by Yaa Gyasi
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.
A couple of people had strongly recommended “Homegoing” to me so when I saw it on a display in the library, I instantly picked it up and took it out. Being a bestseller, the library had decided to put a one week limit on its loan period: challenge accepted!
As it turns out, I didn’t need to worry about the time limit. As soon as I started I was drawn in and fell in love with this story, flying through the pages.
“Homegoing” tells the stories of two half sisters and their families. Starting in 18th century Ghana, one sister marries a white British man working in the slave trade, the other is sold as a slave and shipped to America. In alternating chapters we switch between sisters and generations, following the descendants of these women over the next two hundred years. Each alternating chapter is narrated by the child of the last, exploring the legacy of slavery, both for the enslaved and those involved in the trade.
The writing was vivid and beautiful. It takes skill to write about something so brutal and emotional in this way. Despite only being given a glimpse into each character’s lives, they feel real and I soon became invested in their stories, taking each of them to heart. There are certainly a lot of characters to keep track of, but the book includes an family tree which makes it easier to follow who’s who. Some chapters overlap, picking up the pieces of the life we left in a previous chapter, other characters’ stories are left unfinished which I feel only adds to the story as we’re left to imagine how things panned out.
“We believe the one who has power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history, you must ask yourself, Whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there you get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.”
As well as being moving, this book is informative and educational which means it’s not an easy read. The brutal story of slavery, learning how groups of slaves migrated from Africa to America and how people were hunted and sold is a large part of history certainly worth teaching, even through fiction.
“You want to know what weakness is? Weakness is treating someone as though they belong to you. Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves.”
Overall rating: Yaa Gyasi’s “Homegoing” has easily earned it’s place in my list of favourites. A brutal, honest look at the slave trade and its legacy, the story explores the families of two half sisters with very different destinies. I fell in love with each of the characters and couldn’t wait to pick it up again. Needless to say, it’s 5 stars from me.