Home » American history » Homegoing

Homegoing

9781101947135_p0_v5_s192x300   Yaa Gyasi follows hardship and unthinkable misery in her novel Homegoing, a family saga of two African sisters – one married a slave trader, the other becomes a slave. Through generations of the two families, Gyasi tells the story of how slave trading became a lucrative business not only for the British and Americans but also for some African tribes, who captured and sold their own people – and the emotional damage of treating humans like commodites through generations of the two sisters’ descendants in both Africa and America.

Effia and Esi have the same mother, Maame, but were born into two different tribes in eighteenth century Ghana. For an enormous price, Effia, the Beautiful, is married off to James, the resident white slave trader who lives in the Castle, the notorious site of the dungeons, enslaving captured Africans in inhumane and horrific conditions. Effia lives in the upper floors in a European style mansion of comfort and luxury. Unknown to her, her half-sister, Esi lies below as a slave in the disease-ridden festering dungeon. Ironically, in trying to help a young slave water carrier in her village, Esi sent the message triggering her own capture from a neighboring tribe.

The chapters alternate, inscribing the names in the chapters; the family tree outlined in the front of the book helps to keep the progeny clear, as Effia and Esi’s descendants tell the tale and the history of both Africa and America unfolds. Effia’s son, Quey, is sent to England to be educated, but returns to the African Bush to reluctantly take up his father’s business. Ness, Esi’s daughter, born into the squalor of the slaves, is shipped to America to continue her life as a cotton picker on a plantation. She endures a life of immutable hardship and whippings – “her scarred skin was like another body in and of itself, shaped like a man hugging her from behind with his arms hanging around her neck.”

As the story continues through the years, more lives appear, some quietly heroic – Two Shovel H who helped a white co-worker in a coal mine and then had his favor repaid when his arms went numb; others fall into drug addiction in the slums of Harlem. Throughout, the theme of historical suppression prevails, connecting lives to their legacy.

In the twentieth century, Yaw, a descendant of Effia asks his class of African teenagers the question Gyasi has posed throughout the book:

“This is the problem with history…We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story…you must always ask yourself, whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story, too. From there, you begin to get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.”

Scarred by a fire accidentally set by his mother when he was only a baby, Yaw has been told “you could not inherit a scar {yet} he no longer knew if he believed this was true.” Throughout her story, Gyasi explores the ongoing scars left by the heritage of Effia and Esi – invisible scars on the souls of their descendants.

A powerful and ambitious book; Gyasi’s story ends with Marjorie (from Effia) and Marcus (from Esi) connecting, with continents and races mixing. Her message is haunting and important; Homegoing is a great selection for a book discussion.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Homegoing

  1. I’m going to link your review to my book club – it will give them a good idea about whether or not we would like to read it. I thought it was great, and agree with you that it would make for a good discussion.

Comments are closed.