Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Homegoing and Vinegar Girl

These two books don't have much in common except that they are part of a set.  Homegoing was one of the Tournament of Books selections this year, and Vinegar Girl is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare project in which modern popular authors tackle retelling some of Shakespeare's plays.

I knew I wanted to read Homegoing from the moment I heard about it and saw its wonderful, vibrant, promising cover. I've made a conscious effort to read more slave stories as a way of trying to balance the >50 years in which I read none, but apart from that I loved the premise.  Basically, two half sisters in 18th century Africa who have never met are the genesis for two narratives--one girl remains in Africa as do her descendants, while the other is sold into slavery and her descendants are part of the American experience.

This was a fascinating way to travel both lines through history, and I really enjoyed hearing about both sets of stories and people equally.  The writing was excellent--powerful, straightforward, and flexible, meaning that I was impressed that the author, Yaa Gyasi, was able to give each character a unique voice that made him/her memorable as an individual.

Homegoing rates as one of the best books I've read so far this year.  Interestingly, in the Tournament of Books, Underground Railroad was named the champion, and Homegoing came in second.  It's all opinion, but while both are 5-star books, I preferred Homegoing.  Maybe it's the span of time, the richness and variety of characters and stories, some that intersect and some that don't.  I found Homegoing the more satisfying novel, though both were equally thought-provoking and powerful.

Compared to Homegoing, Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler was pretty fluffy.  Here's what I wrote for my GoodReads review:

Wish that I could give this weird book another half star [I gave it 3]. It's a weird book because the basic storyline is pretty hard to work with as anyone who has seen Taming of the Shrew will tell you. Tyler does an okay job with modernizing the premise of a "Vinegar Girl" (i.e., a sharp-tongued, no nonsense woman) needing to get married, which is not an easy task--really, no one "needs" to get married these days, but Tyler came up with a reasonable reason. My main problem with the book is that Tyler's setting is contemporary Baltimore but the total feel of the setting is "Leave it to Beaver" land. The setting is so anachronistic that it's unsettling.

For example, there are no 2017 parents who would send their children to the preschool where Kate works as Tyler describes it--the parents sound modern, but the teachers and aides are completely unrealistic. Makes me wonder if Tyler has been in a 21st century preschool. And the notion that "everyone" started treating Kate differently when she announced her engagement because she was no longer doomed to be a single woman is preposterous.

But, and here's what saves the book for me, Tyler dealt in a wonderful way with that awful speech that Kate and her husband make at the end of Taming of the was so fitting and fun to read that I forgave Tyler for the weirdness of her anachronistic world.

Since I compared Homegoing to Underground Railroad, it's only fair that I compare Vinegar Girl with the other Shakespeare Project book that I've read so far, Hag-Seed.  They are light years apart. Hag-Seed was an interpretation of The Tempest and it made me look at the original, its themes and characters and plot, in a new way.  Vinegar Girl was a modernization with nothing really interesting or new to say about Taming of the Shrew. It was a fun read but not really memorable.


  1. Great reviews.

    I have heard good things about Homegoing.I agree that the duel structure in the plot line sounds very good and seems like it opens up lots of opportunities for the author to explore.

    I also have read too few things about slavery in recent years.

  2. I liked Homegoing but preferred the more unconventional The Underground Railroad. I am, however, really interested to see what Gyasi writes next which I will read for sure.

    I want to try to read one of the Hogarth Shakespeare series but start with the play original first on audio and then move to the new adaptation. I just am unsure where to start!

  3. Two great reviews! Homegoing will likely be one of my favorites this year. I have not read Underground Railroad, but don't feel particularly inclined to either. I've been on the fence about Vinegar Girl, but may give it a try.

  4. Nice reviews, thanks for comparing these. I have yet to read the 4 you talk about but I want to read Homegoing. It seems more compelling to me than Colson Whitehead's book, but I will see once I read both.

  5. Homegoing sounds wonderful. I'm not that enthused by the reviews I've seen of Vinegar Girl, so I think I"ll give it a miss, but Hag Seed sounds interesting. Those adaptations are always so tricky, but Atwood seems to have done it right.