she said.
She spoke about covering ..."


Thanks for this post, Bretnie, what you write is very interesting! I noticed the fire and water theme, and I saw that the meaning of the elements (death, purification etc.) is shifting, which I found fascinating, so it's great to hear what Gyasi herself had to say about that.


message 23: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2833 comments Mod
Thanks Bretnie - that sounds really interesting.


Kathleen | 292 comments How exciting, Bretnie! Thanks for sharing what you heard. I noticed the fire theme, and some of the water elements, but didn't see that it was a theme. There is so much in this book, and I agree, it must have been brutal for her to immerse herself in all that pain.

I've been thinking about the Woolf myths and madness quote Lia shared above, and what she said about Greek myths. So interesting. It's swirling around in my head along with what I remember reading from Joseph Campbell about the importance of stories and metaphor--the idea that the stories are not to be taken literally, but to help us understand deeper meanings. Sometimes it seems like that is the line between insanity and the appearance of insanity.


Vicky | 16 comments That’s really interesting, thank you Bretnie. Hope we will be hearing lots more from Gyasi.


Nutmegger Linda (lindanutmegger) | 103 comments Thank you to all of you for your comments. They helped me to think more deeply about this very moving book. I think I'm going to have to read it again with your comments in mind.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2439 comments I finished this book on the plane to Namibia. My review is at https://www.goodreads.com/review/show.... My thoughts kept returning to the book as I saw what apartheid and colonialism had done to peoples of Namibia and South Africa.

I thought the book was nicely done. Yes, the ending was contrived and I wanted to know about many of the characters, but the sum of the whole book is immense. I did not notice the themes of fire and water. Thanks for pointing it out. I agree that Gyasi is an author to watch.


Meike (meikereads) LindaJ^ wrote: "I finished this book on the plane to Namibia...."

Linda, if you want to read about the history of Namibia, maybe you would be interested in Uwe Timm's Morenga. Timm is well-known in Germany and has won many awards.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2439 comments Thanks Meike. I will check that out.


message 30: by Marc (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2874 comments Mod
Had to drop away from the discussion for a couple weeks for family and work travel, but have enjoyed catching up and reading through everyone's comments. Definitely made this a more rewarding and richer reading experience for me. Like some others, I think the strongest impression I walked away with from this book was of history being a very tangible and living thread still shaping the future and connecting us to the past.


Alana (alanasbooks) | 26 comments I totally missed the fire and water themes! Thanks for pointing that out!

The ending was a little too neatly tied up for me, but it was ok. (I forget, do they end up figuring out they're related? I think so but it's been awhile). I think I read this right at the start of the year, and I remember thinking "That's a good way to start a reading year!" (That or it was right at the end of last year and it was a good way to end, lol).


message 32: by Suki (new) - rated it 4 stars

Suki St Charles (goodreadscomsuki_stcharles) | 23 comments I enjoyed the book, and I liked the ending, even if it did tie things together very neatly-- the descendants of Effia and Esi, meeting at the Castle, where one woman lived above and the other below, where fire and water meet.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2439 comments Indeed it was neatly tied together at the end. I liked that in this book, given how they were all rendered apart at the beginning.


message 34: by Suki (new) - rated it 4 stars

Suki St Charles (goodreadscomsuki_stcharles) | 23 comments LindaJ^ wrote: "Indeed it was neatly tied together at the end. I liked that in this book, given how they were all rendered apart at the beginning."

Yes!


message 35: by Whitney (last edited Feb 19, 2019 07:47PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Whitney | 2245 comments Mod
I liked the ending, as well. It's not that unreasonable that the two characters would be distant cousins, and it brought together the underlying themes of families separated by the African diaspora as told through the individual stories of the different family lines.

I also liked the idea of the necklaces. In a more conventional (or stereotypical) novel, the necklaces would have been used at the end to have the characters recognize each other. By having the one get lost in the castle, Gyasi subverts that trope and uses it as a metaphor for how the slave trade violently deprived people of their history and identity.


message 36: by Suki (new) - rated it 4 stars

Suki St Charles (goodreadscomsuki_stcharles) | 23 comments Whitney wrote: "I liked the ending, as well. It's not that unreasonable that the two characters would be distant cousins, and it brought together the underlying themes of families separated by the African diaspora..."

I had kind of expected that the second necklace would make an appearance at some point and tie up a lot of loose ends between the two branches of the family. The fact that the second necklace remains buried underneath layers of human waste heightens the slave trade metaphor.


RJ - Slayer of Trolls (hawk5391yahoocom) | 109 comments I finished today and I really enjoyed it. It is such an ambitious book for a young, first-time author, but she pulled it off amazingly well. While reading the story, I found myself imagining the words being read by someone with a Ghana accent. I was surprised to hear the author in a YouTube video have no accent at all. Although her prose isn't complicated, I thought it had a very simple beauty and rhythm to it.

Like Kathleen, I did not notice the water theme although I did notice the fire theme. And like Suki pointed out, I was glad the 2nd necklace was never recovered - to me the necklaces symbolized the ties to family heritage and history, which are forever lost to the branch of the family that was taken as slaves to America.

Here's my review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


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