Commonwealth by Ann Patchett ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

28214365Pages:  336

Published:  September 13, 2016

Format:  E-book

 

 

 

 

 

The opening scene is set up like artwork. You understand the background of the characters, the pace of their movements, the absurdity of their choices. You feel the heat of the summer day, understand the lives that the characters lead and the small town that they live in. You feel the music, the alcohol, the excitement, the dramatic turn of events that awaits. You feel some characters sliding out of focus while others are becoming more intensely illuminated even electrified. It’s as if a magic spell has been cast over the christening party with the the arrival of the handsome uninvited DA, his enormous bottle of liquor and love of oranges. The tension and magic builds feverishly until the kiss between Bert Cousins and Fix Keating’s beautiful wife, Beverly.

“Commonwealth” starts out as a gorgeously written story about two families disrupted so casually, so brutally by this kiss at a christening party.  The writing is so tight, so vivid, and the storyline is riveting.  It follows the lives of the children and the parents in the aftermath of divorce.  Each chapter is it’s own short story, jumping in space and time from the last. There are characters to love, to pity, to sympathize with, to worry about, to mourn for.   The characters are all so human and the essence of humanity is explored through each of them.

The chapters pertaining to the children growing up together, especially the ones taking place during the summer when all six children are together are astonishing.  They are so well written and seem to contain so much truth.  The amount of abandonment experienced by these children and hatred for their parents is astounding.  The children were on their own to do as they pleased and Albie, the youngest, was the only thing holding them back.  So, what did they do?  They drugged him.

Interestingly, this book is semi-autobiographical with many parallels to Ann Patchett’s life.  She grew up in a blended Catholic family.  Her father was a policeman.  Then, there is a chapter about how Franny becomes Leo Posen’s muse.  This writer, who is Franny’s lover, basically manipulates her life story into a novel, entitled Commonwealth, which is entirely her life and at the same time, not at all her life.

This story asks so many existential questions.  How important is a moment in time?  What would have happened if that one day had gone differently?  Would the outcomes have been similar?   What is important in the end?  How does family shape us?

As much as I adored the character development and the first three quarters of the novel, I must admit that some of the magic of it had departed by the end, for me.  The characters were dispersed geographically and emotionally.  As much as Ann Patchett gave me exactly what I wanted in the end, which was an understanding of all the mysteries and a knowing of how each character of these two families fared in life, this part was far less interesting to me.  Still, Ann Patchett is a brilliant, gifted writer and I was awed and amazed for at least the first three quarters of this book.  images-2

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Discussion Questions:

  1.   Fix tells the story of Loomis, how he died at age 29.  Which is better: to die young and healthy or old and sick?  How do he and Franny each feel about this question?
  2. Were there any characters you truly disliked?  Who and why?
  3. Why do you think that certain moments or parties are more susceptible to life-changing events or do you?  For instance at the Christening party, the lives of the Cousins’ and the Keatings’ were forever changed.  Additionally, the priest and Bonnie also came together at the Christening party.
  4. Did you realize the manner of Calvin’s death immediately or did you discover it later?  What clues were there?
  5. Discuss how each child handled and was affected by the divorce and resulting neglect.  Were there any characters that you felt were unaffected by it?
  6. Franny, the law school drop out, who loves reading, fall for Leo Posen, the acclaimed novelist.  Why do you think she is willing to share her story with him?  Is this therapeutic for her?  Is there guilt associated with it?
  7. Why is there such a cover-up associated with Cal’s death among the children?  Why is this necessary?
  8. How does Cal’s death eventually destroy the marriage of Beverly and Bert?
  9. Who are the children most loyal to in adulthood?  Who do they confide in?
  10. What do you make of Holly’s decision to live in Switzerland and meditate?  Is this therapeutic, escapist..?
  11. How are Fix Keating and Teresa Cousins affected by the divorce?  What changes does the divorce bring about in them?
  12. What was your favorite chapter (or short story) and why?
  13. Discuss the title and it’s meaning in the context of this novel.

