I have spoken about this book to anyone who will listen. In fact, I am very sure my friends and family have heard me go on about it one too many times. When you find something great you must share and Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is definitely one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.
This is a story of African (Ghanaian specifically) and African American history, told seamlessly through parallel narratives. Beginning in 19th Century Gold Coast (modern day Ghana) at the height of the Asante and Fante empires and British slave trade, Gyasi tells the tale of two sisters – one sold into slavery and the other to a British slave trader as his wife.
The Cape Coast Castle in Ghana (where slaves were held in transit before being shipped off), acts as the central point of both sides of history and is where the story begins and ends. Esi who is kept in its dungeons and eventually taken to America’s Deep South as a slave and Effia who walks the surface as a trader’s “wench” – their lives diverge. It is this juxtaposition that sets the scene for the parallel stories of African and African American history as Gyasi follows the lineage of each sister. Their bloodlines are followed through seven generations covering the associated histories of the US and Ghana up to the turn of the 21st century. Slavery in America’s Deep South, Jim Crow and segregation, The Great Migration and the Civil Rights Movement told alongside tales of tribal war, the peek of the Asante and Fante empires, war, colonialism and independence (and more) are all encapsulated in the stories of each character.
It is Gyasi’s ability to seamlessly move between times and characters with just enough detail and ease that allows the reader to be gripped, moved and educated at the same time. I personally learnt so much about Ghanaian and African American history from the stories of the characters in this book. When I was 12 I visited Cape Coast Castle and being so young I really didn’t take in the significance of what I was experiencing. When I do go again this novel, although fictional has given me a unique insight into its history. Also, the way the story is told through the generations, I think sends a powerful message of just how much history shapes our present – the idea that slavery is an open wound that will never heal resonates with the characters in this book on both sides. Another message I think Gyasi attempts to convey is the idea that for Africans and African Americans despite our parallel history we began and end as one. In this sense as a Ghanaian American, Gyasi’s dual heritage perfectly assists with this balance.
This book is of course for anyone but I think especially for the diaspora and African alike as Gyasi helps to paint the picture of a personal history whilst allowing us to peek into one another’s stories- our sister history.
As a debut novel and at only 26 years old I’m really excited for more from her.
I could go on but I’m no spoiler so get you a copy!