I read Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing during finals week, which was probably a mistake on my part because once I started reading, I couldn’t stop. It is incredibly powerful and engaging, a heartbreaking family saga with rich characters and an even richer story. Homegoing takes you on the journey of seven generations, each scarred by fire either literally or figuratively, and with every tale intertwined and connected.
From the back cover:
Ghana, eighteenth century: two half sisters are born into different villages, each unaware of the other. One will marry an Englishman and lead a life of comfort in the palatial rooms of the Cape Coast Castle. The other will be captured in a raid on her village, imprisoned in the very same castle, and sold into slavery.
Homegoing follows the parallel paths of these sisters and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem. Yaa Gyasi’s extraordinary novel illuminates slavery’s troubled legacy both for those who were taken and those who stayed- and shows how the memory of captivity has been inscribed on the soul of our nation.
“Evil begets evil. It grows. It transmutes, so that sometimes you cannot see that the evil in the world began as the evil in your own home.”
-Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing
Homegoing may be a novel, but it reads like a collection of fourteen short stories; there are two stories from each generation, alternating back and forth between bloodlines. I found it a bit difficult to keep track of the descendants at first, and I kept flipping to see the family tree in the beginning of the book, but after a few chapters I got to know the characters and it became easier to tell who was related to who and in what way. As with any book built this way, I enjoyed some stories more than others; I flew through the chapters of Ness, Abena, H, Yaw, and Marjorie, but I could’ve done without Akua’s and Sonny’s. However, the ending truly made up for it! Although I did predict it shortly after I started reading, it was still SO satisfying. The ending was the happy conclusion the book needed, tying it up with a nice, pretty bow.
“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.”
-Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing
Homegoing covers about 250 years of both Ghanaian and American history, a tremendous feat for a debut novel. It hits on most of the important time periods in black history, from the slave trade and the American Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance and modern civil rights movement. It is not just a family saga but a harrowing story of escape and hardship.