Five books

The books that influenced Yaa Gyasi

Yaa Gyasi's debut novel, Homegoing, tells the story of two sisters whose experiences of different sides of the slave trade go on to shape the lives of their family for generations. Here she picks five books that have influenced her writing

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Song of Solomon

Toni Morrison

There was a time when I had lines and lines of this book memorised, I’d read it so much. Morrison is masterful; a writer who is truly generous to her characters. I love this book for its compassion and beauty and for introducing me to my favourite writer.

 

Go Tell It On The Mountain

James Baldwin

I came to Baldwin in college and Go Tell It On the Mountain was the first book of his that I read. I grew up Pentecostal, though I left the church in my teenage years, and this book so beautifully and complicatedly touches upon the joys and sorrows of religion. Baldwin’s work is rigorous. He lets no one, not even himself, off the hook.

 


Lost in the City  

Edward P. Jones

I found a worn copy of Lost in the City in my hometown’s library one summer when I was home from college. I’d never heard of Jones, but I was immediately smitten. His short stories are, for me, the gold standard. Each story in Lost in the City is perfect. While many writers write short stories that feel like a snack, Jones’s short stories feel like full meals. Lost in the City taught me that it is possible to contain an entire world in less than 40 pages.

 

Unaccustomed Earth

Jhumpa Lahiri

This was the first book of Lahiri’s that I read, though it was her third to be published. The stories in this collection are so moving, and reminded me, again, of fiction’s incredible power to create empathy and understanding. When I taught this collection to a group of mostly white students at the University of Iowa one young man said to me that he never realized that he could relate so fully to stories about Bengali immigrants. I cherish this book for that teaching moment alone.

 

One Hundred Years of Solitude

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

A masterwork. I’m in awe of this book. What I love most is that, while reading it, you see that Garcia Marquez is allowing himself to do whatever he wants, writing rules be damned. It’s as playful as it is ambitious and difficult.

 

More about the author

Homegoing

Yaa Gyasi

Selected for Granta's Best of Young American Novelists 2017
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Best First Book
Shortlisted for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction

Effia and Esi: two sisters with two very different destinies. One sold into slavery; one a slave trader's wife. The consequences of their fate reverberate through the generations that follow. Taking us from the Gold Coast of Africa to the cotton-picking plantations of Mississippi; from the missionary schools of Ghana to the dive bars of Harlem, spanning three continents and seven generations, Yaa Gyasi has written a miraculous novel - the intimate, gripping story of a brilliantly vivid cast of characters and through their lives the very story of America itself.

Epic in its canvas and intimate in its portraits, Homegoing is a searing and profound debut from a masterly new writer.

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