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The Second Life of Samuel Tyne by Esi Edugyan (thoughts)

November 17, 2011

Oh you guys. This book had so, so much potential. The first hundred pages, I was in love. There was an old ramshackle house in a tiny farming town in the middle of nowhere, Canada. There were creepy twin children. There was a man trying to reinvent himself while his family was stuck going along for the ride. My internal reading soundtrack sounded like this: “squee! squee! squeeeee!”. And then, it all just kind of fell apart. I think Edugyan was trying to do too much, cram too many storylines into one book: rather than have the insular town & (black) Samuel Tyne and his family’s attempts to gain a foothold serve as a backdrop to the creepy twins plotline (which is what I expected to see), the focus just moves back and forth, to the detriment of everything. A lot of points are just dropped along the way, and I became progressively less and less interested as I kept reading. By the time I got to the epilogue (which, let’s be honest, usually an epilogue brings a novel down), I was just frustrated. And then the epilogue was so bad, skipping over a couple of decades with an odd mix of general information and specific scenes, that I just cringed.

Now, all of that being said, this was a debut novel, and I fully intend to read Edugyan’s future work (her second, Half Blood Blues, comes out here next May; it already won a prestigious Canadian award). She writes wonderful, vivid characters, and her prose is lovely. It has a hint of fairy tale to it, which makes it a pleasure to read. She also has a flair for making everyday things into unsettling events, and I would love it if one day she turns her hand to psychological horror, a la Shirley Jackson or Helen Oyeyemi.

I read this as part of Kinna’s Ghana Lit Week (Samuel Tyne and his wife are both immigrants from Ghana to Canada; I believe Edugyan is Ghanian-Canadian, but her biography doesn’t specify), and as such I’m devoting the Suggested Companion Reads section to some excellent Ghana authors I’ve read in the past. :) I highly suggest you add some Ghana books to your own reading, and I’m sure my wishlist will grow as a visit all of the participants this week. I already have five Ghanian books on there!

Suggested Companion Reads

17 Comments leave one →
  1. November 17, 2011 6:51 am

    I didn’t know she had written another book before half blood thanks for the review eva ,all the best stu

  2. November 17, 2011 8:15 am

    Too bad this wasn’t as good as you hoped, I think I might start with her Half-Blood Blues. It has indeed just won the Giller prize, so it’s moved to the top of my ‘MUST PICK THAT UP SOON’ list ;) I’m hoping actually that I might get it for Christmas from my aunt as she mentioned it… And yes, from everything that I’ve heard she is Ghanaian-Canadian, she was born in Alberta to immigrant parents.

    • November 22, 2011 4:28 pm

      I’m SO annoyed I have to wait until May for Half-Blood Blues to be released! So silly!

  3. November 17, 2011 10:25 am

    Okay – Amy just said everything I was going to ;-) except that I’ve reserved Half Blood Blues at the Library (#5 in the queue), not hoping to get it for Christmas.

    Thanks for blogging about this book.

  4. November 17, 2011 11:32 am

    I had no idea who this author was until she won the Giller… She seemed to come out of nowhere, so I am surprised to hear she had another book. I will probably read her at some point. Good review!

  5. November 17, 2011 3:48 pm

    Regarding Esi Edugyan I would want to read her Half Blood Blues.

  6. November 17, 2011 5:28 pm

    Bother! My eye caught the Helen Oyeyemi comparison as I was browsing through Google Reader and made me very excited, and then when I read what you were actually saying, I had to de-excitement myself. I’ll be interested to see what you think of her next book. If you love it I shall try it.

    • November 22, 2011 4:29 pm

      Yeah, sorry about that. I really hope her second book lives up to her potential as author!

  7. November 19, 2011 9:10 am

    I’m sorry to hear this one didn’t live up, but I still think you will enjoy H-BB a great deal. It’s very streamlined and the structure is clean, whereas it sounds like this reading experience was too fragmented for you to enjoy it overall.

    I think Sid’s unwavering voice is remarkably well-sustained, and it was definitely deserving of the prize it won here. The only criticisms I have heard are from those who seemed to expect that is a story about the black experience of WWII and, in fact, it’s really one man’s experience, a very personal tale with threads reaching into the broader tapestry of history. But I know you love novels with strong voices, so I think H-BB will suit you well!

    • November 22, 2011 4:29 pm

      Oh yay! Now I just have to wait for it to be published! ;)

  8. Kathleen permalink
    November 19, 2011 7:10 pm

    I’ve never heard of this author before. It is too bad that the story fell apart the way it did.

  9. November 20, 2011 7:26 pm

    Obviously, we need to start with H-BB. And thank you for this public service :). Pity but then I could say that she has improved as an author. Looking forward to your review ot H-BB when you do read it. Thanks for participating in Ghana Lit Week :).

  10. November 20, 2011 8:27 pm

    I’m intrigued just by reading the beginning parts of your review so I’m bummed to hear that it didn’t quite work for you. I went ahead and added it to my Goodreads wishlist and I’ll have to give it a try myself some day. Thanks for the honest review!

    • November 22, 2011 4:30 pm

      Definitely give it a go: maybe you’ll have better luck than me. :)

  11. November 27, 2011 10:40 am

    From the start of the book this sounded like it was going to be amazing, I would have been doing the ‘squeeeee’ noise too, then it sounds like it did what Half Blood Blues did for me and sort of ran out of juice half way through. Lots of people loved Half Blood Blues so I am sure lots of people would love this and her other books, I think I might just go back to old favourites. Sounds harsh doesnt it? I don’t mean it that way!


  1. Ghanaian Literature Week « Kinna Reads
  2. It’s a Wrap! Ghanaian Literature Week « Kinna Reads

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