Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing - Yaa GyasiTwo parallel lineage stories of two African half-sisters (who never meet). One storyline is Ghana, the other a slave story that leads to America. There is impressive historical detail, especially when describing the Ghana experience of collusion in the trafficking of slaves. The book is Michener-like in using storylines of successive generations, and yes, there is a useful family tree included in the text.

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The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad - Colson WhiteheadA powerful book about the cruelty of American slavery. The horrible physical abuses are terrible to read, but the psychological abuses are equally horrific. The White belief tin the inherent savagery of African slaves led to eugenics experiments. A slave catcher who refers to his quarry as “it” rather than “s/he”. This is a disturbing but important book to read.

The Golem and the Jinni – Helene Wecker

The Golem and the Jinni - Helene WeckerA second recommendation from Steph, so thanks again. This book is another example of a remarkable first novel, notable both for its imagination and context. A golem is created from clay and brought to life by her master who then promptly dies, leaving her adrift in New York. A jinni is accidentally released from a copper container. Much of this book is about alienation – how to fit into a human population. And the context is glorious: New York in 1899 with detailed descriptions of Little Syria and the Jewish enclave with some fantastic trips to Central Park. And yes, there is a wicked villain! This is a very entertaining book.

LaRose – Louise Erdrich

LaRose - Louise ErdrichThis is a fantastic Indigenous novel, set in North Dakota in 1999. There is a powerful start to the story, a tragedy on page 2. What follows is an attempted reparation, guilt and paralyzing grief; a long-standing grudge which leads to revenge; and a gradual reconciliation. The story shifts back and forth in time, and has a mystical element. There is, amidst all this angst, a delightful plainness, a simplicity that engages and delights. For example, there is a transcendent passage about a volleyball game that captures the psychology of young adolescents perfectly! Although this is a multi-generational story, it is the children who are the most complex characters, particularly in circumstances where they are forced to be mature beyond their years (similar to Glass Castle). This book is wonderful storytelling.

By Gaslight – Steven Price

By Gaslight - Steven PriceGenerally I read mostly contemporary fiction but the historical fiction presented in this book is fascinating and entertaining because of a vivid description of context: the American Civil War with violence and sickness and cruelty, and London in 1885 with orange-yellow fog and a trip into the sewers! The book describes an intricate cat-and-mouse conflict between two men over several decades: a master and mysterious thief and an obsessed detective (a Pinkerton). The back story unfolds in many flashbacks, the classic slow reveal of motives and actions. Very enjoyable.

Poles Apart – Terry Fallis

Poles Apart - Terry FallisFallis won the 2011 Canada Reads competition with The Best Laid Plans, a very funny book about Canadian politics. This new book is set in Orlando Florida. Everett Kane starts an anonymous feminist blog called Eve Of Equality which becomes wildly popular. Parts of the plot are unrealistic and sometimes predictable, but it is a guilty pleasure to read a feel good novel from time to time.

Ruby – Cynthia Bond

Ruby - Cynthia BondThis is a tough read because of disturbing content. Set in an all-Black community in East Texas in the 1950-70s, there is blatant racism, violence and tremendous cruelty. Well-written but be warned … This doesn’t sound like much of a recommendation but in this new era of increasing intolerance, it is worthwhile, I think, to try and learn from historical precedent and ask the question: are we really moving forward?