Homegoing: A Novel by Yaa Gyasi
This debut novel by a young Stanford graduate is getting rave reviews as one of the best books of 2016. It traces the lineage of two half sisters born in Ghana in the mid 1700s. One is enslaved and brought to America and the other remains in Ghana. Each chapter is about one of their descendants and follows the two families through six generations. What is fascinating about the book is not so much the story of the family in America but what happens in Africa.
The impact of slavery on the various tribal cultures of WestAfrica was huge. It turned tribes against each other; made them capture their own people and disrupted their way of life. I think the African scenes make the book. The unbelievable trauma to the families of those who disappeared, never to be seen again and the residual changes to the identities of the tribes and cultures after years of conflict (both with other tribes and the whites) is a part of history that we aren’t generally that familiar with.
The American story is filled with the brutality of slavery and the resulting history of segregation and discrimination. It covers slavery in the South followed by Reconstruction and takes the family through Jim Crow laws and into the drug infested world of Harlem in the 1960s. It is a story that we are much more familiar with yet it is so important to continually be reminded of the history in order to better understand race relations in America today. This is a book everyone should read and hopefully it will open some eyes as to why there is still so much anger and resentment amongst African Americans.
The only Brian De Palma movie I have ever seen is the original Mission Impossible so I wasn’t quite sure whether I would find this documentary very interesting but I was pleasantly surprised. For an hour and 45 minutes, De Palma goes through his movies, talking about how he made them and the influences on his work. He comes from the same generation as Spielberg, Lucas and Scorsese yet has not met with the same commercial success as his peers. He talks about his successes and failures equally with his insights into the actors he has worked with and why he thinks some of his work has bombed at the box office.
I must admit that as clips from his movies played out on screen, the blood and what seemed to be a constant theme of brutality towards women really turned me off. I had planned on watching a film or two of his after seeing the documentary but I left the theater not really wanting to see any of them. In hindsight, there seems to be a parallel between Hitchcock who had such an influence on his work and himself in the way they treat women. I would have liked for the film to have delved deeper into this area but it didn’t.
For film fans, this simple and straightforward documentary provides a window into how a filmmaker creates his work. For De Palma fans, it will gives a great deal of insight into his films and legacy along with some tidbits of gossip about famous actor he worked with. For others, you probably want to see something else despite it being a well done and very watchable documentary.
The Night Of (HBO)
The Night Of, a new HBO mini series, premiers July 10 but the first episode is available for streaming now so I watched it and it was really good. Nasir Khan is a Pakistani-American college student from Queens who takes his dad’s cab out one night to attend a party in Manhattan. He can’t figure out how to turn on the “Off Duty” light on the cab and a young woman gets in and convinces him to go with her to her apartment. After a night filled with sex and who knows what else, he wakes up to find her dead beside him with so much blood around her that the cops refer to it as “Gettysburg”.
Nasir is immediately picked up through a series of naive blunders and found to be possessing a bloody knife. He is identified by witnesses and things look pretty grim when an Attorney, who I can only assume is going to be a fascinating character, sees him in jail and takes his case knowing nothing about what he is being charged with. From what I understand, the next 7 hours of the mini-series is a journey through the NYC judicial system. The series is based on a British mystery and is well reviewed. The first episode is dark and I’m not thinking there is going to be any kind of a happy ending here but it is addictive and I can’t wait for episode 2. A rare summer treat on TV.
I didn’t binge anything new this week because I was watching several old seasons of Downton Abby again before I visit Highclere Castle next month. Still trying to finish S2 of Kimmy Schmidt and get to some others that I really want to see but vacation is looming and time is running short!
SUMMER BINGING SCORE:
Great: 2 (UnREAL S1; Pride and Prejudice)
Good: 1 (OITNB S4)
Not Good: 1 (Bloodline S2)