• The cover of the book Homegoing

    Homegoing

    In a Fante village in Ghana in the mid-18th century, young Effia awaits her first menstruation so that she may marry Abeeku, the new chief, but instead Effia’s abusive mother demands that her daughter tell only her upon the very first sign of blood. Baaba, the mother, after Effia gets her period, conceals this from the others, claiming instead that there’s something wrong with her daughter, thereby allowing Baaba to marry Effia off, not to the chief, but to a British slave trader, who whisks her away to Cape Coast Castle, her prison of luxury. Underneath Effia’s feet, meanwhile, below the castle, Effia’s half-sister Esi (for it turns out Baaba isn’t Effia’s real mother, which accounts, though of course, doesn’t justify, her cruelty towards her) spends her fifteenth birthday in the horrifically inhumane slave dungeon, where hundreds of men, women, and children are left naked and unfed, amidst human waste and vomit-inducing smells. Esi comes from an Asante village, the tribe which would later go to war with Effia’s Fante people. The fates of these two women—one a slave, the other a slave trader’s wife—and their lineages—one in America, the other in Ghana—are richly and unflinchingly traced through the centuries to the present day, and Gyasi’s enormous scope allows for a multifaceted examination of the slavery’s disturbing history and the tragic way its powerfully destructive and demoralizing force reverberates long after its initial perpetrators and victims are gone, burning like a wildfire through lineages and social developments, insidiously forging its violence into troubling social mythologies, scarring families and histories and nations permanently, renewing the burn for succeeding generations, new wounds, unhealed, the agony made no less visceral by the distance from its source. Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing is an astounding novel of miraculous talent and remarkable moral range, certainly one of the best books of 2016.

     
  • The cover of the book The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards

    The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards

    Kristopher Jansma’s charming and knowing debut The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards is a few years old by this point (his follow-up novel Why We Came to the City came out earlier this year), but I just love it so much I wanted to include it here. The story of a young writer’s coming-of-age is that kind of concoction in which Jansma gets to poke fun at the conventions of the genre while still embracing the genre itself. The unnamed (or, actually, multi-named) narrator’s adventures on the way to becoming a writer work like a greatest-hits of Bildungsroman, and the protagonist is like a literary mix of Tristram Shandy, Huck Finn, and Ignatius J. Reilly. From risqué debutantes to writing workshops, Jansma covers the gamut of burgeoning male writer clichés, yet its self-awareness coupled with the narrator’s charms prevent it from becoming obnoxious or too in love with its own cleverness. The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards a delightful and poignant novel from a savvy young novelist.