The Novels That Shaped Our World

When the Sunday New York Times “By the Book” section asks someone, usually a writer, to identify books they are reading or one with a powerful impact on their lives, I feel so connected to the person when a book I know is named. If it’s a book new to me, I usually look for it in the library.  Like many of you, I love finding book lists and recommendations.

So, when the BBC decided to ask a panel of leading writers, curators and critics to choose “100 genre-busting novels that have had an impact on their lives,” I could not wait to review the list. “These English language novels, written over the last 300 years, range from children’s classics to popular page turners. Organized into themes, they reflect the ways books help shape and influence our thinking.”

I was equally surprised by the books on the list I had read, the books I had not read, and those I had never heard of. Some were predictable, like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Huxley’s Brave New World, and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. Some seemed fun to read but below the mark, like Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones Diary. Others were tempting to find, just by the title and author’s reputation, like Ali Smith’s How to Be Both.

I’ve read only about a third on the list, some as required reading in my past life, but I was pleased to see a newer book – Homegoing.

My top ten from the list include these I’ve read – and still remember:

  1. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  2. Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett
  3. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
  4. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
  5. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
  6. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
  7. Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield
  8. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
  9. The Witches by Roald Dahl 
  10. Rebecca by Dapne du Maurier

If you are interested in checking out the complete list, you can find it at https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/494P41NCbVYHlY319VwGbxp/explore-the-list-of-100-novels-that-shaped-our-world 

My next read should be fun – discovered from the list:

Psmith, Journalist – P. G. Wodehouse  

Free from Gutenberg Press but I want the pictures, so I’ve ordered it from my library.

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday Shortlist

The Broke and Brookish suggestion to list books for a book club discussion had me reviewing my reading and thinking about what I would like to discuss.  One of my book clubs is about to reveal the list of books for 2017 at their annual luncheon in November; books are chosen by the person hosting the discussion but must be readily available in the library.  Another smaller group picks books bimonthly at the end of each meeting – sometimes newer books not yet in the library system and one none of us have read.  Constantly looking for another book to read, book lists are like candy to me.  I devour them instantly and want more.

Here is my short list (with links to my reviews)  but there are so many more…

Florence Gordon   by Brian Morton

The Many  by Wyl Menmuir

The Other Side of the Bridge by Mary Lawson

Homegoing  by Yaa Gyasi

The Door by Magda Szabó

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Homegoing

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.