 

Ann Patchett’s website

Jennifer Senior’s Review Published in the New York Times

Curtis Sittenfeld’s Review Published in the New York Times

Lit Lovers Discussion Questions

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

 

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Pages:  371

Published:  September 1, 2015

Awards:  Locus Award Nominee for Best First Novel

Format: Audiobook

 

 

 

This magical, fantastical, witty comedy of manners meets magical fairyland is so fun to read.  There is much foreshadowing to provide plenty of excitement and anticipation for the sequel which has not yet been published.  For all it’s playfulness, there is also an underlining seriousness to this novel.  This has to do with the politics of Britain and the treatment of women and people of color.  In fairyland, race does not matter, it is not even noticed.  Likewise, in fairyland, women are equally adept and capable of practicing magic as men are.  This is in stark contrast to England.  Politics and society are portrayed as a comedy of manners in Britain where people are tripping over themselves to maintain decorum despite the pervading racism and sexism.

The story is set in 19th century England.   Upon the death of his guardian and mentor, Zacharias Wythe becomes the “sorcerer royal” more out of obligation, than desire.   Given that he is a freed slave, a black man, there is much outcry against him.  There is an underground movement afoot to unseat him, led by the unscrupulous and dishonest Geoffrey Midsomer.    This all comes at a time when there is a drain on the magic in England, there are political entanglements with magicians from foreign lands, and war is ensuing with France.

Zacharias is asked to visit a school for gentle witches where the main objective is to banish or hide their magical abilities.  Zacharias immediately notices the magical talents of Prunella Gentleman, who was orphaned and left in the care of Mrs. Daubney at a young age.    Prunella has fallen out of favor with Mrs. Daubney, the headmistress of the school and Prunella’s guardian since her father’s death.  She asks Prunella to move to the servant’s quarters, but instead Prunella accompanies Zacharias back to London and begins to study thaurmatorgy with him.  Prunella has recently discovered herself in possession of a singing orb and seven familiar’s eggs.  As she begins to grow her familiars while looking for a husband, her powers grow, and a love interest develops between Zacharias and Prunella.   Prunella is certainly a “Cinderella” character, but one with much bravery, talent and ambition.  It is she who becomes the true star, the heroine of the novel, able to take the reins of her position, to succeed as the ultimate “Sorceress Royal.”

This is, of course, a very simplified and scaled back version of the novel.  There are many subplots within the main plot.  The novel is chock full of an interesting array of characters:  nosy society ladies, seedy politicians, faeries, vampiresses, curious familiars, mermaids, dragons, and much more!

This novel is craftily written, full of surprises and larger than life characters.  It is at once serious and whimsical.  It delights and  exceeds expectations.  I highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys fantasy fiction!! images-2

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What similarities do Prunella Gentleman and Zacharias Wythe share?
  2. Is magic seen as good or evil?  How does this differ depending upon the practitioner of magic?
  3. Discuss race and gender in the British society of this novel.  Does the author construe them as they were in 19th century Britain or modern day?   Is there a depiction of white supremacy and institutionalized oppression?  How so?
  4. How is Prunella like a Cinderella story?
  5. Discuss Mak Genggang’s role.
  6. How does Zacharias respond to Sir Stephen’s advice?  How does this differ from when Sir Stephen was alive?
  7. Discuss Prunella’s plans for the future of England.  What specific changes does she have in mind?
  8. How does Zacharias sacrifice himself for Sir Stephen?  How ultimately is the repaired?
  9. What is the value and cost of having a familiar?
  10. Zachary’s does not confront Sir Stephen about his parents until the end.  Please discuss.
  11. Discuss the parallel between Sir Stephen wanting to train a black sorcerer and Zacharias championing the rights of female magicians, or magiciennes.

