“The family is like the forest: if you are outside it is dense; if you are inside you see that each tree has its own position.” Akan Proverb – epigraph for Homegoing
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. penguinrandomhouse.com
HOMEGOING, A Novel by Yaa Ghasi is an epic work of historical/literacy fiction, beautifully crafted in 14 chapters and divided into two parts. Each part ties kin and bloodlines together through the chapter titles and the lilting, lyrical, unfolding stories which are, at times, a brutally honest depiction of the life and struggles of the protagonists and their families from the period of slavery through the Civil War, Great Migration, the colonial period to contemporary times. We are immediately pulled into the story of Effia’s birth in chapter 1 and Esi’s capture in chapter 2 and you know that this is going to be a long and bumpy literary ride that will hold you captive till the last line on page 300.
As the stories unfold in each chapter with a character’s name: Effia, Esi, Quey, Ness, James, Kojo, Abene in Part 1 and H, Akua, Willie, Yaw, Sonny, Marjorie and Marcus in Part 2, Yaa shares their stories without excuses or romanticized notions. The characters are three dimensional and flawed, and we love and dislike them as we would folks who share their strengths and foibles in real life. The narrative is fueled by gut wrenching tales of alienation, fragmentation and great loss. We empathize as the family ties are stretched to its limit; some members are complicit with the oppressor while others fight to the death. For any who might not know why this book is getting a lot of buzz, aside from the brilliant, poetic and complex subject Yaa tackles so well in her debut novel, it was in a bidding war between G.P. Putnam’s Sons and Alfred A. Knopf. Knopf won the bid with a $1 million offer and has printed 50,000 copies before the release date, which is scheduled for June 7th.
“You want to know what weakness is? Weakness is treating someone as though they belong to you. Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves.” Esi’s mother
A novel of breathtaking sweep and emotional power that traces three hundred years in Ghana and along the way also becomes a truly great American novel. Extraordinary for its exquisite language, its implacable sorrow, its soaring beauty, and for its monumental portrait of the forces that shape families and nations, Homegoing heralds the arrival of a major new voice in contemporary fiction.
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. Homegoing is a tremendous reading experience, not to be missed, by an astonishingly gifted young writer. penguinrandomhouse.com
In this day and age of sound bites, internet stars, and impatient readers, it’s exhilarating to see the publishing world abuzz with bids on books that will end up in schools, libraries, and in the hands of book readers who remain loyal to hard copy/paperback books. What impresses me about HOMEGOING, A Novel, Yaa’s debut novel, is how she was able to develop the arc of this moving, even heartbreaking, story that spans 300 years of a family history with roots in Ghana and the USA, while paying close attention to every key detail. As the chapters unfold and segue from Ghana to the US and back again with key characters evolving, I am reminded of a similar stylistic approach used in Alex Haley’s ROOTS: The Saga of an American Family and Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club.
This is a massive undertaking and yet, the novel is not ponderous. It flows evenly from chapter to chapter as it grapples with a difficult subject and a complex cast of characters. Yaa wove her stories in such a way that it brought back memories of evenings in my grandfather’s hut listening to the Griots weave a yarn that would transport you, one moment, to a terrible tragedy and then, smoothly move on to an ancient, glorious time long gone. Her storytelling is masterful and inspired. Her characters are deep and fully developed. While some of the characters didn’t hold my affection for long, and one might quibble with some of the archaic even derogatory terms used in the novel, I was pulled into the story and swept away by its breadth and depth. I encourage you to get a copy and fall right in… You won’t be disappointed.
READ: Homegoing’ by Yaa Gyasi, Born in Ghana and Raised in the U.S. – Wall Street Journal
Powell’s Interview: Yaa Gyasi of Homegoing – Powell’s Books
12 New Books We’re Reading This Summer (and 6 Not So New) – New York Times
HOMEGOING – KIRKUS REVIEW
Homegoing Reader’s Guide – PenguinRandomHouse
What’s up with the outdated language in description of Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing? – KinnaReads
Positive Motivation Tip: There is a powerful story in each of us. Find and tell yours.
PHOTO CREDITS/ATTRIBUTIONS: Homegoing bookcover from my Personal Collection.