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Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi: Book Review

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In June this year, I bought and downloaded ‘Homegoing’ by Yaa Gyasi onto my tablet, and I finally completed it today and it was such a different book from the ones I normally read and very relevant for the UK’s Black History Month that I wanted to talk about it. It is an amazing piece of literature definitely deserving a review. 

Yaa Gyasi is a Ghanaian-American novelist and Homegoing is her debut novel. At only 26 she has already won awards for this novel and of course, they are well deserved. According to her Wikipedia, Homegoing was inspired by a trip to her home country of Ghana, that she had not visited since being an infant. Homegoing is a phrase used for African-American funerals and is a big part of the culture and history. Back in the days of the slave trade, slaves believed death meant their soul would ‘go home’ and return to their native place in Africa. Of course, as the novel starts in the 18th century and explores the theme of slavery so raw and bluntly, I can see why Gyasi used this as a title. Of course, when I started reading I knew deep down this book was going to be more educational to me than it would ever be empathetic because this is a book of black history and the suffering, discrimination and such African people went through from 18th century onwards. I think it is a good idea for white people to read stories like this as it’s stories that are true and need to be told. Not forgotten. So many people went through so many things to even get to where we are today and in recent stories such as the rise of Black Lives Matters, the obvious problem of racism in many industries and shootings of black youth by police – it’s very important to remember we’ve still got a long way to go in learning from our ancestor’s discrimination and cruelty.


Admittedly I was terrible with keeping up on my reading on the first few chapters of Homegoing but I don’t put that down to the writing or topic at all. I’m very bad for procrastinating reading. But recently I picked up Homegoing again and got sucked back in and even between University classes or on the tram home I have found myself wishing I had more time to ‘just finish this chapter’ or ‘find out who the next character is’. Each character was so different but I loved how you could trace back the relatives and descendants to the original characters of Effia and Esi. Family/ancestors are an important theme in this story. It also explores two regions of Ghana, the Ashanti people and the Fante. From reading this I am so in love and amazed by Gyasi’s knowledge and research of her culture and the past of Ghana. Even at the end of the book I looked at her list of references and was incredibly impressed. The passion to spread the knowledge and history of Ghana is so amazing and Gyasi is an incredible author and writes each character so beautifully and makes each of their stories so unique, that you find yourself glued to the book intrigued.

Gyasi does not spare anything writing the honest past of these characters and how some of them lived through well-known history including the African Slave Trade, the Plantation era, segregation in the US, riots, war on drugs etc., it left me feeling like I had gotten a more honest and powerful insight to how people of colour experienced these times. A quote that stood out to me massively about half way through the book was:

“We believe the one who has power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history you must 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 get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.” 

This stood out because I think it’s a quote and question to ask yourself even now. What’s in the history books in school in the US isn’t always correct. Things are missed out, people are missed out. Think of the Ferguson riots and many other riots after innocent black youth had been killed after. Thankfully on Twitter, people are lot more quick to notice the anomalies, but there was so many call outs for ‘trustworthy’ media ignoring important facts or honest stories from black witnesses. Media would paint the white policeman as a victim and the barely even adolescent black child as not. In this day and age, racism is systematic and history is changed to suit those who are in charge.


As I prepared to write this review, I actually scanned over other people’s reviews and one talked about how most ‘the past of slavery’ centered books tend to just be there to shock and upset. I don’t really agree and I definitely think Homegoing is different from that. It doesn’t give you a bird’s eye view, it puts you right there in the character’s shoes. It takes you through generations to see how, even though the African slave trade is in the past, things still effect people of colour today. There is still lasting effects and that we shouldn’t ever forget about it. It’s not something we can brush under a rug or let a white leader convince us that it’s all ‘over and done with’.

I wanted to make this a spoiler-free review but I’ll mention briefly, the ending characters who close the book for me were based in the 21st century, I’m guessing around 2001. The final female character, Marjorie, takes our final male character Marcus back to Ghana where she grew up, more specifically, the Cape Coast. The story itself starts with fire and fire is actually a prominent theme throughout the story, however as the two characters stand on the beach in the sun there is this one paragraph:

She walked to where he stood, where the fire met the water. He took her hand and they both looked out into the abyss of it. The fear that Marcus had felt inside the castle was still there, but he knew it was like the fire, a wild thing that could still be controlled, contained.”

I thought this was such an amazing little scene that I actually wrote it down. I loved the contrasting symbolism of starting with a fire and ending with water. I can never spot or decipher exactly what this symbolism could have meant to the author but I feel it was to maybe be a metaphor for the character’s futures. The vast, big sea on the coast of Ghana, the character’s ancestors homes – where it all started. To show despite all of the anger, distress, brutality, violence and suffering the characters go through during the book, they are still there. They are still strong and part of the Earth. Their ancestries are important stories to the Earth and despite how horrible the world can be, people will keep fighting. The ocean scene is almost like a healing scene compared to the rest of the book, although it is clear you are meant to understand that racism and discrimination is still rampant, the two characters are given a moment of peace and clarity, of happiness.

