Book Review: “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi

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My “Readings in Global Literature” class was not at all what I expected it to be. The literature chosen for class focused mostly on the transatlantic slave trade. There is nothing wrong with this at all, and I learned so much, but when I read the course description I thought we would be reading novels from all around the world. I hoped to read a book from China or India, then maybe some from Russia or the Middle East. Basically anything but American or European, which is what most of the literature courses seem to concentrate on.

This was my only complaint with the course. Otherwise, the professor was phenomenal, and we read several wonderful books. One of my favorites was the novel Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. The title apparently comes from an old African-American belief that when they died their souls would journey across the ocean, back to their homeland of Africa. The author herself was born in Ghana and raised in Alabama, and says that the character Marjorie has very similar experiences to herself. Which is interesting to know once you get to her chapter and the chapter of Marcus at the end of the book.

In my opinion, Homegoing is epic. I say this because the purpose of the novel is to try and trace the effects of the slave trade across generations, starting back in the 1700’s all the way to present day. Gyasi does this by following the story of two half sisters born in Ghana. One is sold into slavery, one remains in Ghana.

Each chapter is almost like a short story. A portion of a character’s life is relayed, giving key information about the family and about important events regarding slavery during that time period. The next chapter switches to the other branch of the family, so you go from Ghana to the United States and back to Ghana.

In some ways, this could be a bit confusing. Often times you meet a character once then see very little to nothing of them ever again. I did find myself referring back to the family tree at the opening of the book, just so I could gage where I was at generationally, but it helped that any chapter that takes place in the United States is one sister’s decedents, and the others are still living in Ghana. Gyasi also weaves in recurring themes of fire and water, which help to tie the story together.

The scope of the story is just incredible. It’s so ambitious, to try and condense so much history into one novel, but I truly think that the author did an excellent job. I’ve read some reviews that remark on how her characters have “all the things” happen to them just to make reference to important historical events, but personally this did not bother me. I liked that it was there to remind you that these things did happen to real people. It made the story all the more compelling to me in a historical sense.

I found this book absolutely breathtaking. Every chapter, every generation that brought me closer to present day had me more and more wrapped up in the story. I didn’t feel disconnected at all from the geographical or character jumps. I just wanted to see how the author was going to tie it all together. Her prose is pretty straightforward, except for now and again she breaks into a kind of poetry that always made me stop and reread the sentence.

Definitely one of my favorite reads this semester.

Halfway There

Tah-Dah! We are twenty weeks people (twenty-one by the time this posts), and therefore halfway through this thing called pregnancy!

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Us at 20 weeks

My morning sickness is almost completely gone! I’m finally starting to gain weight. I stuff my face with spinach, eggs, and avocados. I still have an aversion to butter (most dairy actually), toast, and white flour tortillas.

Last Monday, Timothy and I went for the BIG ultrasound. They call it an Anatomy Scan, and they measured and checked out our baby from her adorable head to her sweet little toes. She’s healthy and beautiful and I’m on target for my due date of August 18th.

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Daddy’s favorite picture of his baby girl

Even before I met Timmy, whenever I pictured my future family there was always a little girl there. I pictured boys too, sometimes lots of them, but even in a family with 6 kids, there was always at least one little girl. Sometimes she was fair, sometimes dark, sometimes with blonde curls, sometimes with two brown plaits laying against her shoulders. She was sporty. She was a fairy princess. Her nails were dirty from digging up worms. She hated mud and slime. No matter what form she took, she refused to leave my imagination.

I had a laundry list of worries walking into that ultrasound, but the one that upset me the most was, “what if it’s not a girl.” Yes, it mattered more to me that the heart and brain and feet and hands were all looking healthy and strong. I say “upset me,” because I didn’t want the baby’s gender to matter to me at all. I prayed so many times, “God, just let me not care. Please, give me peace.”

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possible early evidence of thumb sucking?

