Just Another Book Club- November Book

Please leave your comments below or within the appropriate post on my Facebook page. Please feel free to peruse other people’s comments and respond to them.

Homegoing

by Yaa Gyasi

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Synopsis

In summary, Homegoing is the sprawling tale of two families split between America and Africa. At the beginning of the book we learn how two sisters are born, but never meet. The book tells the story of each generation that follows from both sides of the family over many years. Through slavery, one family is based in America whilst the other remains in Africa. The title of the book origin’s derive from an old African-American belief that death allowed an enslaved person’s spirit to travel back to Africa.

My Quick Review

First of all, I know one is not meant to judge a book by its cover, BUT I really wanted to mention how gorgeous the cover is for Homegoing and you’ll like this seamless connection: it’s almost as gorgeous as the book itself. Thank you.

But let us move on to more profound thoughts on this book. In short, the enormity of the importance of this book cannot be overstated. It is one of those books that people should be forced to read as it gives the reader a greater understanding of the world and the fabrics of its society (I think there’s a post brewing which lists all the books that I think people should be made to read. One day, I’ll get round to it).

I thought I knew a fair bit about the history of slavery, but after reading this book I realised I knew not nearly enough. Through reading this I learnt so much about African culture too. I absolutely adore books that I can learn from and this book is no exception.

This book at times made me feel ashamed to be British (I’m referring to our disgusting slavery history) and I can imagine the same would be said for an American reading the book. The book so often made me angry and the deplorable injustices that were suffered by slaves and the generations that followed them (my heart will forever break for H and Kojo).

Whilst, this book was consistently shocking and disturbing, the writer somehow managed to write in such a beautiful way. The strength of characters made the reader fall in love with them and root for them (even the flawed characters).

I loved how each chapter represented a different character from a different generation. Referring back to my previous comment, whilst the subject matter of each chapter was often horrific, it also felt like each chapter was telling a different love story. Ultimately, what connects each story to each other is love.

The book sits uneasily with the reader as so many of the issues you read about that existed many years ago, still prevail in America today. It’s abhorrent that one reads and thinks “how has any of this really changed?”. I think the book does a very good (and eloquent) job of illustrating this.

I thought the symbolism of the stone necklace was perfect. For me, I felt like it represented African history. When an African was taken from Africa and enslaved and shipped off to America, it was as if their African history was erased. The African-American person’s history then starts with slavery in America, but this of course not the start of their history. When Marjorie hands Marcus the stone necklace, it is like she is handing back his rightful history that was so cruelly taken from him and his ancestors. It is a beautiful and extremely emotional moment.

It was interesting that Marjorie and her side of the family seemed to represent fire and that Marcus’s represented water. When Marjorie and Marcus meet and connect, they persuade each other to embrace the element that they each fear. In this sense, Marjorie and Marcus complete each other.

This book is a fantastic achievement for a debut author. It is truly wonderful and so far (though we only have one book left on the list), this is my favourite book that we have read.

I loved so many quotes in this book. I made a list for you.

The need to call this thing “good” and this thing “bad”, this thing “white” and this thing “black”, was an impulse that Effia did not understand. In her village, everything was everything. Everything bore the weight of everything else.

Slavery aint’ nothin’ but a dot in your eye, huh? If nobody tell you, I’ma tell you. War may be over but it ain’t ended. 

He was not the con they had told him he was.

This is the problem of history. We cannot know that which we were not there to see and hear and experience for ourselves. We must rely upon the words of others….(for example) Kojo says that when the warriors came to his village the coats were red, but Kwame says that they were blue. Whose story do we believe, then? We believe the one who has the power. He is 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?

The news made it sound like the fault lay with the blacks of Harlem. The violent, the crazy, the monstrous black people who had the gall to demand that their children not be gunned down in the streets. 

The Ruin of a Nation Begins in the Homes of Its People

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Cape Coast Castle, Ghana

Questions to Consider

1. Evaluate the title of the book. Why do you think that the author chose the word Homegoing? What is a homegoing and where does it appear in the novel? In addition to the term’s literal meaning, discuss what symbolic meanings or associations the title might have in terms of a connection with our place of birth, our ancestors, our heritage, and our personal and cultural histories.