Review by Marina Berlin published in “Strange Horizons”

Review published on “Galleywampus” blog

Review by Amal El-Mohtar published by NPR

Zen Cho’s website

Girl Over Paris #1 (Cirque American #1) by Gwenda Bond ~ Comic Review

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Published:  July 5, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

Comic books are not usually on my “to-read” shelf, but I picked this one up to read as part of Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge.   That being said, it was fun to sit on the couch and read this while my son was reading one of his “Big Nate” graphic novels.  We promised to trade afterwards.

Not being a comic book connoisseur, it is a bit difficult to discuss this book.  However, as a newbie, I will give it a try.  Thematically this comic is aimed at female teenagers, however it would not be disturbing in any way for a younger reader (8+).  The heroine in this comic is a tight rope walker, who has an enemy who is yet to be discovered.  This first comic in the series sets the stage, as she travels to Paris by plane with her agent, boyfriend and boyfriend’s sister.  The illustrations are great.  It was fun to read.  I do think it would be loved by teenage girls, especially those who have been brought up on comics and graphic novels.  There is a hook here, and even though comics are not in my usual repertoire, I may continue this series.  3-stars

The Tempest by William Shakespeare ~ Book Review

 

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Pages: 211

First Published: 1611

Format: E-book

 

 

 

 

As part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, I needed to read a play and what better play to read than The Tempest having recently read and adored Margaret Atwood’s retelling in Hag-Seed.  I have an even greater appreciation of Hag-Seed having read the original again.  It had been more than twenty years since I’ve read Shakespeare.  I found it simultaneously difficult to navigate the Old English and thematically extremely relevant to modern day.  There is so much complexity within this brief play, that it is no wonder that people study Shakespeare to such lengths!

This play takes place on an Island where the magician, Prospero, and his daughter Miranda have been living the last 12 years, since Prospero’s exile from his position as Duke of Milan.  The only other person on the Island during this time is Calaban, son of the evil witch, Sycorax, who used to live there as well.  Ariel is a fairy who does the bidding of Prospero.  Calaban is also enslaved to Prospero, having attempted to rape Miranda.  Prospero creates a tempest  which bring his enemies by shipwreck to his Island.  He scatters them across the Island such that Ferdinand the King’s son is separated from all others and will encounter Miranda, both falling in love with each other under Ariel’s spell.  Gonzalo, Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian are landed together.  During their time on the Island, Antonio and Sebastian plot against the king’s (Alonso’s) life, assuming that Ferdinand has perished.  Caliban, Trinculo and Stephano develop an alliance that intends to murder Prospero, so that they can take over the island.  Finally, all come together.  Prospero, with urging from Ariel, forgives all and all is calm.  Prospero, a thinly disguised Shakespeare, asks for applause to end his imprisonment.

There is much duality of humanity and the world represented within this play.  Themes of good versus evil, magical vs earthly, land versus sea, honest versus dishonest, free versus imprisoned, sober versus drunk pervade this play.  I loved the infusion of music, poetry and magic within this play.  There is obvious brilliance to the themes and the structure of the play.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and found many unique characteristics setting it apart from some of Shakespeare’s other works that I’ve read.  images-2

 

 

Study Questions and Essay Topics from Spark Notes

Discussion Questions from Schmoop

A teacher’s guide to The Tempest from Penguin Books

 

 

5 Debut Novels of 2016 and the New Authors Behind Them

What is better than finding a new author to love?  It opens up a whole new perspective, vantage point, and reads differently from what we are used to.   Here are 5 debut books of 2016 and the authors behind these great new works.

  1.  “Ways to Disappear” by Idra Novey – Published February 9, 2016

idra_photo25746685Residence:  She grew up in a small mining town in Pennsylvania.  She has lived in Chile and Brazil.  She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Work:  She has translated the work of several Brazilian writers; she’s taught at Princeton, Columbia, Fordham, NYU, The Catholic University of Chile, and in the Bard Prison Initiative

Something Interesting:  She met her husband on the subway and immediately knew she would marry him before even speaking to him.