Looking back, I think he answered that prayer the first time around. I think he was telling me, “Rachel, stop worrying, because I’m giving you your girl,” but I was too scared to believe that it was His voice speaking and not just my own desires. My mother-in-law later said to me, “Maybe God gave you that desire, because he wanted you to have it.” God didn’t have to give me my little girl. He chose to. He has control over the whole cosmos, and knew which soul to put in my womb because he has a purpose for her life.

One of the wacky theological teachings I heard a lot growing up was a kind of “be careful what you ask God for,” strain of belief. Ask God for patience, He’ll give you trials. Ask God for contentment, He’ll burn your house to the ground. But the HUGE thing always missing from these sermons was the truth that God isn’t sitting on his throne rubbing his hands together with glee because you’ve asked for the wrong thing, like a cosmic genie who grants your wish for a million dollars by handing you your loved one’s life insurance policy. True, ugly things will happen to us, but as I learned through my miscarriage, by His grace those ugly moments are never too much to bear.

Whatever he takes, he replaces. Sometimes materially, sometimes with more of Himself. Either way, he will satisfy.

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I prayed for God to take away my desire for a girl or to change my desire to meet his plans for my life. He answered my prayer. He kept my desire there, strong as ever, and waited for me to take hold of the peace he offered me because of the ernest nature of my prayers. I never took that peace, but at least now I’ve got the lesson.

And a baby girl. 😉

March Reading Summary

My blogposts tend to be pretty random in content. I started with a ton of poetry which slowly morphed into a sort of random-anecdotes-from-my-life thing. I sometimes think I blog mostly just to exercise my writing muscles, and I’m thankful for anybody who takes the time to read my random blatherings.

With Little Baby on the way, and only one year of school left, I find myself frequently considering what I want to do with my post-school time. This has left me wondering if I might not want to refocus my content hereabouts.

One of the things I’ve been toying with is posting more book reviews. I read a lot, and my taste in books is wide ranged and random, so I’m not sure this is my best idea. But with books being one of the only things I know, I figure blogging about my opinions regarding them can’t be any more yawn worthy than the other stuffs that I post here.

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To that end, I’ve decided to do a recap of all the books I read in March. It was a light kind of month as I still had a ton of school work to do, but near the end I had a few pregnancy induced sleepless nights that I devoted to reading.

  1. Blonde Roots by Bernardine Evaristo

urlThis book was one of the novels I had to read for school this semester. While I appreciated Evaristo’s storytelling abilities, I struggled to enjoy this book. It is a “what-if” dystopian satire that turns the transatlantic slave trade on its head: Africans have enslaved white Europeans. The story is about Doris, a white slave, and her attempts to escape her black masters.

After discussion in the classroom, I was able to appreciate Evaristo’s aims in this rewrite of history. By flipping the familiar, she is trying to show how racial bias has warped our thinking in so many ways. She even reinvents the map of the world, shifting different countries above and below the equator. And while I understand what she’s doing, and believe she does it well, I think, for me, I would much rather read a non-satyrical account of slavery or a true life slave narrative. But, all in all, well written and if the idea piques your interest, I’d say dive right in.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

2. Passing by Nella Larsen

url-1This is another novel I had to read for school this semester. This one I loved. Larsen’s writing style is so poised, gentle, straightforward, and beautiful. The story is about Irene and Claire, two black women from Chicago now living in Harlem during the 1920’s. The story is dark and beautiful and deals with issues of race, racism, and jealousy. It’s also a short read, the kind of book I like to take to the beach because I know I can finish before it’s time to go home. I definitely recommend it for Larsen’s poignant themes and lovely writing abilities.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

4. Twitter: The Comic by Mike Rosenthal

url-2This one was a just for fun quick comic that I stumbled across while at the library. Rosenthal collected a bunch of goofy tweets and began to illustrate them. His tumbler account got popular, leading to this collection in this book. It was nice to flip through as a cool down after school one day. It made me chuckle. For a taste, you can find Rosenthal’s tumbler here.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

5. Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid

url-4Yet another book I read for one of my classes. This book is the coming of age story of a young girl in Antigua. It heavily discusses the relationship between the girl and her mother, and all the complications it develops as the girl’s childhood fades into adulthood. Kincaid’s writing style was straightforward, but the story itself had layers of imagery within it that deepened the themes to a satisfying level. It was also a short easy read, another book I’d happily take to the beach.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

6. My Point…And I Do Have One by Ellen DeGeneres

url-5OH MY GOSH! This woman is hilarious. Really. I read Seriously…I’m Kidding a few years ago, and she’s just so freakin’ funny. The book has no plot or anything. It’s just chapter after chapter of hilarious anecdotes and stories about her life, some of which you know have to be majorly exaggerated for comic effect. I read multiple chapters of this aloud to my husband and my brother-in-law and we were all cry-laughing at it. Seriously, if you need a pick-me-up then pick this one up.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

7. Welcome to Dead House by R. L. Stine (Goosebumps, #1)

url-7This series was excessively popular when I was a child. I never read any, one: because I didn’t enjoy horror back then (even the covers freaked me out) and two: if I’d tried to take one out of the library my parents probably would have slapped it from my hands and called the elders over to pray the demons out of me.

It was about what I expected, a creepy book for kids with kind of light corny humor interspersed throughout. The writing was strictly meh, but typical of a lot of serial books aimed at elementary/middle schoolers. Now that I’ve satisfied my curiosity, I feel no urge to ever read something by Stine again.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

8. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

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This has been on my to-read list for a while, so when it popped up as required reading for my Harlem Renaissance class I was super excited. This was one of those classics that absolutely lived up to the hype. Hurston’s story of Janie’s search for self revelation was deep and beautiful, full of breathtaking prose and delicious poetical imagery. Please, do yourself a favor, if you haven’t read this, DO IT!

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

That more or less finishes out March, except for my favorite read which I’m saving out to write up a separate review for. Hope I tickled the fancy of a few book nerds out there, and maybe gave you a title or two to check out.

Cheers!

Being Brave and Letting Go

Brave art is beautiful art.

My husband reminded me of this after I bemoaned the increasing number personal elements that seem to be creeping their way into the short story I’m handing in for my Fiction Writing class. About an hour ago, I finished my third draft and had so much of my own self and struggles leaking through my fingers into the keyboard that I literally started to cry.

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No, I screamed at me in my head. No, you can’t do this. You know why? Because what if they hate it? What if they say, “people don’t really do that” or “this scenario is so unrealistic”  or “why is she so upset about something so minor?” You know you’ll just run from the room sobbing. You could barely control your emotions BEFORE pregnancy. Now? Now you cry when Han Solo says, “I know.”

I know.

It’s like when that quiet girl from the back of the classroom stumbles in late to Intro to Creative Writing with a tearstained copy of her latest poem:

It’s Over

Weep, weep, weep
Weep on my unrelenting river of tears
Stream that red, red, red
from the bloody bleeding heart he left behind.
We’re done.
I’m undone.
My bosom is heavy with an empty chasm for a heart
Tears, tears, tears
I’m such a miserable fool.

Suck or not, who has the heart to tell her to trash it when you can barely hear her read it over her piteous wails. I mean, look at her bloodshot eyes! Do you really think she slept last night? *The moon shakes it’s head, for it has born witness to her lonely howling.*

Granted, my story isn’t so overt, and thank God I’ve not been told I must read it aloud, but I’m in there. I’m screaming through the characters mouths. I’m laying curled up beside the abandoned child, grasping and clutching at that empty pocket of warmth left behind in the blankets. And it’s scary to be so seen in such an unseen way. No one in my class knows me. No one will see me there in those words. Nothing will hold back their “this sucks” or “what the *&%$ is this #$%@?” That’s good in a way. I mean, the truth needs to be told to me, or I’ll never improve as a writer. But even as healthy as the truth is, it can also be terrifying and humiliating.