I think this is definitely a novel to pick up this year and read as it is so educational and relevant even now. The cover art I have seen for it is also beautifully illustrated and it’s just such a raw, enthralling book that I might consider getting a physical copy for myself to read again in the future.

Thank you for reading, Homegoing is currently available here on Amazon UK

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can you have both a glass is half-full mindset and a half-empty mindset?

I recently stumbled upon a spoken word video/poetry video from a poet speaking about how the world has gone to chaos and such and how ‘this world should end’. His background of choice was a broken, abandoned house in the middle of nowhere and he sat on what he could make out of the rubble and spoke about how this world should end because the air is polluted, water contaminated, our food is genetically processed and our governments are greedy. Now at first my instant emotion was to feel depressed. To feel a heavy sigh in my chest and to not really want to watch the whole thing because of the sour mood it would inevitability put me in. I didn’t want it to feel like I was discrediting the poet or ignoring his message because his message was the kind of thing all humans need to know, especially the ones who have more power to make change. This poet was releasing extreme truths and things that could hit anyone of any background close to home and I am proud of him for speaking out and was, obviously, inspired by what he said because it got me thinking – what is the better option in this current generation? To think optimistically or to think pessimistically?

As soon as I closed out Facebook to try and soften the blow of sadness that some posts on that website can inflict, I went downstairs to make myself a cup of tea. Equipped with a warm bed robe just taken off the radiator and strolled past my cat who was warm and content next to the stairs. I gave him a stroke and turned on the kettle and started thinking – is it bad to praise the good things in the world? The world is shit and I agree. As a kid who grew up with intense fear of global warming and environmental damage from a weirdly young age, I couldn’t agree more with the fact that humans have messed up the environment we’ve been given. We should have done more to look after it before it got too late for some animal species and plant species. We should be putting more effort into safe energy and more effort into decreasing harmful emissions. But as I sat there letting the kettle brew, I ranted to myself in my head that it’s even more depressing and ignorant to sit by and just accept the doom of a shitty world. There are positives to the generation I live in.

If I was a child in the 19th century, I definitely wouldn’t have been able to have my parents or older family members around now, people I know or even myself may have died from an illness or injury that, in this generation, I could have been easily cured of due to the evolution of healthcare and medical studies. There has been so much progression in technology and science discoveries that can benefit people and animals. We have discovered new species and creatures due to that advancement and I think that’s amazing. In this current generation, although it is still debatable and there is still prejudice and hate crimes, people are working more and more to get LGBT people the safety and equality they deserve but it’s not even been long since it was decriminalised. Racism and racial prejudice is still prominent in so many countries around the world including the UK and US but the internet and communities work so hard to oppose and call out systematic racism. If it wasn’t for the internet and people talking about Black Lives Matter, I may have not even been educated on police systematic racism. Some people would call the internet a downfall of our generation, saying children don’t get the right childhood anymore because of the internet but you could look at the internet positively by saying news is spread much more fast than it was in the past. The internet can also hold many communities that benefit people. If a teenager is feeling lost in their own world they can turn to the internet to discover hobbies, games, music or forums that create distractions for them and may even benefit them and make them happy. More and more people are switching to vegetarian and vegan diets in this current year to which shows a progression for dietary and animal rights.

Of course, when I was thinking that there are so many positives to this world now that people may overlook in the spiral of depression and hatred that there is currently, I didn’t want to be the ignorant one. I don’t want to turn a blind eye to the world’s negatives or what stuff we need to change. If I could ask for wishes about the world I would ask for so much instantly. I want everyone to switch to safer, environmentally friendly energy choices. I want people to create materials that decompose and are safer for the environment. I want people to learn the harm of systematic oppression and racism and educate others. But what can I do if I sit there and just wallow in the fact that the world is ‘shit’? How are any of us going to change if we just accept that the world is shit and wait for our lives to finish?

Would everyone thinking with just a half full or just a half empty mindset help anyone? I think people need to discuss and share the positives of everyday life just as much as we’re quick to share a poem or video about how shit the world is. I think the world could change if we try to look for positive progress as much as negative things. Because if there is negativity, there is no point in sitting behind a computer and complaining but then not doing anything and just accepting it. What do you guys think? Do you think I’m mad for even trying to think of positives? Do you think it makes me ignorant? I’d love to hear people talk more on what they think about trying to make a change for our world, even if its small things.

