Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi


Published June 7th 2016 by Viking, Softcover, 305 pages, Pacing 3.5/5

I don't know that you can "LOVE" a book that so vividly outlines the Trans-Atlantic slave trade in every painstaking detail, but Gyasi's writing is beautiful. She effortlessly pieced together how the effects of slavery have shaped ideologies across era's and generations. These characters are fleshed out in a way that let's us not forget the atrocities of history. This is a fairly epic debut for Gyasi. Check the synopsis below.

Although the synopsis suggests that this story is centered around two half sisters, Effia and Esi, it felt like, with the constant influx of characters and their own individual stories, that these two main characters got lost somehow. I kept wondering if Gyasi purposely wrote it this way; like a metaphor for the separation, broken and painful distance between families because of the system of slavery, but I may be looking a bit too deep into that. Nevertheless, this book pulled every emotion out of me. Most of all rage. It was difficult to read the way in which these two sisters and others were sold and separated as if they were not living, breathing beings with feelings and human connection. In the days of slavery there was a separation of "good" slaves and "bad" slaves. The "good" ones were allowed to live in the nicer part of their master's home and the "bad" ones were subjected to field work and beyond deplorable living conditions in sheds most often. Effia was bought by the British governor James Collins and lived inside of the main part of his mansion while Esi was thrown in the dungeon with other female slaves who were raped and beaten, left to bleed and suffer amongst one another. Their bodies lay atop one another like sardines in a can. 

“You want to know what weakness is? Weakness is treating someone as though they belong to you. Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves.”

I've read tons of text about the Trans-Atlantic slave trade so in knowing the premise of this story, Africans being torn away from their Ghanian home, manipulated by intruders and the long term effects of that, I was prepared for a bit of global travel through its pages. As necessary as this is to tell this kind of story, it also made it a bit confusing. The way in which this book is structured reminds me of Pachinko. They are polar opposite in cultural reference, but they are both multi-generational. The ease I found in Pachinko, with linking each character and all the other characters they connected with as well as the changing settings for the passing years, I did not find so easy in Homegoing. I kept referencing the family tree in the beginning of the book, but in all honesty I skimmed through the last few POVs; the format in which this book is written. Of course, people's relationships evolve, end, new people are introduced over the course of someone's life, but I just struggled to keep up. 

I loved Gyasi's writing and the way in which she peeled back the layers from slavery to the effects of slavery on African American's in the present day. The book was extremely evocative. There has been some debate about Africans selling there own in discussions about the inner workings of the slave trade; quite possibly to negate the responsibility of what actually occurred, but what I love is that Gyasi delved right into that topic, but also made it clear that the Africans did not have much of a choice in the matter. They were manipulated and only had hopes for a better life based on what they were told. 

There are so many "doctrines" that stem from slavery; colorism, education, assimilation and Gyasi fearlessly tackled them all. The only thing that prevents me from giving this book a full five is the slow pace towards the end and the constant inundation of characters. I absolutely think this book should be required reading. 

My rating: 4/5