 

 

2.  Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler – Published May 24, 2016

 

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th-4Lives:  Brooklyn, NY.  She moved to NYC after graduating from Kenyon College.

Work:  After waitressing, she obtained a MFA in creative writing from the New School and began work on her novel.

Something Interesting:  She is obsessed with poetry, there are pieces of poetry scattered throughout this novel.

3.  Rich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam – Published June 7, 2016

 

th-1Lives: in New York with his husband and 2 sons

Work: Has worked in magazine publish26890725-1ing and advertising.  Now, he writes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4.  Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi– Published June 7, 2016

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Residence:  Born in Ghana, raised in Huntsville, Alabama.  She and her boyfriend now live in the Bay area.

Work: She is a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.  She spent 7 years writing and researching this novel, which was published when she was only 26 years old.  The novel has been nominated for many awards.

 

5.  Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris – Published August 9, 2016

 

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Residence:  She grew up in England but has spent much of her adult life in France.  She is the mother of 5 daughters.

Work:  She has wo29437949rked both in finance and as a teacher.

Something Interesting:  She had suspicions about a friend’s marriage and her imagination is what provided the inspiration for writing this novel.

 

 

 

9 of the Most Popular Book Club Books of 2016

Choosing a book for book club can often be a fun yet laborious process.  I love the choosing of new books, hearing recommendations from others, discussing the pros and cons of reading different books, and trying to look for a book from a different genre than previously read.  Here are some books that have been repeatedly tagged on goodreads as “book club 2016.”  For each, I have attached a link to my review which  contains discussion questions as well as links to excellent reviews published in highly regarded places.  These books will be listed in the order of popularity.  Following the title are 3 words to try to best describe each novel.

 

 

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  1.  The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah –                                  Historical, France, WW2

This book is about the experience of two sisters during World War II in France and the ways in which they aid in the French resistance. It is a moving, emotional book, one in which you are not sure who the narrator is looking back over that time period.

Published Feb 2015

Review & discussion questions for The Nightingale

 

 

 

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2.  Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff – Literary, Marriage, Secrets

This novel is about a marriage. It is told in two parts, the first half from his perspective, the second half from hers. It is brilliantly written and a fascinating read. It was President Obama’s favorite book of 2015.

Published Sept 2015

Full review with discussion questions for Fates and Furies

 

 

 

 

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3.  My Grandmother asked me to tell you she’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman – Fantasy, Humor, Family

This novel, written by Swedish author, Fredrik Backman, is about the relationship between an 8 year girl and her grandmother. The grandmother has created a magical fantastical world which serves as a framework for understanding the people in her life and apartment building after her grandmother dies.

Published June 2015

Full review with discussion questions for My Grandmother asked me to tell you she’s Sorry

 

 

 

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4.  The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood –                                          Dystopian, Sci-Fi, Fantasy

This novel is about a dystopian society in which a young couple is given the option to live inside this compound where they will live in an idealistic community one month and prison on alternating months. It is a hilarious spoof on society as well as a chilling warning.

Published September 2015

Full review and discussion questions for The Heart Goes Last

 

 

 

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5.  Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld – Romance, Chick-lit, Retelling

This is a hilarious and addictive read.  Even though it is 500 pages long, it flies by.  This novel is a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice set in Cincinnati.  It is so fun and light and leaves the reader with all the warm fuzzy excitement that Pride and Prejudice did.

Published April 2016

Full review and discussion questions for Eligible

 

 

 

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6. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi –                                       Memoir, Medicine, Death

This is the only non-fiction book on this list.  It is the memoir of a  young neurosurgeon facing a terminal cancer diagnosis.  It is deeply philosophical and offers beautiful insights on life and death.

