Tag Archives: reading


9781101947135_p0_v5_s192x300   Yaa Gyasi follows hardship and unthinkable misery in her novel Homegoing, a family saga of two African sisters – one married a slave trader, the other becomes a slave. Through generations of the two families, Gyasi tells the story of how slave trading became a lucrative business not only for the British and Americans but also for some African tribes, who captured and sold their own people – and the emotional damage of treating humans like commodites through generations of the two sisters’ descendants in both Africa and America.

Effia and Esi have the same mother, Maame, but were born into two different tribes in eighteenth century Ghana. For an enormous price, Effia, the Beautiful, is married off to James, the resident white slave trader who lives in the Castle, the notorious site of the dungeons, enslaving captured Africans in inhumane and horrific conditions. Effia lives in the upper floors in a European style mansion of comfort and luxury. Unknown to her, her half-sister, Esi lies below as a slave in the disease-ridden festering dungeon. Ironically, in trying to help a young slave water carrier in her village, Esi sent the message triggering her own capture from a neighboring tribe.

The chapters alternate, inscribing the names in the chapters; the family tree outlined in the front of the book helps to keep the progeny clear, as Effia and Esi’s descendants tell the tale and the history of both Africa and America unfolds. Effia’s son, Quey, is sent to England to be educated, but returns to the African Bush to reluctantly take up his father’s business. Ness, Esi’s daughter, born into the squalor of the slaves, is shipped to America to continue her life as a cotton picker on a plantation. She endures a life of immutable hardship and whippings – “her scarred skin was like another body in and of itself, shaped like a man hugging her from behind with his arms hanging around her neck.”

As the story continues through the years, more lives appear, some quietly heroic – Two Shovel H who helped a white co-worker in a coal mine and then had his favor repaid when his arms went numb; others fall into drug addiction in the slums of Harlem. Throughout, the theme of historical suppression prevails, connecting lives to their legacy.

In the twentieth century, Yaw, a descendant of Effia asks his class of African teenagers the question Gyasi has posed throughout the book:

“This is the problem with history…We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story…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 clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.”

Scarred by a fire accidentally set by his mother when he was only a baby, Yaw has been told “you could not inherit a scar {yet} he no longer knew if he believed this was true.” Throughout her story, Gyasi explores the ongoing scars left by the heritage of Effia and Esi – invisible scars on the souls of their descendants.

A powerful and ambitious book; Gyasi’s story ends with Marjorie (from Effia) and Marcus (from Esi) connecting, with continents and races mixing. Her message is haunting and important; Homegoing is a great selection for a book discussion.

The Woman in White

9781400119424_p0_v5_s192x300     When one of my book clubs identified Wilkie Collins’ nineteenth century classic mystery The Woman in White for discussion, I looked for another way to reread the famous story and found the four hour BBC radio dramatization on Audible.  With rich British intonation, the dialogue kept me immersed in the plot, most of which I had forgotten since reading it for a college literature class.

A detective story with Gothic overtones, the story has an other worldly tone as the reader tries to discover the secret of the ghostly woman dressed in white. In her review, Camille Cauti cleverly summarized the plot without revealing too much for readers who want to thrill to its twists – either again or for the first time.

The story begins with an eerie midnight encounter between artist Walter Hartright and a ghostly woman dressed all in white who seems desperate to share a dark secret. The next day Hartright, engaged as a drawing master to the beautiful Laura Fairlie and her half sister, tells his pupils about the strange events of the previous evening. Determined to learn all they can about the mysterious woman in white, the three soon find themselves drawn into a chilling vortex of crime, poison, kidnapping, and international intrigue.

The father of the detective novel and a contemporary of Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins was the first to transform a sensational crime story into a tale with clues the reading audience could follow.  When it was first published in 1860, the book was serializedand according to mystery expert Charles Silet, readers enthusiastically started  a Woman-in-White craze “which gave rise to a popular song, a dramatization of the novel, and even prompted women to dress in white.”

I throughly enjoyed listening.  The music heightened the suspense, and the characters’ intonation made the complicated plot easy to follow.  I’ll look for another book performed by this talented group of British actors.


