Book of the Month: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

This book is ah-mazing! I had heard a lot about it so I was very excited to dig in, and I'm excited to tell you that it surpasses the hype for sure. Homegoing is a historical fiction novel by a Ghanaian-American author, Yaa Gyasi. First of all, it has a unique attribute: each chapter follows a different descendant of an Asante woman named Maame. We start with her two daughters, half-sisters Effi and Esi who are separated by fate and never actually met each other. Effi marries James Collins, the British governor in charge of Cape Coast Castle, whereas her half-sister, Esi is held captive in the dungeons below where Effi lived. Thereafter, each chapter follows their children and following generations: such that each chapter is narrated from the perspective of a descendant of either Effi or Esi, representing each generation.

The book opens in mid eighteenth century, when slave trade was at its peak up to the present day. So in following these descendants, the author explores a variety of very important themes like exportation of slaves from Africa, introduction of cacao as a crop in Ghana, and segregation and racism in America. These are very heavy themes and I think the author handles them excellently. Somehow, Gyasi narrates a a very familiar story of slavery and oppression in an unfamiliar style of personal triumphs and failures. The book is extremely ambitious, but also clearly lays out the place and participation of Africans in the slave trade.

This book is extraordinary in so many ways and I was in awe of how she thought about such a brilliant idea for a novel. But even beyond this, the way she tells the story draws you to the intricacies of these characters. In some way, you follow each character and get to witness the fate that life brings them, and particularly how they handle it. And if you squint, their main ancestors are the similar thread across many generations.

There are some critiques of the book that mention how the unique style makes it hard to follow through. I can see how someone would think that, but in the front of the book is a nice family tree which she drew, and I found myself turning back there a lot so I could know who I was about to read about. For me, the one downside was that we didn't get to know each character enough. They each seemed to have such complex backgrounds and stories, and she writes them so well that you want to know more about this person and what makes them tick or what makes them make certain decisions, and just as fast as you start to learn about them, you have to let them go. In that sense, a lot of the stories just did not feel complete. I guess the implication of this is that our ancestors have more effects on us than we think? I don't know. The most amazing part is that this book truly personifies the quote, "we are our ancestors wildest dreams".

Before now, I used to not pay a lot of mind to my ancestors/progenitors. I mean yes, grandparents, and great grandparents, but I have never been curious enough to want to go beyond that. I have the luxury and privilege of knowing where I am exactly from so I guess ancestry does not matter as much to me. I always joke that people (ahem our white counterparts) spend so much time learning about ancestors that were probably terrible people lol. Anyway, this book created a renewed sense of curiosity in me to know my earlier progenitors. Where did it start? Who were they? Heck, am I related the random stranger on the road somehow? I will never know.

Each character from each chapter could be a book on its own. And if that's what Gyasi spends her entire career doing (maybe making a series of some sort with each book based on each character), she would retire successful. I suspect she is much more ambitious than that though and too creative for that. But yeah, that was my problem, I wanted more.

Don't get me wrong, there were some things wrong with the book, as there is no perfect piece of art. But the narration, the dialogue, the symbolism were astute, with each just suitable with whatever generation we found ourselves. The facts of the themes, and the immense research that must have be conducted to produce this body of work must not be underrated.

I hope you read it, and when you do, let me know what you think about it.



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