Thanks for reading my ramblings,

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You do not decide the world that lives inside my brain

Sometimes in my life my anxiety causes me to not feel that I am really inside my head. Sometimes I feel like something that is watching a human walk around and I try to help it make decisions but sometimes it just zones out and isn’t completely present. This is called dissociation and it is an experience where you feel separate from your body and your sense of identity and thoughts, as well as the way you view the world and yourself change quite drastically. Sometimes when I get into these weird states where I don’t feel 100% there I find it harder to remember memories or even mix up memories that are other peoples or sometimes I’ve noticed recently when I have realistic dreams I sometimes believe these are actual things that happened way in the past. For example I had a dream one of my friends had a tooth growing out of their gum, as if they were having their final adult tooth growing through or something along that lines and I feel like I can remember avidly them telling me they had toothache and pulling up their upper lip to show me it. However a few weeks later when I asked them about their tooth apparently that never happened and their gums were normal.

In these states my anxiety can be a real struggle as well, you don’t feel right about your identity, you worry that people think different of you than what you want to believe, you are worried that your interests and what you like might come across as fake or false or even in really  bad  states I even feel that I don’t have a personality at all. But at the end of the day my anxiety and struggles make me. They help me grow as a person and coming to terms with them and being able to sit back and go ‘no your worries don’t define you, you have these personality traits that make you lovable’.

Growing up it was definitely not that easy to accept how sensitive I was to comments about my personality, choices, thought processes or dreams. When I got to the age of picking my GCSEs, I excitedly dragged my mum to the GCSE Art stall to discuss what doing the GCSE was like and the head of art turned around and said that I shouldn’t do it. That I wouldn’t be able to handle it and I would not pass it. Yet here I am, I passed GCSE Art and passed my college course of Art and Design with a DMM Grade (D being Distinctions, M’s being Merits. These are almost like A’s and B’s in A Level Terms).  I am proud of my younger self for not letting the teacher’s words cut me to the core although the amount of times I’d sit at home over my work and cry cause I didn’t think art was right for me. I will continue being strong like my younger self was during that time and not let people tell me what and what I shouldn’t do with my dreams and ambitions.

People who do not know you and the world set out in your mind cannot dictate what you are here on earth for. This post is a reminder for everyone struggling with identity struggles, personality struggles or anxiety. This is for anyone who is trying to decide what to study in University and their peers are telling them to go towards other areas of study yet something else feels right in your head. If you feel drawn towards Science, you go for that Science course – you know yourself better than anyone else knows you.

Today I was having a really bad case of anxiety attacks and symptoms whilst I was at work and whilst putting back some baskets a customer approached me and asked me for some help. She asked if I could recommend a product to cover a hole in her garden. I was hired for the job of working on checkouts at my current job so I advised this lady that I did not have training in homeware or gardenware and that I would go and get someone to help. After running all the way to customer service, unable to find anyone that wasn’t busy and ran back to her. When I told her she turned around and went “No. No. You people are supposed to know this stuff, you are hired to help me.”.

So to this customer and anybody else who thinks I am supposed to know certain things to aid them.
I have a name.
I am a person.
I am not ‘you people’.
I am hired to help as much as I possibly can and to help the store make money.
I am not here for you. I am here for myself.
I am here to learn and gain experience so I can go to University.
I will not let your rude attitude define me and define why I was put here in this store.

I am Helena and I am here on earth to make my dreams happen. I am here to gain happiness and education. I am here in this job because I want to work and earn experience and income so I can go to University and travel.

 

Thanks for reading,
Helena

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#notinmyname

Yesterday Parliament voted that Britain will join the coalition of nations that are sending airstrikes to Syria. The MPs vote was 397 to 223 in favour of sending RAF Tornadoes to Syria. Personally I am disgusted by the decisions of our government and hope David Cameron and all the swines that voted in favour of it realise the blood on their hands. Foreign secretary Philip Hammond warned us that these airstrikes won’t even be a small amount of time. This could go on for a year. Our government are now murderers and we have to sit back and watch them make these terrible impulsive decisions.

Yes what happened to Paris is unforgivable. All the innocent people who lost their lives, I can’t even imagine what they went through – but bombing Syria is no better than what happened to Paris.

Remember last night when you went to bed. Remember putting your head on the pillow and being able to relax and doze off.
Imagine being a child in Syria. Imagine trying to fall asleep but tossing and turning cause for all you know tomorrow morning you might not wake up.

Imagine not being able to play in the streets and wander without a care in the world. Imagine feeling the sickly goosebumps of fear crawl all over you every time you hear a loud noise near you.

Imagine panicking every time you send your kids off to see their friends cause you might not see them return. Imagine wondering if your kiss to your significant other when they go out might be the last ever.

Imagine not having the comfort of the home you’re in now. Imagine not having your own unique room with it’s heating and blankets and electricity. Imagine not having the TV or Internet to know what’s going on. Imagine having to run away in the dead of night to try and save your own life because people are trying to kill you even though you’ve done nothing wrong.

