BOOK REVIEW: Homegoing – by Yaa Gyasi

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Title: Homegoing
Author: Yaa Gyasi

Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
First published: June 7th 2016
Publisher: Knopf
Finished reading: November 21st 2016 
Pages: 305
Rating 4qqq

“You want to know what weakness is? Weakness is treating someone as though they belong to you. Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves.”

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As soon as I came across this story a few months ago, I just knew I had to read it at some point. I always have a weak spot for a solid historical fiction novel, and Homegoing had all the signs it was going to be just that. I somehow ended up posponing this read longer than I had initially planned, but the Goodreads Choice Awards were the perfect excuse to finally pick up this novel by Yaa Gyasi. And there is no doubt that Homegoing deserves its nomination. It’s a truly interesting historical fiction novel set in both Africa and the US, starting in the 18th century with two characters and following their future generations during centuries. I actually kind of had One Hundred Years Of Solitude flashbacks every time I considered this aspect of Homegoing, and that is definitely a compliment. Sure, the story is a bit confusing in the beginning, mostly due to the sheer amount of characters that are introduced over time. The pace was also a tad slow at times, but that is all forgotten if you look at just how brilliantly written this story actually is. The author is able to include so many important moments in the history of both slavery and race problematics in general, and manages to do so without it feeling like a dull history book. Each character adds a little something to the story, and even though it was hard to keep track of them at times, the fact that there are so many of them adds to the charm. Homegoing is without doubt a very powerful and well researched historical fiction novel that I can recommend to any fan of the genre with my eyes closed.

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Two half-sisters are separated by forces beyond their control: Esi is sold into slavery, while Effia was married to a British slaver. Their future and and those of their future generations of family have been changed forever by this fate, and their destinies will eventually lead them through two continents and three hundred years of history. The true legacy of slavery will be revealed with its many many aspects, all with the help of these two generations of families.

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While not perfect, Homegoing is without doubt well researched and is one of the most interesting books on slavery I’ve read to this date. Thanks to the three hundred years and different generations of those families, Yaa Gyasi is able to talk about so many important fact relating to both slavery and race problematics in general. And even though the pace is a bit slow and the sheer amount of characters can get confusing, there is no doubt that this is an excellent historical fiction novel with a powerful message.

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ARC REVIEW: The Bitter Side Of Sweet – by Tara Sullivan

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Title: The Bitter Side Of Sweet
Author: Tara Sullivan

Genre: YA, Realistic Fiction, Contemporary
First published: February 23rd 2016
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Finished reading: October 6th 2016
Pages: 336

Rating 4,5qqq

“We sit like that until the sun bleeds into the night sky and the cracks in the wooden shed door glow pink. When this happens I know we’ve made it through the worst of it. Pain is like sadness; both are easier to bear in daylight.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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I have a weak spot for stories set in (for me) foreign cultures, so I was sold as soon as I read the blurb of this novel by Tara Sullivan. I’m glad I decided to read it, because the story simply blew me away. Even though The Bitter Side Of Sweet is a fictional story, it’s based on actual facts and it shows the author knows a lot about the topic. The descriptions of both the general setting, the cacao farm and the characters are very well done and help you form a better picture of something that is actually happening right now in those countries. The main characters and young brothers Amadou and Seydou are fictional, but they are an example of what thousands of children have to go through while they are being forced to work at a cacao farm under difficult conditions and without pay. And I can assure you, it definitely gives you something to think about. The story itself might have a few flaws including the credibility of the young brother’s journey, but the strong message behind The Bitter Side Of Sweet makes you forget all about them. Overall it’s without doubt a brilliant read I can recommend to everyone who enjoys the genre.

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Set in modern-day Ivory Coast, two young brothers are struggling to survive on a cacao farm. Amadou and Seydou are forced to work without pay and have to chop down enough cacao pods every day to avoid punishment. The higher the number, the safer they are and the higher the chances of not getting beaten. And who knows, the bosses might let them return home again if they work hard enough… The problem is Amadou doesn’t know how high the debt to his bosses is and they won’t tell him. They were only trying to earn money during the dry season, but were tricked into forced labor instead. With no hope of escape, all they can do is try their best to stay alive; until Khadija comes into their lives. She is the first girl ever to come to camp and has a wild spirit. She doesn’t stop her attempts of escape, involving the brothers against their will. But it does remind Amadou what it means to be free…

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My intuition was right when I first saw The Bitter Side Of Sweet mentioned, because it was exactly the book I enjoy reading. It’s a well written story with a fast pace and strong message that is not easy to forget. The characters are well developed and even though their ‘adventure’ is not at all times completely credible, it is still an excellent read. Therefore I can recommend this story to anyone who enjoys the genre and/or has an interest in the topic.

