Book Title: Homegoing
Author: Yaa Gyasi
Genres: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
Pub Date: 6/7/16
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.
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.
Generation after generation, Yaa Gyasi’s magisterial first novel sets the fate of the individual against the obliterating movements of time, delivering unforgettable characters whose lives were shaped by historical forces beyond their control. Homegoing is a tremendous reading experience, not to be missed, by an astonishingly gifted young writer.
It has been a long time since I read true historical fiction. After reading “Homegoing,” if I can find another selection like it, this fact will certainly change. I read this novel slowly to savor the language, and the way Yaa Gyasi weaved the overarching story. Think of “Homegoing” like a full-bodied Cabernet Savignon…you linger over every glass in order to revel in its subtle nuances.
Starting in the 1700s, the first chapter is dedicated to Effia and how life changed for her once she left her village and family and moved to the British occupied castle. The next chapter moves to her unknown sister Esi in the dungeon of the castle. This is the juncture where we glimpse the harsh reality of what it must have been like to be foisted into the horror and cruelty of being a slave.
Thereafter, each chapter is devoted to a different person…some women and some men. You never totally know what happens to the person you got to know and became attached to in the previous chapter. In a sense, it is up to the reader’s imagination to fill in the blanks. Don’t get me wrong, you do get glimpses, but not the whole entire story. One of my favorite literary devices from a writer’s toolbox is to not spell out the plot, and it is left up to the reader to tie it up into a nice bow.
You will laugh and you will cry. You will be happy and you will be angry. But all things considered, every step in the journey with the two sisters’ families in Africa and the United States is well worth the rollercoaster of emotions.
I rarely give books five stars, but “Homegoing” is a true gem and an amazing read from the first page to the last page. It will be a cherished book on my shelf for many years to come.