Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi: Book Review

“We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history, you must always ask yourself, Whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there, you begin to get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.”

Two half-sisters arrive at a castle on the coast of Ghana in the 1700’s without knowing the other is there. Effia has been married off to the white commander of this castle and lives above. Esi has been kidnapped from her home and is imprisoned below, waiting to be shipped to America as a slave. Each chapter jumps a generation ahead so we can follow the children of Effia and Esi as they tumble through history–Effia’s line in Ghana and Esi’s line in the United States. Through generation after generation, Homegoing explores the impact of the slave trade on the people involved but also on the countries, not only during the era of slavery but into the present day. Through this method, as families rise and fall and try to settle a life for themselves, we see the longterm effect that the slave trade has had.

Each character feels real and natural, which is an incredible feat for a novel of such scope and ambition. Annie Proulx attempted a similar novel this year with Barkskins, centering her novel around the topic of logging, but she fell victim to the need to heavily plot her characters and actions over time in order to make sure everything fit the theme she was trying to bring home. And Proulx is a seasoned, Pulitzer Prize-winning author–one of the greatest living writers, in my mind. Somehow Yaa Gyasi managed to outdo her in her very first novel. Gyasi makes a novel of this scope and ambition look effortless. It is nothing short of astonishing how naturally generations flow and progress.

Homegoing is simply a powerful and heartbreaking novel as well as a profoundly observed one. It is quite possibly the best book of 2016, and I can’t wait to see what Gyasi has in store for us next.

Grade: A

Homegoing Yaa Gyasi

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