Imagine seeing young, innocent children crippled and dying on the streets but you don’t have time to do anything about it because escaping the danger-zone you live in is your main priority because if you stay around for too long you could be next to be trapped in the rubble of a bomb.

Imagine not having your hearing or sight or even mobility because of the violence that is a daily occurrence in your country. Imagine not being able to hear your children laugh or play but instead having to watch them scream and cry out of fear but not knowing what to do because your ears are painfully ringing and your limbs are worn down by the injuries.

Imagine finally escaping the danger and war in your country to find out that some countries consider you dangerous. Your whole life you’ve been attacked and bombed by superiors even though all your life you’ve done nothing but try to survive and look after your family. Imagine it.

People in Syria don’t have to imagine this. They live it.

I hope anybody who is in favour of innocent people being bombed in Syria remember to love and be grateful for the safety and comfort they have right now. Because in other parts of the worlds they can’t have it for even a second.

I am not proud to be represented by David Cameron right now. His actions are not in my name.

Thanks for reading

Helena

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Praying for Paris is not a competition

Last night I spent an hour sat up with my mum watching live coverage of what was going on in Paris. It was absolutely devastating to see the numbers of victims pop up on the tv screen and heartbreaking to know these people who went to the concert hall were going out for a nice out. It was meant to be a good evening for them but unfortunately ended in this horrible attack. I was relieved to finally see the words ‘hostages freed’ on the screen but even now there is still a tight knot in my stomach when I think about it. I will never be able to compare or pretend I know how it feels to be in a country like Paris right now. Much like I’ll never know how it must feel to be a young Palestinian child right now, everyday Israeli forces are using unrighteous force and causing harm and even death to civilians in Gaza. Or how it must feel to be one of the people taking a stand in current South Korean protests, where police have been using tear gas and water cannons on peaceful protesters who are taking a stand about the labour and youth employment policies. I don’t know how selfish and lucky I am to live away from danger and recurring attacks, or understand how lucky I am that, with my white ethnicity, I don’t wake up scared everyday that me or my family could be hurt by policemen and forces using brutality on me because of my race. Unlike the unfortunate list of victims, who are always in my thoughts whenever a story crops up like this, who have been victims of police brutality. I will never know how it must feel to be family or friends of innocent people like Sandra Bland, Mike Brown, Jonathan Ferrell, Tamir Rice, Christina Tahhahwah and Kindra Chapman.

Deep down I know for any terrible situation like these there’s only so much I can do. I accept me and all the people around me online or in real life can only do so much. I understand the media is selective and will hide a lot of facts and stories from us. I understand everyday people cannot stop and mourn because of how common these disasters are becoming and people who are just bystanders like me, who do not know anyone directly involved in these disasters have to pick ourselves up and carry on with our days and we only briefly hear news and stories and evidence. There is 7 billion people on this earth and the amount of crime, terrorism, racially charged attacks, homophobic attacks, breach of rights, suicides, lack of attention to illnesses, diseases and mental health that the earth deals with each day I know how selfish my life is because I do not have to directly deal with these things. I know my privileges in life and with these I want to take as much responsibility as possible and hope little by little I can pay back for some damages.

But the point of my blogpost is not a massive apology for all the world’s problems. I want to open the social media community’s eyes to these disasters because in recent years I always see some people who see problems like these as competitions. People’s lives are at stake or have been taken and this should never be an excuse to try to put people’s actions of support or awareness down. The cold, harsh truth is putting a French flag on your social media profile, or posting a ‘Pray for Paris’ Eiffel tower peace photo on your instagram or tumblr or even posting private statuses to Facebook saying how upset you are about Paris will not solve all problems. Yes in fact it might even do nothing. But step back and think about the perspective of these disasters for a second. This blogpost probably will do nothing but I still want to write it to voice my thoughts. To voice my prayers and hopes for Paris, Gaza, Palestine, Ferguson, the world. To let my mindset flow out into words because who knows an idea to help people might come out of it. What about the pointless French flags on Facebook photos you might say? You might call them attention seeking or say they are doing jack sh*t. But did anyone promise they’d stop these problems? When I see my Facebook full of people changing their profile photos to flags or companies putting posts about how their thoughts are with Paris, I don’t see attention seekers, I see people who have heard the news. I see people who know what’s going on. Imagine if all these people could see the stories in Gaza and other places too. People have hearts and when a news story is publicized as much as Paris, people want to show that their hearts are with the country. We all share this Earth.

What does sitting around moaning ‘people just want to show off and act like they care about the world’ do? It does not make you better than them or mean you are doing more good to the victims in countries affected. Do you know the stories behind the people posting about Praying for Paris? How do you know for definite they haven’t got family or friends there. In this day and age we need to open our eyes and put victims first and keep the word about situations like these alive and open for discussion. Not trying to compete with each other to prove who is the most genuine.

Thanks for reading,

Lenah x x