‘Homegoing,’ the next Great American Novel

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 3, 2017

By Jenny Hubbard

Rowan Public Library

One of the reasons I read is to help clear the clouds from my brain. Due to recent national events, the skies there are overcast, grayer than usual. I’m baffled. Given all that our country has endured, how is it possible that the institution of racism still finds a home on our soil?

Just last week, I checked out from Rowan Public Library a novel recommended to me by my sister Leigh — “Homegoing,” by Yaa Gyasi. Usually I turn to non-fiction to supply me with causes and reasons, reserving fiction for pleasure, inspiration and spiritual nourishment, but this is the rare book that delivers all of the above.

To call “Homegoing” (as it has been called by people much more credible than I) a great American novel is to catalogue it alongside “Beloved,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Huckleberry Finn”; and certainly, it deserves to stand in that company. It has earned big honors, top awards. But I would argue that Gyasi’s masterpiece reaches beyond what Toni Morrison, Harper Lee and Mark Twain have said about the institution of race. It reaches beyond by stretching back, all the way back, to the beginning of slave trade in Africa.

The novel covers 300 years in 300 pages, so the pace is swift, yet the writing is clear as a bell: “This was how they lived there, in the bush: Eat or be eaten. Capture or be captured. Marry for protection. Quey would never go to Cudjo’s village. He would not be weak. He was in the business of slavery, and sacrifices had to be made.”

And in a later chapter we get this: “For Sonny, the problem with America wasn’t segregation but the fact that you could not, in in fact, segregate. Sonny had been trying to get away from white people for as long as he could remember, but, big as this country was, there was nowhere to go.”

At the start of the book is a family tree to help us follow the descendants of two half-sisters born in the 18th century. Gyasi gives each generation its voice, and while she could end on a note of despair, she chooses instead an uplifting image: two modern-day academics, a young man from one family line and a young woman from the other, in love and swimming together at the Ghanaian shore where their roots lie buried.

Without melodramatizing or preaching, Gyasi, a young woman born in Ghana and raised in Alabama, led me to a clearer understanding of why racism in America is so complicated and why it’s still here. It takes more than love to conquer hate, Gyasi seems to be saying. It takes knowledge — and acknowledgment.

Weekly children’s programming returns the week of Sept. 11.

Library Card Sign-up Month: At headquarters (201W. Fisher St.), East (110 Broad St., Rockwell) and South (920 Kimball Road, China Grove) branches. Join us as we celebrate 2017 Library Card Sign-up Month through a combination of active and passive programming. See story on this page.

Teen programs are open to sixth- through 12th-graders who are 11-18 years old.

Chapter Chats: Weekly book club for teens 14-17, primarily for participants with developmental or intellectual disabilities, though all are welcome. Resumes Sept. 11, 5 p.m. at East Branch, Rockwell.

Teen Programming Interest Meeting: Headquarters. Sept. 5, 4:30 p.m. Interested to see what teen programs Rowan Public Library is offering this year? Want to offer input about what you would like to see at a future event? Just want to hang out for a while after school? Come help us kick off the fall programming season.

Random Fandom: Celebrate your favorite fandoms with a mix of trivia, craft projects and film screenings. September fandom is DC/Marvel. Headquarters, Sept. 12, 4:30 p.m.

Give Back Saturdays: Help us give back to the community through various crafts and projects, which we’ll donate to local charities. Teens can count participation to meet community service requirements for school or other organizations. Headquarters, Sept. 23 and Oct. 14, 11 a.m.

Monthly teen program: Escape the Library. Using only your wits and a couple of hints, see if you can work with your teammates and find a way out in our very own RPL escape room. Headquarters, Sept. 19, 4:30 p.m.; East, Sept. 18, 6:30 p.m.; South, Sept. 28, 4 p.m.

The Write Stuff: Lessons in and practice with creative writing, led by Jenny Hubbard, young-adult novelist. Headquarters, Oct. 3, 6 p.m.

‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ book release party:  Celebrate the release of the illustrated edition of the third Harry Potter book with crafts, snacks and a screening of the movie. We will not have copies of the book for sale. South, Oct. 3, 3 p.m.

Teen Hour: Bring your favorite games to challenge friends, talk about your ideas for upcoming events, or just hand out. Headquarters, Sept. 26, Oct. 4, 4:30 p.m.; East, Sept. 11, 6:30 p.m. South, Sept. 14, Oct. 26, 4 p.m.

Lego Saturday: Legos are available for children’s creative free play. Sept. 9, 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. at both headquarters and East Branch.

Classic Cinema: “The Quiet Man,” East, Sept. 8, 2 p.m. Experience John Ford’s “The Quiet Man” (1952), starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. While the Classic Cinema Film Series is part of RPL’s Adult Outreach Services and is designed for retired individuals, this free event is open to the public, and all ages are welcome. For more details, call 704-216-7842.

September film series: 2013’s “Man of Steel,” (PG-13), Sept. 9, 10 a.m. East Branch. Free, open to the public and all ages welcome. An adult must accompany children under 13. Free popcorn and lemonade. Part of Library Card Sign-up Month celebration.

• “Teen Titans,” Sept. 9, 2 p.m., headquarters. Select episodes from season one of “Teen Titans” (PG); open to the public, free, all ages welcome. An adult must accompany children under 9. Free popcorn and lemonade. Part of Library Card Sign-up Month.

Makerspace Open House: Sept. 9, 1 p.m., headquarters. One hour tour introduces participants to library’s makerspace, its equipment and its projects.

Tech Tuesdays: Introduction to Genealogy, South, Sept. 12, 7 p.m. This one-hour computer class, held in South’s computer lab, introduces participants to basic online genealogical resources and practices. Questions? Contact Paul at 704-216-7737 or Paul.Birkhead@rowancountync.gov.

Displays: Headquarters, Constitution Week by Daughters of the American Revolution and Hispanic Heritage Month by Icela Trujillo; East, celebrating the octopus, by Emma Rose; South, artisan jewelry by Myrtis Trexler.

Literacy: Call the Rowan County Literacy Council at 704-216-8266 for more information on teaching or receiving literacy tutoring for English speakers or for those for whom English is a second language.


Closing: Rowan Public Library and its branches will be closed Monday for Labor Day. Regular hours resume Tuesday, Sept. 5.