Monday, 10 April 2017

Review: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Title: Homegoing
Author: Yaa Gyasi
Publisher: Viking
Pages: 320
Genres: Literary Fiction

Effia and Esi: two sisters with two very different destinies. One sold into slavery; one a slave trader's wife. The consequences of their fate reverberate through the generations that follow. Taking us from the Gold Coast of Africa to the cotton-picking plantations of Mississippi; from the missionary schools of Ghana to the dive bars of Harlem, spanning three continents and seven generations, Yaa Gyasi has written a miraculous novel - the intimate, gripping story of a brilliantly vivid cast of characters and through their lives the very story of America itself.
I found this book absolutely fascinating. It tells the story of two half sisters, Effia and Esi. Effia is married to the white British governor of Cape Coast Castle in the Gold Coast in the eighteenth century, now known as Ghana in West Africa. Esi, on the other hand, had the misfortune of being captured and sold into slavery, spending some time in the castle's dungeons as her half sister lived in safety above, before eventually being shipped to North America. The rest of the book alternates between each sister's descendants as the ripple effect of that one pivotal moment in history affected each descendant through the generations to almost present day.

One of the criticisms I have read from others is that this book is too short and just one chapter on each of the fourteen characters is not enough. Oddly I love that the author, Yaa Gyasi, kept the book short and so concise. I love a long book and normally would have preferred more time with each character but I found that I preferred the short and to the point chapters as it made two centuries+ of history feel like it only happened yesterday, which I think is rather the point. The effects of the slave trade still deeply resonate with many people today, from the descendants of the Africans who sold slaves to foreigners, to the African Americans who descended from the slaves brought to America, to the descendants of the foreign slave traders or the American families that bought the slave labour. I think Homegoing did an amazing job of showing this ripple effect of history and how it affects individuals hundreds of years later who had no part in those decisions.

I found Esi and her descendants' stories the most compelling for obvious reasons. I loved how it all tied together at the end. I found myself thinking of this book a lot while I was not reading it. I could use endless adjectives to describe this book - powerful, compelling, harrowing, hopeful. I loved the details of Ghanaian culture. There wasn't much I did not love to be honest. This is a quick read and I would wholeheartedly recommend Homegoing.

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