2. Explore the theme of belief. What forms of belief are depicted in the book and what purpose do these beliefs seem to serve for the characters? Does the author reveal what has shaped the characters’ beliefs? Do these beliefs seem to have a mostly positive or negative impact on the believer and those around them?

3. What perspective does the book offer on the subject of beliefs and otherness? For instance, does the book delineate between superstition and belief? Why does Ma Aku reprimand Jo after he is kicked out of church? What do the Missionary and the fetish man contribute to a dialogue on beliefs and otherness? Does the book ultimately suggest the best way to confront beliefs that are foreign to us?

4. Evaluate the treatment and role of women in the novel. What role does marriage play within the cultures represented in the novel and how are the women treated as a result? Likewise, what significance does fertility and motherhood have for the women and how does it influence their treatment? In the chapter entitled “Effia,” what does Adwoa tell Effia that her coupling with James is really about? In its depiction of the collective experiences of the female characters, what does the book seem to reveal about womanhood? How different would you say the treatment and role of women is today? Discuss.

5. Analyze the structure of the book. Why do you think the author assigned a chapter to each of the major characters? What points of view are represented therein? Does any single point of view seem to stand out among the rest or do you believe that the author presented a balanced point of view? Explain. Although each chapter is distinct, what do the stories have in common when considered collectively? How might your interpretation of the book differ if the author had chosen to tell the story from a single point of view?

6. Consider the setting of the book. What time periods are represented and what places are adopted as settings? Why do you think that the author chose these particular settings? What subjects and themes are illuminated via these particular choices? How does the extensive scope of the book help to unify these themes and create a cohesive treatment of the subjects therein?

7. In the chapter entitled “Quey,” Fiifi tells Quey that “[the] village must conduct its business like [the] female bird” (53). What does he mean by this and why do you think that Fiifi chooses this approach?

8. Why was Quey sent to England? After his return home, why does Quey say that it was safer in England? Why might he feel that what he faces at home is more difficult than the challenges he faced in leaving home and living abroad?

9. James’s mother, Nana Yaa, says that the Gold Coast is like a pot of groundnut soup (89). What does she mean by this?

10. Why does Akosua Mensah insist to James, “I will be my own nation” (99)? What role do patriotism, heritage, and tradition play in contributing to the injustices, prejudices, and violence depicted in the book? Which other characters seem to share Akosua’s point of view?

11. Explore the theme of complicity. What are some examples of complicity found in the novel? Who is complicit in the slave trade? Where do most of the slaves come from and who trades them? Who does Abena’s father say is ultimately responsible (142)? Do you agree with him? Explain why or why not.

12. Examine the relationships between parents and children in the book. How would you characterize these relationships? Do the children seem to understand their parents and have good relationships with them and vice versa? Do the characters’ views of their parents change or evolve as they grow up? How do the characters’ relationships with their parents influence the way that they raise their own children?

13. What significance does naming have in the book? Why do some of the characters have to change or give up their names? Likewise, what do the characters’ nicknames reveal both about them and about those who give or repeat these names? What does this dialogue ultimately suggest about the power of language and naming?

14. Explore the motif of storytelling. Who are the storytellers in the book and what kinds of stories do they tell? Who is their audience? What might these examples suggest about the purpose and significance of a storytelling tradition?

15. According to Akua, where does evil begin? Where else in the book do readers find examples that support her view? What impact does Akua’s opinion have on Yaw’s lifework? Does he agree with Akua’s view or refute it? Do you agree with her? Discuss.

16. What is history according to Yaw? What does he tell his students is “the problem of history” (226)? Who does Yaw say we believe when reading historical texts and what does he say is the question we must ask when studying history? How might these ideas influence your own reading of Gyasi’s book and reshape your ideas about the historical subjects and themes treated therein?

17. Sonny says that the problem in America “wasn’t segregation but the fact that you could not, in fact, segregate” (244)? What does he mean by this? What does Sonny say that he is forced to feel because of segregation? Which of the other characters experience these same feelings and hardships? Does there seem to be any progress as the story goes on? If so, how is progress achieved? Alternatively, what stymies and slows progress in this area?

18. What is Marcus studying and why isn’t his research going well? What feeling does he indicate that he hopes to capture with his project? Why does Marcus go to Ghana and what does he learn from his experiences there? Marcus believes that “most people lived their lives on upper levels, not stopping to peer underneath (298). What does he mean by this? Where do we find examples of this elsewhere in the book? Are there any characters in the novel who defy this characterization?

