Effia and Esi are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.
Disclaimers: We received an digital copy of this book via NetGalley courtesy of the publisher (Viking) which is an imprint of Penguin. This review may contain some things you consider to spoilers. You have been warned.
Why we chose it: We wanted to read something different.
Review: When we first received this book, we opened it, read about thirty pages and then stopped. We don’t know why. We have no reason, but we left Homegoing for weeks until just last night when we opened it again and read til about six o’ clock in the morning. We put off tiredness. We put off the fact that our phone was dying and simply read.
Homegoing is definitely a book that grows on you. It’s like a vine because once it takes hold you can’t ever escape its grip. It will devour you and you will be reborn as something that is not entirely different to what you once were.
We feel like there are so many stories and perspectives and ideas about humanity as a whole that have sprouted in our head and it interests us because while we had the idea that this book would move us, we never thought it would change us.
But then again, all books change those who read them. Don’t they?
This novel is not simply what the synopsis promises you. It’s not just the book about two sisters from an African tribe who through faith and circumstance end up having wildly different lives. It’s a story about two sisters who’s children and descendants weave in and out of each other’s lives over time and oceans and we adored it.
We don’t know how many perspectives this novel contains. We’re sure we could count them sufficiently if we were to go back, but that’s really not the point we’re trying to make. All the main people in this breathtaking story have at least one chapter where the author weaves their lives into an ever expanding story. Some have more than others because their stories are greater or their stories are ones that simply need a bit more page space to flesh out the details.
We commend Yaa Gyasi on her ability to make everyone seem fresh and different. No voice felt the same as another and there was no point where we raced through a chapter or skim read it because we wished to return to someone else.
Yes, there was a point somewhere half way through the book where we questioned the point of this book. Questioned the integrity of its plot. We didn’t feel it had one. It took us time to realise that we felt that way because there were many, many subplots that when stacked on top of themselves made one giant heap of ink and complexity. Something of family and friendship and loss and courage.
The changes in time and location never felt jolting to us. It all flowed smoothly and we experienced a tidal wave of emotions. There were times when we felt uncomfortable due to something a character was going through. There were times when we felt elated because finally some good fortune was raining down upon someone. And there were times where we felt so very sad because some form of injustice was ruining everything we wanted.
Homegoing is not the type of book we usually read. It’s not a book written for young adults and it doesn’t contain the epic battles of vast armies where there are creatures such as dragons and trolls. Instead it is a book for almost all ages and contains struggles that are no less epic. No less worthwhile. They just tend to happen on a smaller scale. Sometimes a person has to be an army and sometimes a person must be the fire breathing dragon that will take down all the obstacles in its path.
We’ve been very vague in our review of Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel so far. We don’t want to spoil it. We don’t want to make you feel as if you know too much, but we suppose a little detail won’t hurt too much.
Effia and Esi are half sisters who never know each other. They are turning points because some of their descendants end up in America, in slavery and some of them help to run the slave trade in Ghana. Because of the two of them we got to see things from very different angles. We got to see what it was like to be a slave and be treated as something less than nothing and we got to see what it was like to be someone who would go to war and sell off other tribes for power and money.
Through them and their descendants we explored two different trajectories and it was illuminating if more than a little disgusting at times when dungeons and rape came into the mix.
Both Effia and Esi are strong women for entirely different reasons. One is strong because it who she was raised to be and had the opportunity to be while the other in strong because she was forced to be under the most horrific circumstances.
When we departed from their viewpoints we felt loss while at the same time we had a feeling of acquisition with people such as Akua and James.
You see this book not only explores colonialism and race, but sexuality and sacrifice in ways that make it wholly realistic and diverse in more than a physical way. There was a difference in mentality throughout the generations and it was something we greatly appreciated.
Approaching the ending of Homegoing was an interesting experience for us because we wondered where, when and with who we would end up. We wondered if a happy ending of sorts would be at all possible in the grand scheme of things or if we would have to make do with all the micro ending that are spread throughout the generations. We wondered about a great deal of conflicting things that we can’t possibly tell you about yet and when we finally turned to the end of the last page, we can honestly say we felt…
asunder. As if we had been torn apart in far too many directions and with so many emotions. It was definitely an experience.
In concluding this review, we feel as if we can’t express to you how profoundly and deeply this book has captured our soul. We could shout it from high castle walls and yet we feel like you still wouldn’t fully understand so we urge you to read this book. We urge you to read Homegoing and fall in love with a family of many different kinds of people with many beliefs and many names and even different languages between them. We ask you ever so strongly to open the first page of Homegoing and read.
THIS REVIEW WAS SCHEDULED BECAUSE IT’S NOT LONG AFTER CHRISTMAS AND WE’RE REALLY TOO LAZY TO TYPE ANYTHING AT THIS CURRENT POINT IN TIME. Thank you for reading! Did you love this book as much as we did? Please let us know what you think in the comments and don’t forget to follow us on:
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