Published January 2016

Full review and discussion questions for When Breath becomes Air

 

 

 

 

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7.  The Girls by Emma Cline – Historical, Coming-of-Age, Thriller

 

A piece of historical fiction, reimagining the draw of Charles Manson’s ranch and the girls who lived there.  It is told from the perspective of adulthood and the contrast between girlhood and adulthood is shocking, amazing and informative.

Published June 2016

Full review and discussion questions for The Girls

 

 

 

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8.  My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout –                        Literary, Family, Poverty

A beautiful piece of writing by Elizabeth Strout that begins with the relationship and conversations between a mother and daughter.  The daughter is in the hospital for complications of appendicitis.  What goes unsaid between them is just as important as what is said.

Published January 2016

Full review and discussion questions for My Name is Lucy Barton

 

 

 

9.   The Underground Railroad by Colson Whithead                       Historical, Slavery, Race

A brilliant insightful novel highlighting the horrors of slavery and some of its aftermath.  It features a virtual underground railroad.

Published in August 2016

Full Review and discussion questions for Underground Railroad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie ~ Book Review

 

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Pages:  49

Published:  July 29, 2014

Format: paperback book

 

 

 

 

This short essay by one of my favorite authors is based on a popular TED talk of hers, thus it reads like she is speaking to you.  I love and agree with the content.  I love how personable and relatable she is, how human and humble she can be, how honest and genuine she comes across in her writing.  I love her vitality of spirit and the way she infuses humor into her stories.  Maybe, though, I was hoping for more from this. Maybe, because of her easy manner, this seemed too obvious.  Yes, women have come a long way, yet there is much further to go.  Yes, there are deep cultural biases that put men early in life in more positions of power.  Yes, we need to raise our daughters and sons more equally, not hold them to different standards.  Yes, we need to begin to redefine gender.  It’s an easy, beautiful quick read with an important message.  Adichie’s manner of explaining feminism and what it means makes it understandable and relatable to everyone.  images-2

Discussion Questions:

  1.  How does Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie redefine feminism?
  2. What cultural biases does she suggest that people have against feminism or people who call themselves feminists?
  3. Describe some ways you feel that your culture treats boys and girls differently.  At what age does this start?
  4. What are some ways we could try to effect change?
  5. Adichie discusses how women feel they need to dress like men in certain situations in order to gain more respect.  How did this make you feel when you read it?  Do you think this is because of the definitions we assign to gender within our society and culture?
  6. Adichie talks about feeling invisible at times.  Hosts of restaurants won’t look at her or address her.  Do you ever feel invisible because of your gender?

Review from The Telegraph

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi’s website

Chimamanda’s TED talk above.

A Gambler’s Anatomy by Jonathan Lethem ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

28686837Pages: 304

Published:  October 18, 2016

Format:  E-book from netgalley

 

 

 

 

 

A strange, unique, intellectual novel.  This, my first Jonathan Lethem novel, was decidedly interesting yet eclectic.  It was full of twists & turns as well as obscure references to historical, literary and film characters.  I felt that this book was in a genre the opposite of “chick-lit.”  It seemed geared toward men, focused on men, devoid of emotion.  The women in this novel were there ministering to the needs of the men.  It is about games, identity, masks, power, sex.  Relationships lacked any depth within this strange book which is full of smoke and mirrors, self identity crises, puppetry, and a feeling of unreality.

This is a novel about a handsome backgammon hustler, Bruno, who helps empty the pockets of the wealthy with the assistance of his handler, Falk, who arranges these meetings.  One night in Singapore, he encounters a high school acquaintance who takes it upon himself to learn backgammon and challenge Bruno to a match.  This is about the same time that Bruno notices the “blot” in his vision.  Of course, “blot” is also a backgammon term meaning, “a man exposed by being placed alone on a point and therefore able to be taken by the other player” making this a double entendre. This is the beginning of Bruno’s losing streak and ultimate diagnosis of a facial tumor which is causing the blot in his vision. There is a surgeon in San Francisco, Noah Behringer,  who will operate and Stolarsky agrees to pay all costs.  Thus, Bruno, penniless and at the mercy of others, is brought to Berkley, his hometown, a place he vowed he would never return.

