Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Yaa GyasiDate Read: July 16th 2016

Published: 2016

Publisher: A.A Knopf

Pages: 305

 

 

 

 

The Blurb

A novel of breathtaking sweep and emotional power that traces three hundred years in Ghana and along the way also becomes a truly great American novel. Extraordinary for its exquisite language, its implacable sorrow, its soaring beauty, and for its monumental portrait of the forces that shape families and nations, Homegoing heralds the arrival of a major new voice in contemporary fiction.

 

Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)

Yaa Gyasi’s debut – Homegoing, is historical fiction at its best. I honestly thought Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah hit home for me back in 2013 when I read it. But Homegoing IS home. Homegoing is about my home. I never thought I’d read book that perfectly articulates the dynamics of being Ghanaian-American. The only book I’ve read that somewhat touches on the identity complexities of being Ghanaian by blood and American (or British) by birth, was Powder Necklace by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond (another awesome Ghanaian-American writer). I might have to re-read Powder Necklace and review it on this platform soon!

Homegoing was an emotional read – throughout! I started reading during the wake of the horrific Alton Sterling and Philando Castile police shootings of early July, so you can imagine how haunting these real life events paralleled with this particular historical fiction, which focuses on the legacy of slavery in America and Ghana. Homegoing follows two half sisters – Effia and Esi who live in 18th century Ghana and the generations after them, making Effia and Esi the matriarchs of dual lineages. Effia becomes the wench (not wife) of the British governor of Cape Coast Castle (a slave castle here in Ghana) and is the matriarch of the Ghanaian line of the family; while Esi, who is kept as a slave in the dungeons of this same Cape Coast Castle where Effia resides with the governor, is the matriarch of the American line of the family. Homegoing alternates between the descendants of the two sisters, chronologically from 18th century Ghana to present day (after the millennium), in both Ghana and the US. As with most books of the historical fiction genre, a family tree is provided on the first page of the novel which makes following the two lineages and the different family members pretty easy.

To be honest, I don’t think it’s possible to read Homegoing without harboring some resentment for the insanity white folks forced people of African descent to endure. From the events of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, to the injustice and discrimination black folks faced in the American south as slaves, to the Anglo-Ashanti wars in Ghana, to present day racial tensions and disregard for black bodies, are all legacies of slavery. I truly admire how Gyasi manages to personalize slavery and its effects through the use of character development in each chapter. In every chapter, readers witness how each generation got some inheritance of slavery – be it through mass incarceration, the need to pass as white, lynching, colorism, the fragmenting of families and so much more.

As much as the terrors white folks caused black people are highlighted in Homegoing, I appreciate Gyasi for not letting Africans off the hook for being complicit in the slave trade. Unfortunately, the role African nations played in enabling slavery are  rarely addressed. All the ethnic wars, kidnapping of innocent people and trading of human beings in exchange for goods from the British, Dutch and Portuguese were all selfish, contributing factors to the slave trade and the inhumane effects they still manifest. While reading Homegoing, I kept thinking about Maya Angelou’s autobiography – All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes and her valid feelings of anger and disappointment she expressed after visiting the Elmina Castle (a Portuguese slave castle here in Ghana) in Cape Coast, Ghana back in the 1970’s. I understood her anger, as she was a descendent of our people who were captured and sold to the Europeans. As upsetting as the slave trade was, I applaud Gyasi for using Homegoing as a way for opening up conversations on the obscure relationship between Africans and African-Americans today, thanks to our disturbed past.

Gyasi’s ability to seamlessly weave Ghanaian and African-American histories into this story was very ambitious and exciting to read! I was impressed with the plethora of themes, actual historical events and icons that made realistic cameos in this novel. Don’t get me wrong – Homegoing is not rigid with historical facts. It’s very much a holistic novel with issues like interracial relationships, sharecropping, racial passing, lynching, homosexuality, mental illness, abelism, colorism and so much more, embedded into the storyline with respect to the times in which the characters live. Real historic icons and happenings like Yaa Asantewaa of Ejisu, The Asantehene, the civil rights movement & non-violent resistance headed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, the Harlem heroin epidemic of the late 1960’s and others are all impressively packed into this novel of 305 pages!

I enjoyed most of the chapters and characters in Homegoing. But my favorite character was Marjorie. I like to believe Marjorie’s chapter is Yaa Gyasi – fictionalized. Marjorie was born in Ghana and raised in the US, just like Yaa Gyasi. In Marjorie’s chapter, I loved how the character articulates how she doesn’t identify fully as Ghanaian or ‘Black American’ which is sometimes used synonymously with the ambiguous term – ‘akata’ by some Africans. I especially loved that Marjorie found joy in reading books by writers of African descent,

Her work was in African and African American literature, and when Marcus asked her why she choose those subjects, she said that those were the books that she could feel inside her. (pg. 295)

Is Marjorie me? That quote is basically the essence of why I created African Book Addict! It was refreshing to read Majorie’s chapter, as I completely understood her identity struggles. While my life story is a little different from Majorie’s/Yaa Gyasi’s, reading a character with a similar background as yours is deeply gratifying. You begin to realize that there are others like you in the world; that you’re not alone in your confusion as to where you call home; that your convictions on your ever evolving identities are valid.

While discussing Homegoing with other book lovers here in Accra, I realized there were some minor inaccuracies in the novel. But I didn’t mind the minor inaccuracies others felt the need to point out. I did however find the ending of this phenomenal book a bit corny. Marcus’s chapter should have ended with a bang – as all the other chapters did! Regardless, Homegoing was emotional and heartbreaking, yet exhilarating to read. I hope Yaa Gyasi makes a trip to Ghana soon or adds Accra to her book tour. I’d love a good ole’ chat with a fellow Ghanaian-American and of course, for my copy of the book to be graced with her signature!

I’d like to extend a special thank you to my new friend – Trish Tchume and publishers A. A Knopf  for my copy of the book.  Homegoing is definitely one of my top 5 favorite books of this year. Don’t be surprised when it is required reading in schools soon.

★★★★★ (5 stars) – Amazing book, I loved it. Absolutely recommend!

My copy of Homegoing before and after reading.

P.S: I’ve typed all of the quotes I highlighted while reading and I’m open to sending anyone who’s interested, the PDF file of the compiled quotes via email. Some of the quotes, notes and suggested readings I highlighted would make for amazing book club discussions 🙂

Purchase Homegoing on Amazon

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36 thoughts on “Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

  1. I got into this book cos of its buzz. It’s always refreshing when new Ghanaian writers are coming up. So I decided to reread Manu Herbstein’s Ama in preparation cos I feel it’s the best historical fiction on the enterprise of slavery. But now reading your review I’m not sure I want to read Homegoing. Lol I guess it much more fun when you hear nothing about a book a dive in. Now I have to find a way to lose my preconceived notions. But when I finally do I’ll come back and read your review. A 5 star book must be read.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Hakeem… uhh, I’m kinda confused by your comment. My review makes you not want to read Homegoing? The review is quite personal, as Homegoing spoke to me in different ways with respect to understanding identity and the legacy of slavery. I simply raved about the book – as I do with all 5 star ratings on this platform lol. If anything, I think the review will make you push Homegoing UP your tbr, instead of feed you with preconceived notions since reading is personal (at least for me). I’m yet to read Herbstein’s Ama! I hear its well-researched! I’ll get to it eventually 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Loved your review. You’ve made me want to read Homegoing even more.
    “reading a character with a similar background as yours is deeply gratifying” <- I agree with you on this. It also gives a sense that you matter. That you're not invisible.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. So glad you reviewed this! 🙂 you caught everything I enjoyed about the book, especially how seamlessly Yaa Gyasi incorporated the side effects of slavery on black families in both countries. If I’d bought a hardcopy of the book it would look just like yours lol, there were so many good quotes to choose from!

    I’m surprised Gyasi isn’t going to Ghana for her book tour, I saw her in downtown Los Angeles and she said she’d love to go, especially since it’s been so well received there.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Minelli! Hmmm, yeah. I hope she makes a trip soon… Its kinda sad how Ghana is an afterthought in the promotion of the book – which mostly focuses on Ghana. But its not cheap to come here + Marjorie’s chapter spoke a lot on how the character (or Yaa Gyasi herself – maybe!) feels about coming to GH and not really feeling Ghanaian etc, so I kinda understand. Hopefully she’ll come soon! *fingers crossed*

      Liked by 2 people

  4. A wonderful review and definitely one that makes me want to read the book, this was already on my radar and I was hoping to read it soon, I requested it via Netgalley from the UK publisher but sadly was rejected, so I’ll have to wait till it comes out in paperback to read. Well I’m glad to hear its doing so well though, I would have loved to review it.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I just finished reading it, after my Aunt gave it to me for my birthday in hardback, so, so happy and wow, what a fantastic, emotional read, I am so in awe of this novel and the research that clearly went into its making. I didn’t know how I could put into words what I experienced so just wrote it all down straight away after reading and then had to come back and reread your review, since I remembered so well what you said and the personal connection. This book must win some literary awards, it really is a masterpiece of writing, storytelling, history and the legacy of the past on the present.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hey Claire :). Yesss, it’s such an emotionally packed historical novel! I think Homegoing has been winning awards, last I checked. So glad you loved it… I just hope readers are seeing and understanding how systemic racism continues to haunt the lives of black people from reading this phenomenal book.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I finally put up my review of Homegoing and now I can go around and read other reviews of the book. I’m glad you also loved it/are crazy about this book. I love your bits about being a Ghanaian-American and finding a lot of things you could relate to. Great review Darkowaa!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Well done on this review, Darkowaa! I read Homegoing and apart from the ambitious scope that Gyasa manages in less that 310 pages I really love that her book hones in on the roots of pain and disintegration that is often a wedge between Africans and African- Americans. Just typing that out hurts. But I haven’t read any other work of literature to bare that particular wound.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Leslie (and thanks for taking the time to catch up on so many posts on the blog. I’m flattered!). Agreed. Gyasi created a masterpiece that truly echoed/s the hardships of our people. Painful, but soo good *sigh*.

      Like

  7. Great review! I loved Homegoing but reading your thoughts about it – with your insight I do not share – makes it even more interesting. Would do mind if I linked your review at the bottom of mine?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I love how detailed your post is. I don’t know why it has taken me long to read this book. I think I got a bit scared when I heard that its a bit confusing due to multiple timelines and storylines. However, your review has definitely convinced me to read it soon. It sounds like a deeply, moving book. Brilliant review.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! Yeah when people hype a new book, it can be off-putting smh. Its not confusing at all – the family tree is very helpful and once you start, you’ll just be so drawn into the story that you won’t even notice numerous perspectives per chapter. However, this book is everything – trust me sis!

      Like

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