“We believe the one who has power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history, you must 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 get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.”
~ Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Published by Vintage, 2016
Genre: Historical fiction
Re-readability: This is absolutely a book I will return to someday.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed by Pete
I can’t explain exactly why, but while I can’t stand family dramas, I love family epics. Stories that span generations, following the saga of one family and their struggles. This is such an interesting space to evoke a sense of mystery and legend.
Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing is as perfect an entry into this small genre as One Hundred Years of Solitude. As soon as I saw the family tree at the start of the novel, I knew I was in for something special.
This book is organized like a collection of short stories, with each chapter focusing on one character. It starts with Effia and Esi, two Asante women in vastly different situations. One is married to a British officer. The other is bound for a slave ship that will soon head to America. Neither knows that their pasts are linked.
From these characters spring two parts of one family. Esi’s descendents have had their history entirely obliterated, and they must keep close what bits of history they can as they are sold and imprisoned. Effia’s descendents endure great hardship as well, but they do not have their Asante past stolen from them.
Nine generations of this family are explored, starting around the mid 18th century (in modern day Ghana) and reaching the 21st century (in America). Each chapter is a complete story, but it is also a part of the larger story of this family’s epic history.
My family is known for their laborious record-keeping. I can go onto my family’s website and find a massive online family tree that goes back 1,000 years. My father and his siblings are listed there, and I can easily trace my family back several generations. When I first discovered this online family tree, I knew that it was a luxury and a wonderful thing to have—to know that I am Scottish and can explore my family’s history whenever I want. Homegoing made me think about the value of this—and the irreparable damage caused by taking away someone’s history.
All this being said, it is still an entertaining and rewarding read, despite its horrors and trauma. There’s still a message of hope, and watching the characters follow in the footsteps of previous generations, for better and for worse, is fascinating.