Homegoing was the best book I read this year. I’ve procrastinated on writing about it because I felt intimidated by all the emotions I felt and thoughts I thought while reading the novel. I want to share them all, but I don’t know how to express them. I wish I could just utter a sound, a single cry, that encompasses all I want to convey about how I felt while I read Homegoing. I think that would be the best way to communicate how the book made me feel.
“And in my village we have a saying about separated sisters. They are like a woman and her reflection, doomed to stay on opposite sides of the pond.”
Ghana, eighteenth century: two half sisters are born into different villages, each unaware of the other. One will marry an Englishman and lead a life of comfort in the palatial rooms of the Cape Coast Castle. The other will be captured in a raid on her village, imprisoned in the very same castle, and sold into slavery.
Homegoing follows the parallel paths of these sisters and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem. Yaa Gyasi’s extraordinary novel illuminates slavery’s troubled legacy both for those who were taken and those who stayed—and shows how the memory of captivity has been inscribed on the soul of our nation. (Goodreads)
Although Homegoing is a novel, I see it more as a short story collection. I think it’s the first novel I’ve read in which each chapter focuses on and is told from a different narrator, never returning to the same character perspective again. When I learned of this in reviews I read, I thought it would make for a confusing reading experience. But such wasn’t the case and I was glad that the plot was easy to follow and understand.
The story starts in Ghana and we follow the lives of two half sisters who were born in different villages, thus showing two possible paths that led to African descendants of today. One sister marries an English man who trades slaves, and her son becomes a village chief. Her progeny largely stays on the African continent in now Ghana and the Ivory Coast and we experience some of West African history through them. However her sister was enslaved, locked in the bowels of Cape Coast Castle, where her half sister lived unwittingly with an English man, and shipped to America to work the fields in the South. This sister’s progeny largely stays on the North American continent and we experience some of African American history through them. This tracing of Black history through the experiences of the characters is the main reason why I love this novel so much.
I guess the term for such a novel is family saga since the story stretches over several generations and focuses on the experiences of several family members. But unlike the family sagas I’ve often heard of that carry hefty page counts, Gyasi wraps up these histories, these stories, in just 300 pages. She makes it seem effortless. The story flows smoothly despite the changes in narrator, her prose is beautiful and made me highlight long passages just for the descriptions and sometimes exchanges between characters, and her storytelling is absolutely fantastic and held me spellbound. To me, there was a folklore quality to it, which made me love it even more. The thing with folklores, for me, is that it entertains and teaches while enchanting the reader, and Gyasi certainly does that in Homegoing.
“TimTam laughed, a sound that rumbled like thunder built from the cloud of his gut and expelled through the sky of his mouth.”
For me, Homegoing is a modern classic. It’s a novel I think people will continue to read and one I think should be taught in schools. It’s a story I’ve experienced and will continue in my future. Gyasi is now one of my favorite authors. I will read whatever it is she writes next. And Homegoing is now one of my all-time favorite novels. I will return to it again and again until its cover is as worn as those of my favorite novels on my bookshelves. I’m glad Gyasi wrote this and am glad I read it.
Of course, 5 stars. It was fantastic. It is a classic. All should read it.
Buy | Borrow | Bypass
Definitely get yourself a copy.
P.S.: Maybe it was just Gyasi’s writing and storytelling why I liked this novel structure and type, but I would like to read more family sagas. I think I might like them. I did a quick Google search for family sagas and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez popped up, which is also one of my favorite classics. So yea, I think I might like them a lot.
Quotes from the novel:
“…a story was nothing more than a lie you got away with.”
“There should be no room in your life for regret. If in the moment of doing you felt clarity, you felt certainty, then why feel regret later?”
“History is Storytelling.”
“Evil begets evil. It grows. It transmutes, so that sometimes you cannot see that the evil in the world began as the evil in your own home.”
“No one forgets that they were once captive, even if they are now free. But still, Yaw, you have to let yourself be free.”
“It was the way most people lived their lives, on upper levels, not stopping to peer underneath.”
“She wanted to tell Mrs. Pinkston that at home, they had a different word for African Americans. Akata. That akata people were different from Ghanaians, too long gone from the mother continent to continue calling it the mother continent. She wanted to tell Mrs. Pinkston that she could feel herself being pulled away too, almost akata, too long gone from Ghana to be Ghanaian.” (My experience in a few sentences. – Z)