Maybe that’s why I hated this story so much when I started, because I always knew it would turn into something more.

Come Friday I’ll have to let it go; I’ll have to watch it fall from my fingers into the hands of 15 strangers who will be reading between the lines of my life armed with a red pen.

This is terror. This is bravery. This, I guess, is art.

Perfect Timing

While my pregnancy was a planned pregnancy, it was still a shock to me. I just figured it wouldn’t happen when it did, and while it’s still overwhelming at times, it’s become just another one of those times in my life where I can see how perfect God’s plans are when we submit to his will.

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17 weeks

First: My Crazy First Trimester

I mean, I was sick for my first pregnancy, but all these people kept saying to me that what I was feeling “wasn’t normal.” Since they never specified what part of it was so abnormal, I guess I just assumed that a heathy baby would be less horrible to carry. As wrong as I was, the miracle of it all was the impeccable timing of my bedridden stage. My morning sickness began the week of finals, but most of my finals were papers I’d already drafted and merely needed to hand in. After that I had the entirety of winter break to do nothing but rest and vomit.

Second: Returning to school

The oncoming spring semester was looming in the background like the malevolent flaming eye of Sauron. Every day that I spent laying in bed, incapable of anything more than watching Shawn the Sheep, the soft voice of anxiety whispered, “And how do you think you’re going to manage that?”

My early religious education emphasized the idea that once you’re a wife or mother the Bible allows for you to be nothing else. I’ve come to believe this as not accurate Biblical teaching, but I wrestled with what I was supposed to do next. Was God trying to tell me through illness that being a wife and mother was all he wanted from me?

No longer wishing to blindly follow the teaching from my youth, I prayed that God would make it clear what he wanted from me: finish my degree or quit for the baby. Maybe he’d let me finish my degree later, who knew? Only Him, and I just needed to know clearly what step to take next, one semester at a time.

There were so many times when I was leaning over the toilet bowl with Tim rubbing my back when I’d gasp out the words, “I think I should drop all my classes.” Tim, ever patient, ever wise, always said, “Just wait and see. There’s still time. Just wait.”

I waited. I saw. God provided me just the right amount of miraculous strength I needed to get to every class. Even the week before my first day I was too sick to go, but despite the fact I was still throwing up to and from school, and napping on a foam mattress between my classes, I have remained on my 15 credit class schedule.

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And Tim? Well, who could expect him to be anything but my guardian angel. He walked me to all my classes, carried my books, and for several weeks sat right outside the door to my class in case I needed any help, even though it made his butt fall asleep. Speaking of blessings from God, let’s not forget the man I wake up next to every morning. Him. Always. ❤

Third: The Due Date

The baby is due August 18, 2017. Even if I go late, I will still give birth this summer, before classes can start for next semester.

Fourth: Online Classes

One night, just out of curiosity, I looked over my degree evaluation at WPU to see what else I needed to graduate on time. The idea of returning to school with a two week old infant in tow is daunting, even if your husband doesn’t mind looking after him while you’re in class. I worried if it would even be healthy for the little one.

As I looked through what I needed to graduate, I saw a lot of online courses being offered. I grabbed a notepad and began to jot down courses. Soon, I had over 7 online course options I could take in the fall, all of which were perfect for keeping me on track to graduate Spring of 2018. I now fully believe that God will allow me to take most if not all of my courses online for my first semester after giving birth. My heart nearly burst with thanksgiving for this.

Fifth: Our Living Situation

I’ve never really been in close contact to infants before, except for bits of exposure during my time working the nursery at church. Basically, I’m terrified, and given my penchant for panic attacks and overreacting due to my struggle with anxiety disorder, I know that I’ll be as neurotic as any three new mothers locked in a dark tight space for 48 hours.

