Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

‘Weakness is treating someone as though they belong to you. Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves.’

This story starts in eighteenth century Ghana, with two sisters born to different mothers in different villages. Effia and Esi lead very different lives and will never know each other.  Effia is selected as wife to an Englishman and lives a life of privilege in Cape Coast Castle. In the dungeons beneath, her sister Esi is, with thousands of others, destined for slavery in America.

From these two lives, we follow the impacts of slavery and British colonisation in Ghana, and the path of slavery and its aftermath in America. One thread follows the lives of Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana as the Asante and Fante nations wrestle with colonisation and the slave trade. The other thread follows Esi and her descendants into America.

Effia and Esi are the pivotal characters, and the ones to which I felt most connected. As the story passes from one generation to the next, I had to keep referring to the family tree at the front of the book to keep the characters clear. I know little Ghanaian history. While the characters inhabiting those chapters of the story gave me some appreciation of conflicts, issues, and the effects of British colonisation, I need (and want) to read more. With the characters in America, I felt on more familiar historical ground. And yet, while the history is important, it is the stories of the individuals that makes this novel shine. Disadvantage becomes real through the eyes of Yaa Gyasi’s characters, as does the sense of dislocation. Where (and how) do people fit when their family ties are disrupted or destroyed, when colour defines place? How do nations evolve when slavery is part of their history? Both Ghana and America are shaped by this history as are the individuals.

 This novel took me into some uncomfortable places and made me think about belonging and about the impact of dislocation. I am ambivalent about the ending, but every fiction must end somewhere.

Highly recommended.

‘We cannot know which story is correct because we were not there.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

5 thoughts on “Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

  1. Short of hunting through my shelves (which have got themselves overfull and disorganised again), I’m not sure whether I have this one or not.) I have a vague memory of adding it to my ROTO (read or throw out) pile because I’d read some unflattering reviews of it. My Goodreads shelves say I don’t have it, my Excel file says that I do.
    If you’d like to read two of Ghana’s most famous women writers, Ghanaian literary royalty IMO, try Changes, by Ama Ata Aidoo, and Faceless, by Amma Darko. These are classic works. If your library doesn’t have them, they should have.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks, Lisa. I read some unflattering reviews as well … after I had read the book, fortunately. I’ll add your suggestions to my every expanding reading list 😉

    Like

    1. If you put in a request, you could tell them that with Australia’s rapidly growing migrant communities from Africa, it’s important to have these classic texts for young people who want to access their literary heritage?

      Liked by 1 person

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