Once the surgery is completed, Bruno feels naked without the blot and requests a mask.  This is reminiscent of his last backgammon game during which a young woman serving food came in wearing a mask and was naked from the waist down.  The gambler felt that he could communicate telepathically earlier in his life and the blot had helped to protect him from this unwanted gift.  Now that the blot is gone, he feels he is exposed again (that his telepathy has returned) and wants the blot back.  He feels that he was present during the surgery and remembers all that happened.  In fact, that is the only chapter which is told not from the gambler’s perspective but from that of the surgeon, almost as if he was inside the surgeon’s head at the time of surgery watching it happen, a very clever twist of story-telling.

The gambler becomes a pawn of Stolarsky’s.  Having no money of his own, he is living in an apartment within a building Sturgeon owns.  He must wear clothing that he purchases at the store Stolarsky owns, so ends up dressed in “Abide” clothing.  He is told to work at Kropotke’s burgers where he is made to wear a burlap mask with a noose around his neck.  Bruno, as a character, seems like a pawn in a game other people are controlling, either Falk (his handler) or Stolarsky, at this particular interval in his life.

Madchen is a beautiful blond he met on a ferry when he was headed to Berlin.  She was also the masked woman naked from the waist down who served sandwiches during his backgammon match in Berlin.  She is the only person who tries to contact him during his time in Berkley, as he seems to have no close friends or family.  When she is flown out by Stolarsky, she also becomes another piece in a game that Stolarsky seems to be playing, against Bruno and the anarchists with whom Bruno has taken up.

This novel is full of double entendres, irony, wit, intellectualism.  It is enticing, thought-provoking and strange.  For those who enjoy this type of novel, it will be dearly loved.  It is definitely not main-stream.  It is off the beaten path, odd, but brilliantly written.  3-stars

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What does the blot represent to Bruno?
  2. How is Bruno’s childhood important to the novel and what he has become?
  3. Explain Bruno’s telepathic powers.  Do these help him or hinder him in life, or make no difference?
  4. What effect does Bruno’s telepathy have on the surgeon who operated?
  5. What role does Madchen play in the novel?
  6. Explain why Alexander Bruno does not feel that he exists anymore at the end?
  7. Why is Tira Harpaz important?  What does she represent?

 

Review by Dwight Garner from the New York Times

Jonathan Lethem’s website

New York Times Review by Kurt Anderson

 

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

29437949Pages:  304

Published:  August 9, 2016

Format:  Audiobook

 

 

 

 

 

Behind Closed Doors is the debut novel of B.A. Paris, reminiscent of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train.  It is a domestic thriller that one wants to plow through.  It keeps you on the edge of your seat, needing to know the eventual outcome.  I listened to the audio version of this and thought the narrator, Georgia Maguire, did a terrific job.

This book made me very uncomfortable, however.  The narrative is from the perspective of a psychologically abused wife, Grace, whose husband, Jack, meant physical harm to the Grace’s younger sister with Down’s syndrome, Milly.   Grace is literally imprisoned by her husband who derives pleasure from the fear he senses in his victims.  She is locked in a room most of the time and cannot write emails or socialize unless under strict supervision of her husband.  Although this book invokes some real truths of domestic abuse, it really goes way over the top.  Jack, the psychopath, is absolute scum of the earth.  It was mind-blowing to me that someone could dream up this scenario, and the harm he wishes to inflict on Milly.