Rudyard Kipling’s The Gardner

Geoff Dyer in his interview in “By the Book” for the New York Times identifies his favorite short story – Rudyard Kipling’s The Gardner.  Dyer summarizes the story as he remember it:

“A mother goes to a large war cemetery on the Western Front in the aftermath of the First World Was, looking for the grave of her son. She meets the gardner who is taking care of the cemetery. The sense of vast and unendurable grief is all the more powerful for being expressed with such restraint and economy.”

images      I found Kipling’s short story online but connected with different aspects – we all interpret what we read with what we know and what we need.

  • “Then she took her place in the dreary procession that was impelled to go through an inevitable series of unprofitable emotions. The Rector, of course, preached hope… “
  • Michael had died and her world had stood still and she had been one with the full shock of that arrest. Now she was standing still and the world was going forward, but it did not concern her — in no way or relation did it touch her. She knew this by the ease with which she could slip Michael’s name into talk and incline her head to the proper angle, at the proper murmur of sympathy…

‘My nephew,’ said Helen. ‘But I was very fond of him.’
‘Ah, yes! I sometimes wonder whether they know after death! What do you think?’
‘Oh, I don’t — I haven’t dared to think much about that sort of thing,’ said Helen…
‘Perhaps that’s better,’ the woman answered. ‘The sense of loss must be enough, I expect. Well, I won’t worry you any more.’”

Link to Kipling’s “The Gardner” here

Time to Read Americanah

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, an award winning novelist and short story writer, produced a short story for the Book Review of the New York Times – The Arrangements.    The title had me  wondering if the story would mimic Maggie Shipstead’s Seating Arrangements, set in Nantucket, but the political cartoon on the page promised something better.  No matter what your politics, this “Work of Fiction,” will have you wondering and laughing.

9780307455925_p0_v2_s192x300     I have not yet read Americanah, Adichie’s acclaimed story of a young Nigerian woman who emigrates to the United States for a university education and stays for work.  I now have it on order at the library.

Have you read it?

Cookbooks 101

9780847837939_p0_v2_s192x300.jpg   Did you know you can study for a Ph.D. in food studies at New York University?  To support the program The Fales Library at NYU created a door stopper of a book, 688 pages – 101 Classic Cookbooks 501 Classic Recipes from Fannie Farmer to Thomas Keller – compiled and edited by an academic committee (of course).

The first half of 101 Classic Cookbooks is the canon of cookbooks, beginning with Fannie  Farmer’s The Boston Cooking School Cook Book (1896).  Books by Julia Child, Ruth Reichl, Emeril Lagasse and Betty Crocker,  James Beard and, of course, Irma Rombauer’s bible – The Joy of Cooking are a few of the famous included.   Just flipping through the glossy pages, you will see clear copies of cook book covers and recipe pages excerpted from each; the editors also offer a short introduction on the history and significance of each cookbook (which I confess I did not always read).  The collection crosses regions from Southern cooking to international, and from comfort food to  Alice Waters’ farm to table.

The editors  include a few spiral bound cookbooks (we all have a few) from the Junior Leagues of Charleston and Augusta, and one of my favorites – The Moosewood Cookbook.    Mark Bittman and Thomas Keller are the anchors, finishing the collection with books from 1998 and 1999.  The current century is still in committee.

Recipe pages in the first section copied directly from the cookbooks are not readable, but the second half of 101 Classic Cookbooks becomes 501 Classic Recipes, the best ideas culled from all and clearly printed (with an editor’s caveat warning older recipes may not always work).  With ten categories, from Drinks and Nibbles to Baked Goods and Desserts, this section is overwhelming – too much even for those of us who like to read cookbooks. But this is a textbook.

The Index is the place to start. Recipes, authors, and books are cross-referenced – a map to finding your favorite cookbook author or honing in on a recipe you might like to try. The recipe for Lord Baltimore Cake caught my eye.

An ambitious undertaking, 101 Classic Cookbooks 501 Classic Recipes is a first in reference books for food studies, but it also could be a happy diversion for anyone who would rather cook than study – or just likes to read cookbooks.

Related Review:  My Visit to Thomas Kellor’s French Laundry

Reviews on Other Cookbooks: