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Infinite Country by Patricia Engel | Thoughts

   Published : 2021   ||    Format : print   ||    Location : Colombia ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆   What was it about the country that kept everyone hostage to its fantasy? The previous month, on its own soil, an American man went to his job at a plant and gunned down fourteen coworkers, and last spring alone there were four different school shootings. A nation at war with itself, yet people still spoke of it as some kind of paradise.. Thoughts : Infinite Country follows two characters - young Talia, who at the beginning of this book, escapes a girl’s reform school in North Colombia so that she can make her previously booked flight to the US. Before she can do that, she needs to travel many miles to reach her father and get her ticket to the rest of her family. As we follow Talia’s treacherous journey south, we learn about how she ended up in the reform school in the first place and why half her family resides in the US. Infinite Country tells the story of her family through the other protagonist, El

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi | Thoughts

Published in: 2016
Format read in: ebook
Location: Ghana, US
Rating: 5/5

Why I read it: This has been on my books-I-want-to-read-but-am-intimidated-by list for a while but after sampling a couple pages one day, I realized that putting the book down was not going to be an option.

One line review: The entire time I read this book, I had the Interstellar soundtrack playing on repeat in my head - the vastness of the scope and impact of this book is as huge and amazing as in that movie. 

Who should read it: If you're looking to read about the human impact of slavery not just on descendants in the US but also on those in Africa, this book tells a thought-provoking story.

About: Two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle's dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast's booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia's descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.. (From Goodreads)

Weakness is treating someone as though they belong to you. Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves.

After all the buzz and rave reviews that Homegoing received, I knew I wanted to read it but I was also intimidated by its awesomeness and unsure if I will "get" it. I needn't have worried really. Not only did I "get" it, but I also couldn't put it down.

When I think of Homegoing, the first word that comes to mind is "saga". And in a good way, not a soap-opera-ish or manipulative way. Homegoing starts with the stories of Effia and Esi in the second half of the 18th century in what is modern-day Ghana and ends with the stories of their US-based descendants, Marjorie and Marcus, more than two centuries later visiting the same area where their ancestors' stories began. That last chapter was chilling to read. Marjorie and Marcus feel a connection to the place but only the reader really knows what the connection is. For the characters in the book, more than 2 centuries have passed but for the reader, it's been mere days. 

Effia and Esi had the same mother but different fathers. Effia never knew that she had a half-sister. Esi, on the other hand, knew of the half-sister but never met her. Effia never felt welcomed in her hometown, mainly because of a step-mother who worked hard to drive her away. But once she marries the British governor in charge of Cape Coast Castle, she enjoys a more comfortable lifestyle. Esi, on the other hand, is part of a group of natives who are captured by rival tribes and sold to the English traders. From there, she is shipped as a slave to the United States. 

In alternating chapters, we meet each descendant of Effia's and Esi's lineage and see the challenges they face in their specific situations. Even though Effia's descendants get to remain in Ghana for the most part, they've all treated their mixed race heritage differently. While some have embraced it, others rebelled against it. A lot of struggles they face are a result of poverty, tribe rivalries, or mental illness. On the other hand, the struggles that Esi's descendants face are primarily due to slavery. It isn't hard to imagine this type of struggle through the centuries. While initially it is all about the hardships of being a slave, it later takes different forms such a born-free Black person losing his/her freedom, working in unhygienic or unsafe work sites, discrimination based on color, and systemic bias. These are all seen in many of the stories in this book - There is the mother that gives her child to a stranger so that he can live free in the north. There is the father that loses his wife and unborn baby to the practice of abduction of free black people who are then sold in the south. Then there is the newly arrived black mother who struggled to keep a job and look after her baby. 

Yaa Gyasi has crafted an incredibly powerful and clever book that narrates a story of one humanity through the ages and gives the reader the power of knowing more about the characters than the characters themselves know. At every point, I wanted to tell them about their ancestors and show them that they could make a different choice. Neither lineage is free from problems, though by the time, we reach the last characters - Marjorie and Marcus - a lot of the struggles have resolved. Whether you were in 19th century US or 19th century Ghana, the characters faced slavery or tribal wars - both have left marks on them. But the chief difference between them were that one group of people were free but the other was not and this single factor makes the biggest impact in their life choices and decisions. 

If you haven't read Homegoing, I strongly recommend it. Yes - there's tragedy, there's loss of life, there's also the death of children but it's essential reading and provides a sad and necessary look at the history that brought the US to this point today. If it's not clear yet, this book features a different character in each chapter (similar to The Twelve Tribes of Hattie) and although that's something I don't typically enjoy, I didn't notice that at all in this book. I wanted to find out how each line fares over time. The biggest win going for Homegoing is that it is VERY readable. If you even read one paragraph of this book, you'll likely find it hard to put the book away.

When you think of books that deal with the passage of time, butterfly effect, or paying for your ancestors's sins, what comes to mind?