I found that the novel required the reader to take several leaps of faith to allow the wife to fall into this situation.  Jack and Grace have only a few short months of getting to know each other, and during this time have very little quality or intimate time.  Jack asks Grace to quit her job, handover the money from selling her flat, and convinces Grace’s parents to move to New Zealand immediately after the wedding.  He is whittling away her autonomy even before they are married.  He does not like the idea of having Grace’s sister, Milly,  in the wedding, and when Milly falls backwards down the stairs to the church (necessitating hospitalization for a broken leg), as he is walking alongside her, Grace is completely non-suspecting.  The wedding proceeds despite this.  Then, Jack disappears on their wedding night not to return until the next day just before their flight, sending a repugnant text message and then refusing to take Grace to visit Milly before heading to the airport as they had planned.  And Grace still agrees to go to Thailand with him!  These things were all hard to swallow!

However, once Grace is fully secured as his prisoner, and the mind games begin, it is rewarding to see Grace begin to win some of these games, and eventually come out as a survivor.  It is also rewarding to find that Ester and Adam had connected the dots and would help her in the end.

In summary, for those who love a good edge of your seat thriller, you will probably really enjoy this.  The writing isn’t spectacular and if you look closely, there seem to be flaws in the creation of the premise, but if you can let that go, it is enjoyable.  Again, I thought Georgia Maguire did an excellent job with the audible version, so you might want to give that a go.  3-stars

Discussion Questions:

  1.  The format of the book alternates between past and present.  How does this add to the book?
  2. What clues are present prior to Jack and Grace’s marriage that Jack might be a psychopath?
  3. Do you think Grace falls in love with Jack before marrying him or just the idea of having a charming man who is accepting of her sister as well?
  4. Why do you think Grace is so vulnerable to Jack’s charms?
  5. How do the Jack and Grace appear to their friends?
  6. What key pieces of information does Ester pick up on?
  7. What tactics of domestic abuse does Jack employ in his dealings with Grace?
  8. How is Milly depicted in this novel?  What are some key roles that she plays?
  9. Is the ending satisfying or were you hoping that Jack was found out publicly?
  10. What do you predict will happen in the aftermath of this novel?  Will Grace be cleared?

 

Review on bookchatter.net by a fellow blogger

Discussion Questions by Litlovers

 

 

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

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Pages:  305

Published:  June 7, 2016

Format:  Audiobook

 

 

 

 

 

“The family is like the forest: if you are outside it is dense; if you are inside you see that each tree has its own position.”  –Akan Proverb

This magnificent sweeping tale of eight generations gives a broad look and much insight into the history of slavery and the slave trade. The writing is incredible!  Each chapter focuses upon a family member and is so richly described, containing so much history, emotion and conflict that each could theoretically be further developed into a novel of its own.

Homegoing begins in Cape Coast, Africa in which is modern day Ghana.  Cobbe has a child with a house girl, who we know as Maame.  Effia, the daughter, is raised as Babba’s (Cobbe’s first wife’s) daughter.  This house slave ends up free by marrying an Asante and has a second daughter Esi who ends up kidnapped by the Fantes and sold into slavery.   For a brief time period, Esi lives in the basement of the castle with the other slaves while her half-sister, Effia is above, married to James, one of the slave traders.  Both Esi and Effia have the necklaces handed down to them by their mother, until Esi’s is lost as her ancestry and heritage is stolen from her by being sent to America as a slave.  The novel begins with Effia’s and Esi’s stories and continues through generations upon generation of their offspring.

The book has two parts.  The first half reads like a fable.  It is vibrant with the culture of the African people.  The story-telling is itself true to the culture of these people, full of their belief systems.  For me, the magic of the book lies in this first half.  It is fascinating to learn about the Asantes and Fantes, their beliefs, and the warring that occurs between them. The second half becomes more straight forward in its manner of relating the stories of the characters, as we get closer to modern day.

I listened to this novel and the audio version is amazing!  I also obtained a physical copy of this book afterwards so I could refer back to spellings of names of characters.

