Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
I just so happened to snag a signed copy of this book at book expo this year. This book is getting hyped all over the literary community. It comes out today in bookstores all across the U.S. Is it worth the hype?
The short answer is, yes. It is worth the hype and I encourage all of you to run out and buy it. Here’s the long answer (or my review):
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
First published: June 7, 2016
Reviewed by Jen
Rating: 4 stars
Find it/buy it here: Homegoing
Homegoing is Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel and if it’s any indication of her talent, we’ll be hearing a lot more about her in the years to come. The novel spans 300 years and traces the lives of one family from Ghana. It all starts with two half-sisters, Effia and Esi who are born in eighteenth century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and goes on to live in the upper levels of the Cape Coast Castle. Her half sister passes through the castle as a prisoner. Held deep in the dungeons below the castle, Esi is sold into slavery and shipped to America. Effia’s descendants remain, for the most part, in Africa whereas Esi’s descendants get swept up in the slave trade and are born and raised in the United States.
Chapters alternate between Effia’s family line and Esi’s line, with each chapter focusing on a different generation. The novel is about the impacts of captivity and slavery on the soul of a people. Gyasi doesn’t just focus on the actions of White men (colonialists and American slavers). Both Effia’s and Esi’s descents become weighed down by the actions perpetrated by all sorts of people: both the Whites responsible for buying slaves, the Africans who captured and sold slaves, and the every day people whose inaction served to reinforce the system. Perhaps the novel’s main message is best captured by the following passage:
When someone does wrong, whether it is you or me, whether it is mother or father, whether it is the Gold Coast man or the white man, it is like a fisherman casting a net into the water. He keeps only the one or two fish that he needs to feed himself and puts the rest in the water, thinking that their lives will go back to normal. No one forgets that they were once captive, even if they are now free. But still, Yaw, you have to let yourself be free.”
Gyasi’s characters highlight the many ways in which slavery impacted all generations. Her characters are complex and incredibly varied. Some act in almost incomprehensible ways (abandoning children, betraying others) while others show great sacrifice and strength. As a result Gyasi creates a complex and highly ambitious novel.
I loved the book. I was drawn in immediately and I enjoyed following the generations of family members. The novel was heart-breaking at times and always thought-provoking. I felt the heavy weight of history bearing down on these characters and my heart was filled with that same heaviness as I contemplated all the themes. I have read many books that focus on the impact of slavery or colonialism but Gyasi’s book was the first one I’ve read that highlighted the ways in which both the free and the enslaved were impacted by the system. I did think that the chapters focused in Africa and on Effia’s family were much stronger than those in the US and at times Gyasi seems to write very stereotypically about black struggles in the US, but overall I thought the book was a great debut. I highly recommend this book.
I came to these waters and I could feel the spirits of our ancestors calling to me. Some were free, and they spoke to me from the sand, but others were trapped deep, deep, deep in the water so that I had to wade out to hear their voices. I waded so far, the water almost took me down to meet those spirits that were trapped so deep in the sea that they would never be free. When they were living they had not known where they came from, and so dead, they did not know how to get to dry land.
Want to try it for yourself? The book comes out today and you can buy your copy here: Homegoing.
Would you like a chance to win a signed copy of the book? Turns out I am also getting a signed first edition as part of my Powell’s Indiespensables subscription (a subscription service you should check out). Since I don’t need two copies, I will give one away to a lucky winner. The prize is only open to readers in the US unless you are willing to pay for shipping charges overseas. Raffle closes on Sunday.
The Winner of the signed copy is… Annapi. Congrats! I will send you an email with the details.
We want to hear from you. Do you plan on reading this book? Why or why not?