Multiple women in my life gushed about how I had to read this book. They tripped over their words with both excitement and caution as they warned me that Yaa Gyasi’s confident debut novel wrecked them in the best possible way.
For your reference, Goodreads provides a strong summary for the plot of the novel “Homegoing”:
“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. “
The Monday after the weekend I finished “Homegoing” was a rough one for me. I was irritated from the moment I rolled out of bed and did not understand why. There was nothing overwhelmingly stressful about the day or the errands I had to run, but something inside of me woke up just slightly shifted out of position and it rubbed against my insides for the rest of the day.
It took me a majority of the day to realize that I was still grieving the characters and the stories in this book.
I have heard the critiques about the structure of this novel, how it felt too manipulated and carefully crafted. I mean – yes, I can see how the ending was a bit contrived. And I often had to reference the family tree in front to ground myself at the beginning of each short story. I cannot even imagine what it must have been like for any editions without the family chart or for anyone listening to the audiobook.
But honestly – whether it was because I read the copy of a friend who annotated the beginning of each chapter with the names of the parents and the time period or because I enjoyed the puzzle piecing of flipping back and forth – it all worked really well for me.
There are reasons why Yaa Gyasi debuted on the 2017 30 Under 30 List and why she received an alleged million dollar advance for this book. Gyasi weaved together a devastatingly brilliant novel, one of my favorites of this year.
For the Ghanaian history I was exposed to
For the American history I was forced to sit with
For the creative language Gyasi played with
For the emotions that stirred and moved me to discuss and create and reflect
I am grateful and believe that “Homegoing” deserves 5/5 stars.