Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi
Genre – Historical/Contemporary Fiction
Excitable Rating – 9/10
Gyasi’s superb debut novel tells first of all the stories of two Ghanaian women in the late 1700’s: Effia Otcher and Esi Asare. The plot then follows the subsequent six generations of these two women’s families, quite a massive undertaking considering it is a novel of 300 pages.
The novel begins on the Gold Coast, now called Ghana, in Fanteland and Asanteland. Slavery is already an established trade, warring tribes selling the unfortunates of the losing side to the British or any other nation involved in the slave trade. The novel deals mainly with these themes of slavery and with the loss of connection to their history which many black African-Americans have been forced into experiencing through the brutalities of slavery. As a parallel we also see the evolution of Ghana as well, as it is forced through colonial rule into completely unnatural routes in its history such as adopting Christianity and learning English instead of tribal languages; highlighting the disconnect between each new generation and the last.
Effia Otcher is raised under the abusive governance of the woman she believes is her mother, eventually ending up married to a white man in Cape Coast Castle.
Esi Asare is raised lovingly by her parents but is captured by a rival tribe and sold into slavery.
With these very different beginnings we see two families move through lives of subjugation and contrasting lives of privilege. What I really feel this novel highlights, aside from its very powerful narrative on race and gender relations in America and Sub-Saharan Africa, is the myriad ways in which humankind causes humankind to suffer but also the myriad ways in which powerful loving connections can get you through almost any difficulty you may face.
Despite only maybe an average of around 20 pages per character Gyasi paints such a vivid window into their lives that you can’t help but know all of them as intimately as if you had lived all their life beside them – that is the power of this writing. It is breath-taking.
‘When Marjorie had asked her father again when he had known he liked Esther, he said he had always known. He said it was born in him, that he breathed it in with the first breeze of Edweso, that it moved in him like the harmattan.’
Reading this line I had to take a moments pause, as I did on many occasions throughout this novel, to take in the depth of simple profound feeling that exudes from the writing.
Gyasi has a gift.
- Lots of historical and cultural facts, told in a really honest way through beautiful writing
- Plenty of wonderfully diverse female characters
- A book about race relations in America actually written by a black woman! (looking at you The Help…)
- There are so many things I want to talk about but I don’t want to spoil any of the amazing writing!
- Read if you enjoy authors such as Louise O’Neill or Taiye Selasi
Read this book, read it like your life depends on it!
Thanks for reading
~ The Excitable Feminist