Book Review: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Author: Yaa Gyasi
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Year Published: 2016
“And in my village we have a saying about separated sisters. They are like a woman and her reflection, doomed to stay on opposite sides of the pond.”
Homegoing is an ambitious debut novel that spans seven generations. It tells the story of Esi and Effia, half sisters separated by dramatic and unfortunate twists of fate. Both born in 18th century Gold Coast, Effia the beauty is married off to a British Slaver, while Esi is shipped off to work as a slave on an American plantation.
The novel is written as a series of short stories, somewhat vignettes, that focus on a particular descendant of the sisters. The chapters alternate between members of each branch and interconnect with the preceding chapter. Each individual’s story is told in rich detail and Yaa Gyasi’s superb storytelling skills pulls you in and gives you a glimpse of the world through the character’s eyes. This unique method of individual stories echoes the proverb at the beginning of the book –
‘The family is like the forest:
if you are outside it is dense; if you are inside you see that each tree has
its own position.’ – Akan Proverb
Homegoing takes our hand and walks us through the forest of the Asante and Fante families, stopping to peer at individual trees along the way.
As we progress through the years we are met with distressing tales of tribal wars, rape, patriarchal societies, whippings, hangings and such like, all the while watching how different people either fought back or adapted to survive.
Unlike other stories that address black slavery, I believe this was told from a non-judgmental point of view. At the end of the day, a fact is a fact. It’s what we learn from it and how we move on that matters.
After reading Homegoing, I have a much deeper understanding of the identity crisis that plagues a number of Black Americans. We see this crisis in the venomous verbal attacks spewed at mixed race relationships in America. We see it in the visible divide of White America and Black America, made even more apparent with the events leading up to and the protests of the Black Lives Matter movement in recent years. These are all lingering effects of the horrific slavery that took place just a few generations ago.
This is a thought provoking story that will stay with me for a very long time. I’m led to question why despite the harrowing experiences of the Africans years ago, and how it used to be the unfortunate ones who were captured and sent “abroad”; we’ve come full circle in the present day and Africans are now voluntarily trooping out of their countries to the same “abroad”, sometimes risking their lives in the process. I also compare the present day Western governments to the African governments and wonder if there’s a different type of slavery at play here.
I would strongly recommend it as despite the heart wrenching narrative, it’s a piece of work that illuminates real and important parts of history. Go read it.
“We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history, you must always 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.”