Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi


Homegoing - Yaa GyasiI look forward to the day when this book has been added to American Literature classes all over the country. It beautifully captures so much of our history and the alternatives that life could have taken. Homegoing focuses on the African and slave experiences but I’m sure many Americans of all races can look back and see a dividing point when their families decided to come here that changed the course of the family line from the ones that stayed in their original countries. Of course, the main difference that haunts this story is the utter lack of choice about coming to the US and about what happened to members of each generation.

For me, the one thing that stuck out, that this book really taught me, was the way family and culture was robbed of the slaves. I knew it in an intellectual way but not in a personal one and this book made that point resonate. There were so many points along the way that the American side of the family lost their history and were made to adapt to the US that the African side simply didn’t have to deal with. There was the war for independence from the British and the casualties that came from it, but it’s not the same thing. I won’t say whether one or the other is worse, it’s neither my place to assume nor is this about deciding that sort of thing. These are different experiences that communities and this family went through in two countries throughout the years.

Strangely, I’ve actually been to a castle in Ghana that was a landmark of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. I’m not sure if it was the Elmina Castle or the Cape Coast Castle, where Effia lived and where Esi was held before being transported to the US. I had been in Ghana about twelve years ago and went on the tour where they take visitors through the dungeon and saw the “door of no return” where they officially left their homes from. It was a helpful experience when reading this book. While I was there, I remember seeing the doors and the tour guide talking about a ceremony they did where a family from the African diaspora returned through the doors. I had wondered since that day whether people considered themselves better or worse on one side or the other of history at this point. I wondered if the Americans now considered themselves better off than the Africans or vice versa.

Reading Homegoing, I realized that this was not only not the point, but that it would still depend on perspective and which generation we were caught in. Some generations fared better in the US and others fared better in Africa. What the African family had all along, though, was their family history, which didn’t always seem like a blessing either. Again, better or worse is not the point. The parallel between the families worked beautifully to illustrate time and colonialism and postcolonialism. The entire story bore the marks of exploitation and the different ways it was done over time, which is yet another reason why it should be in high schools across the country. The many faces of exploitation and the human face put on it can be explored in depth in this book.

I should also mention that reading this right after The New Jim Crow was perfect timing. All the concepts of The New Jim Crow were given faces and names here. The problem of it was given a story that made the whole thing easier to understand. I would definitely pair these together for a book club if I ever ran one. I had both books on my TBR for a while and finally got them on a reading challenge list, which always helps push me to read the hard books that I know I should be reading. I had chosen this one for Read Harder 2018 task 9, a book about colonial or postcolonial. As stated above, this one fits for both. Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende or Palm Trees in the Snow by Luz Gabás, translated by Noel Hughes would fit as well.

Homegoing is an amazing book and it absolutely floors me that this is a debut novel. I can’t wait to see what Gyasi does next. I just can’t get over the way she paralleled between continents that went through so much and moved around the US and through all the eras so impressively. It is a massive undertaking and turned out amazing. Her writing style is gorgeous and the placement of each character within their story does a great job of really bringing to life the struggle of each time. I actually listened to the audiobook from my library and the narrator was amazing, using the different accents to help set the time and place. I had wondered throughout the book how she was going to bring it back together and the end was everything I wanted it to be.

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