“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.”
Homegoing is the debut novel of African author Yaa Gyasi. A historical-fiction novel that follows the story of a family though generations starting with half-sisters, Esi and Effia, two women with very different destinies – Effia marries an English slave trader and Esi herself is sold into slavery. They never meet and yet the generations that came after them tell their stories. The book gives us a look at the colonialism and slavery that took place across Africa and America over the course of 250 years. It is raw and honest and it’s clear that this is a very important topic to the author and her family. It isn’t an easy read, it is heartbreaking and infuriating but it is a necessary read, especially in terms of diversity.
Yaa Gyasi managed to achieve in just over 300 pages what many authors have struggled with – writing chapters from numerous perspectives (each chapter has a different narrator, following the family tree as it descends) and yet allowing us to connect with them and their story on an emotional level. No character was uninteresting, no chapter gave us an info-dump about its narrator. The author allows each character to tell their individual stories, show us their culture and their struggles and how their family’s history has affected them. On paper, it sounds like a disaster but in terms of multiple perspectives, this book would be in my top five with how well executed it was. I loved every character and their voice but I was also excited for the next character and seeing how each member of this family tree connected to the other.
For a debut novel, this book was incredible. Yes, it is full of violence, brutality and horror. It shows, unflinchingly, how slaves were treated so in theory, this isn’t a happy story. However, the end had me smiling with tears in my eyes. One of those endings that is bittersweet and almost as though the whole story had formed a complete circle from Effia and Esi to Majorie and Marcus. There are some moments of pure joy in this novel, there was a silver lining in the love these characters had for each other, their children, their grandchildren. I learned about Ghana, the old cultures and tribes which is something that isn’t common in everyday fiction. No character was suppressed, each had their own struggle but each had a voice and it was almost as though every member of this bloodline came together.
Overall, this book was eye-opening, informative and heart-wrenching. Although we only spent a short amount of time with each person, Yaa Gyasi managed to make them real and interesting which some authors fail to do with just one character. Her writing was beautiful and flowed effortlessly, she didn’t shy away from the horrors these characters suffered and yet the one thing that connected them all was the love that flowed through the bloodline. It is clear that Gyasi put her heart and soul into this book and it is clear from the very first chapter to the last. If she wants to publish her shopping list next, I’d happily read it. Pick this book up, support it and its author and just get ready for a hard but rewarding journey through generations.