I’d seen this book surfacing on social media quite a bit and was really interested to read it – three weeks after clicking reserve, the library ebook was mine to read.
Two half sisters, Effia and Esi, are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.
Generation after generation, Yaa Gyasi’s magisterial first novel sets the fate of the individual against the obliterating movements of time, delivering unforgettable characters whose lives were shaped by historical forces beyond their control. Homegoing is a tremendous reading experience, not to be missed, by an astonishingly gifted young writer.
I really liked the way this novel was written, each chapter narrated by a different descendant, this really allowed the reader to travel through time and experience briefly what life was like through the generations, although this narration style does have its setbacks.
Each of the characters in this book has their own story to tell, their own place in history – slave, drug addict, single mother, prisoner, free man, to name but a few – Gyasi shows how the events from the past, those forced upon the descendant’s ancestors affected them in the present day. I did like some chapters more than others. With their being so many different characters, each character is only afforded a short time to tell their story and I was able to form a stronger attachment to some characters over others, and I was sad when their narrative ended.
This novel had its sad moments, when you read what, through no fault of their own, had befallen the family throughout the generations, in contrast, there were moments of such joy, love and warmth that really stood out for me. Although, I wouldn’t say this is a particularly emotional read – Gyasi touches on some very important and emotional periods in history (eg. slavery, the great migration, civil rights etc) but it’s worth bearing in mind, this book only offers snapshots of history, snap shots of the characters’ lives and while there were some characters narratives I really enjoyed, they were cut short before I could become too emotionally invested.
I did feel the ending was a bit convenient, written to please the reader, and I totally understand why Gyasi chose to end the novel the way she did but I can’t help but wonder if an alternate ending would have rung truer.
Homegoing is rich in detail in terms of culture and customs, both in Ghana and America. I really enjoyed the parts of the story set in Ghana, everything from the names to the traditions as old as time. Equally, the parts of the story set in American were interesting, especially reading the account of Sonny, set during the drug epidemic in Harlem. What I will remember this book for is Gyasi’s ability to paint such vivid pictures with her words.