Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
The decision of what book I was going to review first here on my blog was not taken lightly. I wanted to pick something that I felt passionately about, but also something that other people will most certainly want to read. I first heard about Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi on the podcast Books on the Nightstand (one of my trusted book sources that has sadly come to an end). Ann Kingman raved about the book, saying that it was one of her books of the year. And after reading A Little Life at her insistence last year, I knew she would not steer me wrong. I also liked the fact that Ms. Gyasi is from Berkeley, CA which is not too far from my own home.
Homegoing is a unique construct. The story of two family lines that both start with sisters who never knew each other. First there is Effia a beautiful woman married off to a white slaver in 1800's Ghana. Secondly, there is Esi, her sister, sold into slavery literally right below her feet. The unique thing about this novel is that each chapter rotates between an individual in each woman's family tree and moves the family through history.
As you can imagine, Esi's line deals with slavery in the American South. And the story her decendent Ness completely tore me up inside. Ms. Gyasi does an amazing job of telling the common tale of a mother making tough choices for the future of her child in a powerful and unique way. I was in tears at the end. Effie's family taught me some things I did not know, because it stays, for the most part, in Ghana. I will be honest I do not know a lot about Ghana. She gave me view of how slavery affected the country from the inside and how the wars that they had with the white men who had taken over just to get their country back affected tribal politics. I really enjoyed the story of James, one of Effie's great grandchildren, and his internal conflict with being a slave trader of his own people and just wanting to live and love the land to which he was born.
In today's current climate, I find that a message that never looses its power is to see the good and kindness in everyone. And that even though a person is different, does not mean they do not have something to add to your life. In the section of Akua, there was a moment where Ms. Gyasi put this wonderfully. Akua has become friends with the "fetish man" - a man that has kept to the old African traditions and gods. She says of him:
"He had not been baptized. She knew he was supposed to be wicked, that she would be in a sea of trouble if the missionaries knew that she still went to see him, and yet she recognized his kindness, his love, was different from the people's at the school. Warmer and truer somehow."
This is the tale of family, so each story has its own point of view and message- but the overall arc is more about where life leads and less about a direct plot. I will remember it mainly for the characters, from H to Quay to Marjorie - each one has a special place in my reading memory. This book is a compact 300 pages - so, it does not take long to get through. But I promise that each page is worth it. So..... please go read it. I really am looking forward to Ms. Gyasi's next novel, I will be first in line.
Rating : 5 books