“My choice of what to read is not usually made from recommendations I get for newly published novels but rather from a list of books that have stood the test of time. Or when choosing the next book to read, I often go back and reread novels I was assigned and liked in high school because I find they plunge to depths of the human condition in ways I could not appreciate then like Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, Dreiser’s An American Tragedy or Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.
Two wonderful exceptions to this are Yaa Gyasi’s stunning first novel Homegoing (2016) and Arundhati Roy’s lyrical novel The God of Small Things (1996). If you have not read Homegoing, you must. Do not find out anything about it beforehand. Just get it, open it, and read it. There is something marvelous about reading a great novel you know nothing about except that it is great. In addition to offering exquisitely etched characters and complex relationships, both these novels look oppressive historical forces straight in the eye and condemn them. Both demonstrate the power fiction has to tell the truth.
I used to prefer novels that explored our American fascination with the alienated protagonist — an individual in conflict with society. Now I am drawn to characters who are both good and bad and to their struggle for connection. That’s why I love Carson McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and just about anything Toni Morrison has written. My English students will tell you that I am drawn to literature that examines grief: its horrible sadness and unexpected beauty.
The next book you should read? Trust me: it’s Homegoing.”