Review: Homegoing By Yaa Gyasi
My virtual book club voted to read Homegoing
by Yaa Gyasi as we wanted to diversify our shelves in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. I approached this book completely blind; the process of discovery is a revelation, yielding surprises at every turn, giving full vent to imaginative possibility.
All I could reliably say about Homegoing
before reading it was that it was about two sisters, that it involved slavery, and that the repercussions of the protagonists’ involvement echoed over several succeeding familial generations. The book does what it says on the tin essentially, but the way it is written is very far from prosaic.
The book spans two continents from two perspectives – the slaves and their owners, in both Ghana and America. The narrative timeline begins in the mid-eighteenth century and reaches the Millennium, passing from Ghana to Alabama, Harlem and Los Angeles.
There are stylistic reminders, here, of Toni Morrison – the tone is emotive, poetic, achingly poignant - and I highlighted so many references from the book for their tragic raw commentary on the human condition. But the more I read, the more Gyasi managed to carve out her own style and I marvelled at her writing even more, especially as this is her debut novel. The book may be imagined as a collection of short stories which, even though all are united under the narrative of slavery, is never to its detriment; each story adds something new to the testament of family history.
Each of the fourteen characters in the book has a connection to one of the stories from the novel’s originating sequence – either of Esi who was sold into slavery, or Effia, who became a slave-trader’s wife. The search for clues as to whose timeline each character belongs to, of what they knew of their ancestors and how the lives of their ancestors has affected the arc of their own trajectory, is an engaging, and fruitful, diversion. For some, we discover that a thirst for knowledge was the driver, for others, a search for answers, and for others still, it was fear that drove their need to make the world a better place.
If a piece of fiction encourages, in the reader, that sincerest form of flattery, a profound need to write and to create something of their own, then it has worked its magic. One exemplar from this incredible book bears synoptic testimony to both its meaning, and its beauty:
“The need to call this thing ‘good’ and this thing ‘bad’, this thing ‘white’ and this thing ‘black’ was an impulse that Effia did not understand. In her village, everything was everything. Everything bore the weight of everything else.”
Every character in Homegoing
has a story, they are all a part of each other, and they shoulder the burden of their predecessors. Everything is everything.
is published by Penguin Random House