Homegoing By Yaa Gyasi

5 out of 5 Stars

Separated sisters ” . . . are like a woman and her reflection, doomed to stay on opposite sides of the pond.”

Yaa Gyasi’s sweeping family saga begins in the 18th century with two half sisters, Effi and Esi. Effi has been raised in a Fante village on the Gold Coast of Ghana, and Esi in an inland Asante village. Neither sister is aware of the existence of the other, and indeed, any union is swiftly made impossible: Effi is married off to the British Governor of the local garrison, and Esi is captured in a raid, and sold into slavery. The closest the women (girls, really) come to one another is at the garrison itself: a holding pen for slaves before being shipped of to the new world, and a home for the British colonial officers and their families. Though separated by twenty feet of stone and mortar, the sisters’ lives diverge sharply from here.

Gyasi follows both families, from the 18th century to the present day. We see the children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and on, of Effi and Esi, and how the horrors of slavery and the difficulties of British occupation and colonization shaped the future for both families.

The novel is about loss. Loss of the past, of humanity, of family, of hope. Esi’s family suffers the repercussions of slavery and bigotry for generations. We see how the inhumanity of slave owners helped to break apart the family structure of their slaves, separating parents and children, forcing slaves into marriages “for insurance purposes.” Even when Esi’s descendants manage to throw off the bonds of slavery, we see how the institution’s tentacles continue reaching for them, dragging them backwards for generations.

For Effi’s family, the loss of family and loss of connection seem to be largely self inflicted. Conflict between the British and Africans, and between different African tribes boils over into Effi’s family, causing strife and disaster, even for those safe from the slave trade.

But there is also hope in this book. We see each generation as a small vignette, mothers, fathers, children, grandparents. We see the hope each generation has for the one that will follow it. We feel it when those hopes are dashed, and we rejoice when they become reality. We despair when it seems there is no more hope to be had at all. That is the magic of Gyasi’s book. It is an epic tale, spanning 300 years and many generations on both sides of the Atlantic. Yet, it feels small at the same time. We get to know each generation so intimately that Homegoing stops being the historical epic, and instead becomes a family portrait.

This is, simply put, a beautiful book. That this is a debut novel makes Homegoing even more astounding. Yaa Gyasi is an incredibly talented woman, who will surely create many more works of art in the future.

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