Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
"Homegoing" by Yaa Gyasi is a sweeping epic that delves into the complex history of the African continent, particularly during the era of the slave trade. The book covers several generations of two branches of a family tree descended from two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, who were born in different villages in Ghana in the eighteenth century.
The novel is divided into fourteen chapters, each of which follows a different member of the family tree and their descendants, spanning from Ghana to America. The book begins with Effia, who is born in Fanteland in the 18th century. She is the daughter of a local chief and is promised in marriage to a British governor, James Collins, who is involved in the slave trade. Effia lives in Cape Coast Castle, a British outpost that is used to store slaves before they are shipped to America. Meanwhile, Esi is born in Asante, the neighboring kingdom, and is captured by raiders when she is a child and brought to Cape Coast Castle as a slave.
The first chapter of the novel is a powerful opening that sets the tone for the rest of the book. The reader is transported to the African continent during the height of the transatlantic slave trade, and is introduced to the two half-sisters who will serve as the foundation for the rest of the novel.
The novel then alternates between the descendants of Effia and Esi, each chapter focusing on a new character. The chapter on Esi details her journey from Cape Coast Castle to the slave plantations in America, where she is sold to a cruel plantation owner. Esi's daughter, Ness, is born into slavery and is eventually sold to a plantation in Alabama. Ness's daughter, Kojo, is born a free man and becomes a successful businessman in the North, but his son, H, is falsely accused of a crime and sent to a chain gang.
The chapter on Effia follows her son, Quey, who is raised in England by his father's family and becomes a successful businessman. Quey's daughter, Abena, marries a Fante man and is taken to live in a village in present-day Ghana. Abena's daughter, Akua, is born with a "fire" in her, and is ostracized by the villagers. Akua eventually becomes a slave trader herself, and is haunted by the ghosts of the slaves she has helped to capture.
As the novel progresses, the reader is taken on a journey through time and across continents. Each chapter introduces a new character and explores their life and struggles, as they navigate the legacy of slavery and colonialism. The novel is a powerful commentary on the lasting impact of these historical events, and how they continue to shape the lives of African and African American communities today.
One of the most striking aspects of "Homegoing" is Gyasi's ability to bring each character to life in a way that is both nuanced and complex. From the first chapter, the reader is invested in the lives of these characters, and is eager to see how their stories will unfold. The characters are not simply victims of historical events; they are fully-realized individuals with their own desires, struggles, and triumphs.
The novel also sheds light on a number of important historical events and issues. From the transatlantic slave trade to the colonization of Africa, Gyasi explores the ways in which these events have shaped the world we live in today. She also examines issues such as colorism, racism, and the legacy of trauma, showing how these issues continue to impact the lives of African and African American communities.
The novel ends with the story of Marjorie, a Stanford graduate who is the daughter of Marcus, a Ghanaian professor. Marjorie takes a trip to Ghana to learn about her family's past, and visits Cape Coast Castle, where she feels a connection to her ancestors. This final chapter serves as a powerful conclusion to the novel, bringing the story full circle and reminding the reader of the importance of understanding and honoring our history.
Overall, "Homegoing" is a powerful and thought-provoking novel that explores the lasting impact of slavery and colonialism on African and African American communities. It is a nuanced and complex work that tackles difficult themes with sensitivity and intelligence, and is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of the African continent and its people.