The most important theme running through this book is that of slavery and what it did to these people, effectively cutting off their ancestry, their heritage, making them a different people from Africans.  Marjory, in chapter 14, does not feel African-American, because she was born in Ghana.  This was reminiscent, for me, of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi’s “Americanah”  in this respect.  However, it is the in-between period which becomes so illuminated and shocking when viewed over eight generations.  Gyasi depicts a beautifully functioning African culture that becomes fractured by the slave trade.    The horrors of slavery and it’s aftermath are put in perspective with this broadly sweeping novel.  We are still dealing with the aftermath today, and Gyasi bravely posits the question of where will it end.

Even though each chapter reads as a short story, Gyasi, does a beautiful job of weaving themes through the story, connecting them in so many ways.  Gyasi tackles so many subjects within this novel that it is impossible to enumerate them all in a quick review.  I’ve touched on many within the discussion questions.  Suffice it to say, this is an incredible read, and I recommend it to everyone!  I am amazed that this is a debut novel by such a young author!images

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Cape Coast Castleslavetrade-deblijmap

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Map of the slave trade

 

Favorite Quotes:

“Weakness is treating someone as though they belong to you.  Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves.”  — Essie’s Maame

“Evil is like a shadow, it follows you everywhere.”

“I can only make the impossible attainable…  People think they are coming to me for advice, but really, they come to me for permission.”  — Mampanyin, witch doctor

“Beulah was running.  Maybe this was where it started, Jo thought.  Maybe Beulah was seeing something more clearly on the nights she had these dreams, a little black child fighting in her sleep against an opponent she couldn’t name come morning because in the light that opponent just looked like the world around her.  Intangible evil.  Unspeakable unfairness.  Beulah ran in her sleep, ran like she’d stolen something, when really she had done nothing other than expect the peace, the clarity, that came with dreaming.  Yes, Jo thought, this was where it started, but when, where, did it end?”

“Evil begets evil.  It grows.  It transmutes, so that sometimes you cannot see that the evil in the world began as the evil in your own home.”  —Akua

“When someone does wrong whether it is you or me, whether it is mother or father, whether it is the Gold Coast man or the white man, it is like a fisherman casting a net in the water.  He keeps only one or two fish that he needs to feed himself and puts the rest in the water, thinking that their lives will go back to normal.  No one forgets that they were once captive, even if they are now free.” –Akua

“Most people lived on upper levels, not stopping to peer underneath.”  –Marcus

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Discuss the theme of fire throughout the book.
  2. Discuss the meaning of family and ancestry, knowing where you come from in this book.
  3. How are women treated within different cultures in this novel?
  4. Discuss the importance of scars as a theme in this book.  Does the author believe that scars can be inherited or passed down from one generation to the next?
  5. Who was your favorite character and why?  Which chapter did you like best?
  6. Discuss the meaning of obroni and the effect this word had on people.
  7. What do you think the meaning of the title “Homegoing” is?
  8. What effect do the British have on Africa as slave traders?  as missionaries?
  9. Discuss the theme of rape in the book.  Both Ese’s mame and Ese are raped as slaves.
  10. Discuss the theme of power and the various places it is found:  in Effia’s beauty, in Kujo’s physical strength, in James’ lineage…
  11. Discuss the character of Quey and how his father deals with his apparent homosexuality.
  12. How is race perceived differently in different locations?  Africa, the south vs. the north?
  13. How is race defined in different ways within the novel?  By skin color, by speech?
  14. What is the role of religion and belief systems within this novel?
  15. Discuss the quotes mentioned above and their relevance to the novel and it’s themes.
  16. Yaw is a teacher of history.  What does he teach his students about the learning of history?  How is the theme of storytelling important within this chapter as well as throughout the novel?
  17. Discuss the figure of Akua.  Crazy woman or sage woman?  Is it a matter of interpretation?

Isabel Wilkerson’s Review from the New York Times

Michiko Kakutani”s review in the NY Times

Reading Guide by Lit Lovers

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