First on the emergency contact list will (of course) be my dear husband, eldest of 7 and widely recognized “baby hog.” His relatives know that when they bring their little one into the room, my husband will make puppy eyes at whomever is holding the baby until somebody lets him settle down with the little one so he can snuggle and play with it.

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Timmy with our nephew Emmett

But if even he should fail to calm me and the infant (both of us probably screaming), we will still be living with his mother, grandmother of my child and veteran parent of 7 children. Honestly, watching my husband’s parents raise the two little ones at home (6yrs and 10yrs) has grown me tremendously. Their grace and patience is something I pray I’ll have in my parenting, and it is truly a privilege to watch. If I could be half the mother Mrs. Svendsen is, my children will never suffer for love and acceptance, the two things I found most lacking in my own childhood.

I will have one full year under her roof, blessed by her wisdom and tutelage before my husband and I pack up and move across the country for him to complete his seminary training.

There is too much perfection in all the timing of this baby for me not to step back, look up and say, “Thank you Lord. Thank you so much.” ❤

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Quick First Trimester Recap

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It sucked.

It still does some days, but I’ve gotten enough of a lift to feel like my body is on the mend. My husband and I have gone out to dinner and taken a trip to Ikea in the past few weeks, something that would have been unthinkable a week before.

It wasn’t long after seeing those two blue lines that I began to develop aversions to smells, tastes, and sights. I was already vomiting once a day before I even missed my period. I still had this romantic idea that if I just boiled carrots until they mushed when you looked at them or ate saltines with a little bit of avocado, I could be gentle on my stomach while still getting solid nutrients into my body. *looks over shoulder at naive past self and laughs mockingly*

I lost about 20 lbs.

My first and foremost aversion was butter, one that still has not entirely abated. Quickly, anything associated with butter became partner in it’s evil salty oily fatness. That list begins with pasta, toast, rice, and potatoes, and ends somewhere with anything else that vaguely resembles butter in either its liquid or solid state. In fact, the aversion became so severe that when I started reading Tana French’s In the Woods, I ended up putting it aside to vomit because she had the audacity to use the word “butter” inside the first paragraph. I had to hide the book, because even looking at the cover put me at risk for another surge of nausea.

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In a moment of pure hysterical madness, I asked my husband to take a this photo. I thought the mineral water made it look more hangover than morning sickness.

With how easily my nausea was triggered over one aversion, it won’t surprise you when I say that eating anything at all was a battle. Add to that, I developed an aversion to water, and then I was battling fluid intake. My only hope for keeping anything down (and me out of the hospital) was to lay flat. I was absolutely freaked out by all the changes in my body. I fought my desire to shower twice a day, but lost the battle with my clothes which I changed frequently throughout the day, leaving mounds of laundry in my wake. I spent days in bed, hating every moment I was awake. I said to my husband, “This had better be the cutest damn baby in the whole world.” I also said, “I think this is by far the worst experience of my life, and it’s not even half over.”

Honestly, I couldn’t have done any of it without my husband. He was the ultimate caregiver. He cleaned up after my sick, did the laundry, straightened the room, made numerous runs to stores to get me food or medicine, and kissed away my tears. I hated seeing him working so hard with absolutely no help from me. It made it harder to rest in bed.

Whenever I expressed this frustration to my husband, he would always say, “You’re building a baby. You’re working hard.” Then he’d kiss my forehead and tell me to rest.

I’m excited for the reward at the end of this mess called pregnancy, though I still worry about my ability to be the kind of mother I want to be. Perfection is out of the question, obviously, but will I be enough? Loving enough, affirming enough, and enough of a guide to them that they will have the equipment to take flight into adulthood, wise and very curious. I doubt myself, but I never doubt that my husband is going to be the best father ever. Patient, wise, kind, affectionate, and fun? What more could a little baby want in a Daddy?

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Love ❤