19. Consider the book’s treatment of colonialism and imperialism. In the chapter entitled “Esi” at the start of the book, what does Esi’s mother tell her daughter that weakness and strength really are? How does her definition of weakness and strength correspond to the dialogue about colonialism and imperialism that runs throughout the book? Discuss how this dialogue expands into a deeper conversation about freedom and human rights. Have the issues surrounding colonialism, imperialism, freedom, and human rights featured in the book been resolved today or do they linger? If they remain, does the book ultimately offer any suggestions or advice as to how this might be remedied?

(Questions issued by the publisher.)

December’s book is My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises by Fredrik Backman. I’ll be starting the conversation for this on Wednesday 3rd January.

A list of new books for the first six months of 2018 will be published NEXT MONDAY 11th DECEMBER.

 

49 comments

  1. Lorna · 11 Days Ago

    I so want to get to this book. I’ve already read Grandmother for my other global book group, so I’m looking forward to the discussion here! x

    Liked by 1 person

    • thebeasley · 11 Days Ago

      Ace. Can’t wait to hear what you think about Grandmother. I think you’ll enjoy Homegoing. It’s just fantastic.

      Like

  2. LaurenEph · 7 Days Ago

    This sounds like a really interesting book, I’m going to look out for it to read. Thankyou for the detailed review.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Africa has a magical pull for many people. Actually the people we are housesitting for still yearn to go back to Africa, though they have now chosen Spain as home. Looks a great book will have to look out for it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Debbie Harris · 7 Days Ago

    What a great review of this book. You’ve been honest and thoughtful with your comments and the quotes give us an idea of what to expect. I like the questions you pose at the end too, I haven’t heard of either book but I have read one by Blackman before and enjoyed it so will keep an eye out for this one too. Thanks!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Steffi Michael. · 7 Days Ago

    I love book reviews and I certainly loved this one. Looking forward to reading this book soon 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Fiona Maclean · 7 Days Ago

    Definitely one to look out for when I am book shopping. And I’ll be interested to see your next six books

    Liked by 1 person

    • thebeasley · 7 Days Ago

      Thanks Fiona. I’m really excited about the next list of books. Can’t wait to read them all.

      Like

  7. Phil Taylor · 7 Days Ago

    That does sound like a really interesting book. It should definitely be made into a movie or a series. I loved all the quotes.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Those quotes are so powerful! This book has been on my to be read list since it was published; I’m afraid I won’t be able to get to it until next year. Powell’s Bookstore did a great interview with Yaa Gyasi about the book, if you are interested, and haven’t stumbled across it yet!

    Liked by 2 people

    • thebeasley · 7 Days Ago

      Ooh thanks Kelsey. I hadn’t heard about that interview- I’ll check it out. Yes I think you’ll enjoy the book. Let me know what you think whenever you do read it x

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Anindya · 7 Days Ago

    Quite interesting reading about this book….nice review to evoke genuine interest to go through this one…

    Liked by 1 person

  10. You Can Always Start Now · 7 Days Ago

    I enjoy a book that gets me thinking also. It is interesting in that the winner often writes the history so yeah what else is missing I find that fascinating. Maybe we need a few authors to take history and write a fiction from the other point of view winning?

    Liked by 2 people

    • thebeasley · 7 Days Ago

      Absolutely. Hearing the other side of the story is always beneficial.

      Like

  11. Gary · 7 Days Ago

    Nice review Hayley and a topic many only skip over; like so many things. British history is full of “Did we really do that?” periods. I guess many civilisations are if you dig around deeply enough. Part of it is why cultures still clash today, deep rooted historical wounds. I’ve not read this one yet so thanks for the heads up; I did read the James Frey one though, but NaNo appeared before I joined in with a review.

    Liked by 1 person

    • thebeasley · 7 Days Ago

      No worries. You can join in with a book conversation whenever you want. No time constraints.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Gary · 7 Days Ago

        Phew, just as well as time is terribly fast all of a sudden. Seems this Christmas thing is almost here now too. When did that happen????

        Liked by 1 person

      • thebeasley · 7 Days Ago

        I know! It happened very, very quickly. I swear it was only summer yesterday

        Liked by 1 person

      • Gary · 7 Days Ago

        I was thinking its only a few weeks since I packed the decorations up from last Christmas! And tomorrow says knee deep in snow!

        Like

  12. emilypageart · 7 Days Ago

    This looks like a fantastic book, though particularly painful for us in the States, since, as you recognize, institutional racism still reigns supreme here, to a large extent. I really like the good thing/bad thing quote.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Gabe Burkhardt · 7 Days Ago

    Heyley, the “Online Book Club” idea is new to me. I like that you’ve included Book Club questions to consider in your review. The synopsis reminded me a bit of recently read Underground Railroad, but the questions pulled out teasers that have prompted me to add “Homegoing” to my TBR list. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    • thebeasley · 6 Days Ago

      I haven’t heard Underground Railroad. Maybe I should add that to my list too. Yes! So glad you’ve added Homegoing to your list. You won’t regret it.

      Liked by 1 person

    • angelanoelauthor · 6 Days Ago

      I love Hayley’s online book club. She does a wonderful job of providing insight into the book. And when other readers join in, I feel like I learn a lot more from what other readers have to say or how they interpret things I either took differently or missed entirely. It’s really wonderful.

      Liked by 1 person

      • thebeasley · 5 Days Ago

        It is soon interesting hearing what others have to say. Everyone looks at everything slightly differently. Cheers Angela x

        Liked by 1 person

  14. Carol · 7 Days Ago

    I also am new to the idea of ” The online book club” I love how you structure your reviews and have been looking at that a lot lately as my review writing sadly lacks substance. the questions you posed were very helpful to me so thank you Hayley. The subject of slavery TODAY was the subject of a Facebook rant from me only last week and funnily enough not many people responded…Head and sand methinks….But a sad indication that the world hasn’t really changed…I will put this book on my to read list and will feel ashamed of Britains role but it still goes on… A good post-Hayley 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • thebeasley · 6 Days Ago

      Wow I can’t believe you didn’t get much of a response to you Facebook post. I think it really is a case of people preferring to live in ignorance. It’s so sad. Cheers Carol.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Carol · 6 Days Ago

        I think you have hit the nail on the head, Hayley, it is exactly that…Sad

        Liked by 1 person

    • angelanoelauthor · 6 Days Ago

      Hi Carol, I definitely hope you jump on the Online Book Club train that Hayley started here. The books she’s chosen have invited me into new information I might not have otherwise had, and the discussions can be very enlightening.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Carol · 6 Days Ago

        I will after the Christmas rush. I will set myself a reminder it makes reading so much more interesting I think and a great learning curve …I hope you have a wonderful Christmas Angela x

        Liked by 2 people

      • thebeasley · 5 Days Ago

        Thank you Angela xx

        Liked by 1 person

  15. Wow! This book sounds wonderful!I will definitely check this one out! I found a copy waiting for me at the library! I will try to join in with these monthly book clubs at the start of the new year! Until then, I’m just too busy! Even so, I always love reading the reviews you write! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • thebeasley · 6 Days Ago

      Yes brilliant! Really hope you enjoy this book and can’t wait for you to join in with the book club next year. Cheers x

      Liked by 1 person

  16. lindahobden · 6 Days Ago

    Have already got this book on my book pile ready to read … I’m looking forward to it. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • thebeasley · 6 Days Ago

      OOh great Linda. Hope you enjoy (I think you will).

      Like

    • angelanoelauthor · 6 Days Ago

      I can’t wait to hear what you think, either. My real-life book club had a very full and interesting discussion about it.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. angelanoelauthor · 6 Days Ago

    First, I have to say how glad I am to have you to pick books for me! IRRESISTIBLE and now HOMEGOING have opened my eyes to things I may not have discovered otherwise.
    Second, I cannot believe the author is barely old enough to rent a car. A twenty-six year old with the insight and skill she brings to this books is truly astonishing.

    When my real-life group met to discuss this book, we usually talk about life and catch up on things like kids, or jobs etc. But, this meeting, we all had so much to say and hear, fitting in all we wanted to talk about was a challenge–and luckily the waitress at the restaurant we met at was patient.

    One of the key themes seemed to be the effect of generational oppression. It’s as if it’s not only external circumstances like access to opportunity impact the next generation, but as if the very fact of the oppression of our ancestors encodes our DNA differently. And I say “our” in the sense of all humanity. Though as a white woman with all kinds of privilege I don’t pretend to understand the toll the systemic and wide-spread dehumanizing of people of color takes on individuals, families and communities. This book helped to bring some of that context to life for me. As you mentioned, the happy ending of Marjorie and Marcus, is revelatory and real in the sense that the best any of us can do is to see ourselves as free, grounded, and able to move forward with an understanding of who we are and where we come from.

    Another element that stood out to me was the sense that skin color had nothing to do with when the tribes traded each other to the slavers. The only thing that mattered was “otherness.” A master one moment, a slave the next. And yet, the white Obroni, whose generational sense of superiority seems as equally encoded in their DNA as the subjectivity of the people we systemically oppress, seems to add an additional dimension to the practice of slavery among the tribes of the Gold Coast. No one is innocent, “Everyone was responsible. We all were. . . we all are,” James “Unlucky” says. I think he’s right. We, including me, are all responsible. Anytime we think others are “less than” because they don’t share a familiar identity with ourselves, we’re responsible for the same mindset that brought so much pain.
    And pain, endurance, triumph over circumstances, hope, love, despair, sacrifice, anger, submission, all of these run deeply throughout the book. The ability of Yaa Gyasi to capture so much, so never lose the reader through the many, many years of this book, astonishes me.
    I’m in awe.

    The years in America, particularly for me, the pain of Jo and Anna’s story, made me feel enraged and ashamed. Nowadays, when I read about would-be Senators in the US talking about this era in our history as being representative of the best our country had to offer because of our “culture” (but not necessarily because of our policies), I feel sick. The fact that slavery ever existed in the US, the fact that we had the belief that any human being could be OWNED is not a policy issue, that’s a cultural issue, that’s an underlying values and morals issue. It’s disgusting to hold this moment in time as being the greatest time for the “family” in America. I don’t like to talk about politics, and I won’t here. But I don’t think this is a political issue. HOMEGOING is the story of how people are impacted by the systems they are born to or brought to. Making America or any country great is about confronting the systemic oppressions that doesn’t allow people to be free. Marjorie and Marcus confront their two fears (fire and water-another significant theme in the book) and find freedom in the waves. My chemistry profession told me that water is the universal solvent, it’s the one thing that, given enough time, can reduce everything to its component parts. This seems to me a fitting metaphor for what’s needed in our cultures where anyone at anytime can see a lack of fundamental human rights as anything other than what it is: a travesty. Only by breaking down to it’s lowest level the reasons for systemic and generational oppression can we find a way to set ourselves–all of ourselves–free.

    So, HOMEGOING, is amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • thebeasley · 5 Days Ago

      Yes Angela! I frigging love this review! Firstly, your final sentence is 100% correct. It is a truly amazing book, made even more amazing when you think of how young the author is and how this is her debut novel.

      I loved what you said about how we are all responsible and how every time we think of people different to us as “less than” we are responsible for the same mindset that brought pain. This is so tragically true and can be applied in many ways. For example, the history of oppression that women have had to endure and how the recent sexual harassment revelations has highlighted this issue. I regress possibly because this isn’t the subject matter we’re talking about here, but it did make me think of this also.

      I also agree that slavery and the “ownership” of another human being is a hideous cultural issue rather than a political one. This also comes back to how we are all responsible.

      That is so fascinating what you said about water. I hadn’t thought about that and certainly demonstrates the power of water as an element.

      Absolutely LOVED the fact that your IRL bookclub had so much to discuss about this book. I think it’s one of those books that I will endlessly & passionately talk about with people- possibly forcing it upon them.

      Thank you so much for your wonderful thoughts on this book. I wish I’d been at your IRL bookclub, but this here is the next best thing x

      Liked by 1 person

      • angelanoelauthor · 5 Days Ago

        Maybe someday you can be an honored guest at my book club! Oh man, if you ever wanted to come to Minnesota (we do have a huge mall and a giant spoon with a cherry on it) I’d throw a party and we could have cocktails and talk about books. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • thebeasley · 5 Days Ago

        Oh that would be so wonderful. Maybe one day 😘

        Liked by 1 person

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