Gyasi follows seven generations in sensational debut novel
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/07/2016 (2207 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Sometimes a book comes along that garners a lot of buzz; publicists and reviewers hype it and it flies off of the shelves. Sometimes those buzzy books don’t quite deserve high praise. But every once in a while, such a book surpasses expectations.
Homegoing belongs in the latter category. An ambitious debut novel by Ghanaian-born, American-raised Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing is stunning.
Spanning continents and generations, it charts the course of two half-sisters and their descendants from 18th-century Africa to modern-day America.
One fateful night, a woman sets fire to the Ghanaian forest, setting off a chain of events that haunts each character in different ways.
That same night, Effia the Beauty is born. She eventually marries an English colonist and lives a privileged life at Cape Coast Castle, knowing true love and comfort.
Her half-sister, Esi, also spends time at Cape Coast Castle. However, Esi is imprisoned, enduring the horrors of the women’s dungeon. Surviving the castle, Esi finds herself on a slaving ship bound for America.
As Effia and Esi’s children and children’s children navigate the tribal wars of Ghana, the U.S. Civil War, the streets of 20th-century Harlem and present-day America, Gyasi explores the legacy of slavery with incredible delicacy and candour. Seven generations explore the cumulative effects of racism, identity, and what it means to be free in distinct, authentic voices.
Each descendant’s story is elegantly crafted, describing humanity at its best and worst without romanticism or judgment. Each of the novel’s 14 chapters is a masterful character sketch that uncovers the impacts of Effia and Esi’s diverging paths, always leaving the reader wanting more.
The beauty of Homegoing is its honesty — Gyasi looks at all sides of the slave trade, never excusing, but also never shaming.
The culprit she ultimately identifies is greed, one of the dirtiest and most universal of human traits, transcending both race and culture. Drawing on her own experiences as an African-American born in Ghana, Gyasi delves deep into the burden of history and how it weighs on each person affected by the repercussions of the slave trade.
Marjorie, one of Effia’s descendants, spends her high school years searching for the stories she can feel inside of her, stories she loves. Homegoing is one such story — enduring, painful, beautiful and hopeful, it is the story of two people and of all people, told intimately and with conviction.
Weaving together multiple perspectives, Gyasi’s powerful novel is fire and water, black and white, broken and whole — a tremendous feat.
Katrina Sklepowich is a lover of all things literary, and creator of the Literally, Katrina podcast and blog at LiterallyKatrina.com.