Homegoing: A Novel is an epic story spanning two continents and several lifetimes.
In eighteenth-century Ghana, two half-sisters are unaware of each other’s existence. One sister lives upstairs, in luxury, at Cape Coast Castle while the other is being held captive in the castle’s dungeon to be sold into American slavery.
Yaa Gyasi’s novel follows the descendants of these two women; each chapter is about a new generation. Thankfully, she has provided a family tree at the front of the book, and I referred to this often because I wanted to completely understand who I was reading about in each chapter. Each of these chapters, which covers only a snippet of each life, could have warranted a novel in its own right. I was NEVER ready to move on from each person’s story, but I always soon found myself immersed in the next person’s story.
As someone who has extensively studied slave narratives, I found the “American” half in line with what I’ve previously read and learned, giving me confidence to believe the other half based in Africa. Both parts contain truths that are uncomfortable to accept.
One descendant is a history teacher; his lecture about the source and perspectives of history I found relevant and powerful:
“We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history, 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.”
Gyasi’s book, though fiction, gives voices to some of these people. Through the individual stories, it says so much about all of humanity.
Homegoing vs. Homecoming
Mostly reality-based, the book has an element of – maybe (or maybe not)- fantastical running through it, an element of instinct. It is an element I want to believe – that not only are the physical aspects of bodies passed on from our ancestors but also that some of their spirit and experiences are with us instinctively. This made me contemplate the difference between “Homecoming” an often-used term and the books title “Homegoing.” In the context of this book, I see “Homegoing” as an instinctual moving or calling back to origins that preexisted your own physical existence as opposed to Homecoming where you are actually invited. This particular story of homegoing is written beautifully but is also completely absorbing. I cannot remember being so “on edge” while reading towards the last page, wondering if (and how and where!) the two stories were going to converge.
This book was released in 2016, and if I had read it last year, it would have certainly have made my top 5 of the year. I rarely give five stars, but this book one earned every one of the five! I can’t imagine I will ever forget this book, and I just can’t do it justice in this “review” so I hope you will decide to experience it for yourself.
*If you read electronically or by audio, make sure you have the family tree handy!
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