‘There should be no room in your life for regret.
If in the moment of doing you felt clarity, you felt certainty, then why feel regret later?’
Just one of the many wonderful lines in the beautiful book that is Homegoing.
Published on 5th January 2017 by Viking, it was the March choice for a book-club I’m involved with and what a choice!!!!
Described as ‘epic‘, Homegoing is a historical novel spanning over 300 years. It is a novel not to be rushed. It is a study in African history and of the slave trade of the 1800’s to the present day.
From the Cover:
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.
Epic in its canvas and intimate in its portraits, Homegoing is a searing and profound debut from a masterly new writer.
Homegoing is the remarkable debut from Yaa Gyasi. Born in Ghana and raised in Alabama, Yaa Gyasi has very obviously put her all into this novel. The research is evident in every page turned.
Homegoing has it’s roots in the slave trade of the 1800’s where two sisters Effia and Esi grow up without any knowledge of each other. Tragic circumstances lead them to leading two very, very different upbringings and having a ripple effect that would impact the lives of generations over the next three hundred years.
Effia marries a white slave trader and Esi is sold into slavery. The descriptions are harrowing as Gyasi describes the treatment allotted slaves.
‘The mud walls of the dungeon made all time equal. There was no sunlight. Darkness was day and night and everything in between, Sometimes there were so many bodies stacked into the women’s dungeon that they all had to lie, stomach down, so that women could be stacked on top of them.’
These women were treated in the most heinous and appalling manner, as the fighting tribes of the Asante and Fante, took them prisoners, selling them off to the white man to be trafficked to America on ships that were no more than sailing coffins. Once these poor slaves entered America, they were auctioned off to the highest bidder and many sent to work in the cotton-fields, with no chance of freedom and little chance of survival.
Following their descendants from the Gold Coast of Africa, as English colonialism spread, to the American Civil war, the reader is taken on a journey so intense it almost feels hard to breath at times.
Each chapter has it’s own story to tell, sweeping through portions of history that were disturbing and just so sad. As slaves fought for their rights, the question is asked if a black man can ever be free.
My knowledge of African history was vague to say the least before I read Homegoing. I was unaware of the extent of the internal wars fought between tribes, the hierarchy that existed and how the arrival of the white man on the shores of the Gold Coast set off a ripple that still reverberates through families. Many fled their homes, many were forced to leave. The missionaries arrived bringing a new religion, a new order, a new direction for many. Crops failed, new ones introduced. The upheaval was traumatic with families ripped apart and the tragedy of these lives passed on from generation to generation.
The story of the forced emigrants is heart-wrenching. As slavery was abolished, following the American Civil War, the segregation of black and white was there for many years to come and many will say it’s still there.
As these ‘Free’ folk attempted to face an insurmountable challenge to just survive, Gyasi brings the reader to Harlem through the food shortages, the homelessness and up to the drug dens of the 1960’s.
Homegoing is a mammoth tale of ‘how the memory of captivity has been inscribed on the soul of a nation’
My only issue with Homegoing is the amount of information and the number of characters involved in the story. Yaa Gyasi includes a family tree at the beginning of the novel and for me this was a necessary inclusion. I regularly referred back to it as each chapter introduced someone new. Having read the Neapolitan Novels (4) by Elena Ferrante, I do believe Homegoing could have been spread over more than one novel with further development of the wonderful characters. A very minor gripe mind you…I just wanted more!!
As I read the story of Effia and Esi, as I followed the journey of their descendants and read about the adversity and hatred they faced I was saddened, shocked and upset. Homegoing is a history lesson for all, a book that I would highly recommend. The writing is superb, passionate and uncompromising.
And if you don’t believe me….here’s a sample of what others are saying:
‘Homegoing is a novel I wish I could have read when I was a young woman. An intelligent, beautiful and healing read, destined to become a classic’ (Zadie Smith)
‘Homegoing is an epic novel in every sense of the word – spanning three centuries, Homegoing is a sweeping account of two half-sisters in 18th-century Ghana and the lives of their many generations of descendants in America. A stunning, unforgettable account of family, history, and racism, Homegoing is an ambitious work that lives up to the hype.’ (Buzzfeed)
‘A hypnotic debut novel by… a stirringly gifted young writer’ (New York Times Book Review)
Purchase Link ~ Homegoing
About the Author
Yaa Gyasi was born in Ghana and raised in Huntsville, Alabama. She holds a BA in English from Stanford University and an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she held a Dean’s Graduate Research Fellowship. She lives in New York City.
Homegoing is her first novel.