Effia and Esi are two sisters but with very different destinies. One is sold into slavery and the other becomes a slave trader’s wife. The novel follows the consequences of their fate throughout the generations that come after: from the Gold Coast of Africa to the plantations of Mississippi and more. A heartbreaking story of one family spanning continents and generations.
Have you ever finished a book and wanted to give an author a standing ovation?
It’s rare for me. I can probably count on my hand the amount of times I’ve felt like that and I’ve read a lot of books over the years.
Which is why when I read Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, I finished it speechless. I had no words.
Flipping hell. What a book.
A 5/5 rating from me and my favourite book out of everything I’ve read so far during 2020.
I don’t even want to say too much about it because I don’t even think I could say anything that can do it justice.
I’ll be honest. I normally tend to avoid slave narratives. After years of reading them, I find books about slavery especially hard. Being Caribbean, I spend the whole time reading them thinking: “is this what my ancestors went through?”
But it’s a question I know the answer to…I knew the answer from the age of six. And the sick feeling in my stomach never goes away the whole time I’m reading it.
So some parts of this novel was especially hard.
It’s not an easy read because the raw honesty will have you tearing up in places. The unfairness of the past nearly made me scream. There were points that I wanted to throw the book across the room because it just brought it all back down to that question I constantly ask myself when it comes to slavery…just why?
A book like this is incredibly hard to write. I could tell a significant amount of plotting had gone into it because the cyclical structure was perfection. I don’t have anything negative to say about it.
She created a persona for each character within one chapter…and in most novels it takes many chapters to build up a character’s personality.
And it wasn’t all chucked at you within the chapter…it was methodically spaced out. You got the impression the author was in control. She was slowly revealing parts to you as she felt it was right. There was no way for the reader to guess what was going to happen next because every chapter was different.
I think the only way I can put it is, in 300 pages, Yaa Gyasi covered over 200 years of Black American history. She covered: Slavery, The Civil War, Segregation and the Jim Crow laws from the late 19th century, Black Coal Miners in America, Redlining that was abolished in 1968, The Crack Epidemic in the 1980s and Mass Incarceration that is still going on today. She covered it all. She even managed to get in the feeling of not knowing where you’re from. Not being able to understand who you are because you don’t know your past.
Do you know how hard that must have been?
But being that she alternated between America and Ghana, I believe she also covered a lot of Ghanaian history as well. I definitely learnt a lot about the different tribes. It seemed like she covered the evolution of the culture. I can’t express how impressed I was. Especially because when it comes to the Transatlantic Slave Trade, being Caribbean, my parents made sure I learnt how it affected my ancestors being taken to Jamaica. I had always learnt that side of history.
But I realised that I definitely want to visit Ghana. There’s so much to learn and understand about my ancestors that were forcibly enslaved.
As someone who loves history and even tried to change my degree to a joint honours in my first year – I have always had a burning desire to figure out who my ancestors are, as I’m sure most people do.
And Yaa Gyasi emphasises that you will always be connected to your past and to your ancestors. Everything that has happened to them…to you…has led to this exact moment. It’s led to you. There’s something really profound about that.
If my ancestors hadn’t been captured and taken to Jamaica and Guyana…if my grandparents hadn’t migrated from Guyana and Jamaica to the UK…would I be here now?
The past, especially slavery, has had such an impact on the descendants that followed. I’ve heard people often describe the black community now as having mental shackles and I wish I could dispel this argument. But as years go on, I see it more and more.
For instance, it’s in the colourism that we scream needs to be eradicated but is still active in today’s world.
But clearly getting rid of generational-old shackles will not be easy. It will take patience.
That’s why the message that is so subtle throughout this novel…but has been applicable for so many years and is still to this day…is so important.
It’s not about where you’ve been…it’s about where you end up.
It’s about your future…the steps you lay down for the generations to come in your lineage.
What kind of legacy do you want your family name to have?
Don’t let the past dictate your future.
In the words of Rafiki (The Lion King):
Yes, the past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it, or learn from it.