BOOK REVIEW: The Alchemist – by Paulo Coelho

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Title: The Alchemist
Author: Paulo Coelho
Genre: Classics, Fantasy, Philosophy
First published: 1988
Finished reading: March 18th 2014
Pages: 197
(Originally written in Portuguese: O Alquimista)
Rating 3,5

“We are travelers on a cosmic journey,stardust,swirling and dancing in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity. Life is eternal. We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other, to meet, to love, to share.This is a precious moment. It is a little parenthesis in eternity.”

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I’ve been wanting to read the work of Paulo Coelho for while now, and I finally decided to read one of his most famous novels, The Alchemist. It was a shame I couldn’t find a version in Portuguese, but for now the English translation will have to do. I must be honest to say I didn’t know what the story was about before I started reading. (Which I call rather ignorant, but hey, I can’t be knowing every book can I?) So I was both surprised, awed and irritated by the deeper meaning of the story. It might be contradictory, but in a way the message of the story was a bit too religious for me. Still, the part of ‘following your dreams’ and ‘listening to your heart‘ I can really relate to. It is a relatively short novel and if you haven’t read it, I suggest you do… Who knows, it might inspire you!

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The Alchemist is about a young Andalusian shepherd named Santiago who had the same dream twice. Both a gypsy and a man who calls himself king confirm that his dream was a vision, and convince him that he should follow his dream. There is a treasure waiting for him somewhere, and to find it he should cross the sea to Africa. The supposedly king tells him he will find the treasure near the Pyramids in Egypt, and he should follow his heart and read the omens send to him in order to get to his destination. Various obstacles cross his way, but they only help him grow and learn more about himself. Even love cannot stop him from his goal, and he opens his eyes to the Soul of the World… Until he finally understands.

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Although part of The Alchemist is too religious in a way, I do understand the overall message Paulo Coelho is trying to give. And while I may not agree with all of it, I still can relate to some parts like ‘following your dreams‘ and ‘listening to your heart’. I guess most people will be able to relate to some of the philosophical messages in The Alchemist, and it is without doubt and interesting read.

BOOK REVIEW: Shake Hands With The Devil – by Romeo Dallaire

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Title: Shake Hands With The Devil
Author: Roméo Dallaire
Genre: Non Fiction, History, Memoir
First published: October 21st 2003
Finished reading: December 17th 2012
Pages: 562
(Originally written in French: ‘J’ai serre la main du diable’)

Rating 3,5qqq

“The global village is deteriorating at a rapid pace, and in the children of the world the result is rage. It is the rage I saw in the eyes of the teenage Interahamwe militiamen in Rwanda, it is the rage I sensed in the hearts of the children of Sierra Leone, it is the rage I felt in crowds of ordinary civilians in Rwanda, and it is the rage that resulted in September 11. Human beings who have no rights, no security, no future, no hope and no means to survive are a desperate group who will do desperate things to take what they believe they need and deserve.”

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I always like reading a non fiction story every once in a while and I’ve actually had a course involving war crimes and genocide during uni, so when I saw a copy of Shake Hands With The Devil: The Failure Of Humanity In Rwanda I was immediately intrigued. In this non fiction novel Roméo Dallaire tells his story of what happened during his time in Rwanda and how politics have influenced in the disasters that happened in 1993. It’s not that he tries to blame someone else, but he does want to show why he couldn’t do more to help the people of Rwanda after he was sent to serve as a force commander of the UN intervention. Betrayal, naïveté, racism, international politics and its consequences… Roméo Dallaire never had an easy job and his memories of his days in the African country still devastate him. It was really brave of him to write down his story and even though it took me a long time to finish this read, I’m glad I had the opportunity to learn more about his experience and deepen my knowledge about the genocide in Rwanda. It’s not an easy story to read and actually quite depressing, but if you are interested in the theme Shake Hands With The Devil does have an interesting perspective.

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The Canadian Roméo Dallaire was sent to serve as force commander of the UN intervention in Rwanda in 1993. What he thought was a simple peacekeeping mission slowly turned into a bloody nightmare… And he has his hands tied as he witnesses the slaughter of 800.000 Rwandans in 100 days. Dallaire recreates the events that lead to the genocide and explains how humanity failed to stop it despite timely warnings… The international community preferring to turn their backs on the problem rather than act accordingly. He also explains the difficulties he had to get the proper equipment sent to him and the treacherous politics around the whole affair… Not denying his own failure and weaknesses, Dallaire helps make the reader understand what happened during the mission and where it went wrong.

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Shake Hands With The Devil is a truly intriguing memoir and a heartbreaking account of the genocide in Rwanda. As the force commander of the UN intervention Roméo Dallaire experiences the horrors during 1993 first hand and by telling his story he wants to bring awareness as to how humanity essentially failed to prevent the murder of all those innocent Rwandans. It’s a dark, violent and depressive story, but also an excellent read for the right person.