Written by Yaa Gyasi
Published by Alfred A Knopf, June 7, 2016
My star rating: 3.5 stars
Two half sisters, 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.
Generation after generation, Yaa Gyasi’s magisterial first novel sets the fate of the individual against the obliterating movements of time, delivering unforgettable characters whose lives were shaped by historical forces beyond their control. Find it on Goodreads
This is a format and a premise that I’ve never read before, and for that reason alone, I loved it! This book follows two half sisters and the generations that follow after. Each girl is aware that the other is out there, but yet they’ve never met. Born from the same mother, these two women, Effia and Esi, are raised very differently and their lives follow vastly different paths. One is married off to a British “Big-Man” and lives in a castle, while the other is sold into slavery after being held in a dungeon under the very castle her half sister is living in. I’m going to do this review a little differently in hopes it will round out my thoughts a little better.
This is told in the format of a series of short stories essentially. Each story follows a descendant of the family and the events and connections through many generations, These lives crossed so much distance, both in time and geography, and it was absolutely stunning and unique. We see the struggles and sacrifices these people made for their family and how those events moulded the lives to come after them. I’ve never read a book following multiple generations before and I very much appreciated being able to see the “hows” and “whys” things changed down the line. However, this format did have its downfalls. As the story went on and more characters were added, it got harder and harder to remember their family tree. I kept flipping back to the beginning of the book to the family tree diagram to see who their parents (and grandparents) were and tried to remember what happened to them. Although I appreciated seeing how these two half sisters lives connected, I wish we could have just followed one line so we could have gotten more time with each of them. I felt that I didn’t get enough time with each generation and there wasn’t enough detail and pages to get fully invested into their lives.
As I said above, the format really impacted the characters for me. There were some that I connected more with than others but, as a whole, connection and completion was an issue for me. Each characters roll in the book was on average about 20 pages long which just wasn’t enough in my opinion. It would take me a little while to get my bearings as far as the location and lineage, and then as soon as I was getting into the story their part would end and we would be onto the next family member. I needed more detail! These stories were so emotional, passionate, heartbreaking, and eventful, and when the stories would end it just felt so incomplete. Through the course of a characters chapter they would often reminisce about their parents and grandparents – so there was actually some information (sometimes) on what happened to these characters later on – but it just wasn’t long enough and often felt a bit disconnected. **If you’ve read this book, then the one I want to know more about was H!! Seriously what happened?!** Maybe this could have been a two book series. One to follow Effie’s family line and another to follow Esi’s. I needed so much more detail….. it just feels incomplete to me.
I may have mentioned this before, but I actually live 10 minutes away from Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The northern part of American and the southern part of Canada was a safe haven for those who fled slavery, so I grew up with many stories of their daring escapes and their new found freedom. It was beyond fascinating to read of how those people lived in Africa and the events that took them to slavery in the first place. My heart broke so many times throughout this book. To know that things like this happened to people is awful. But their perseverance and strength was a shining light.
Though I did have quite a few issues with this book, it was still an impacting and hard hitting read. I loved getting the chance to follow generations stemming from these two women and look forward to more books from this author. She writes with so much passion and emotion. What she was able to do with a character in the span of 20 pages was just amazing. I recommend this one!!
Until next time, happy reading!