“What I know now, my son: 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. I’m sorry you have suffered. I’m sorry for the way your suffering casts a shadow over your life, over the woman you have yet to marry, the children you have yet to have.”
I have friends who talk about memory like it is a living thing, ancestors like they have never died, and about both as if they can vividly feel, see, smell, and hear them. My memory has always been poor and I feel a constant distance from my ancestors that I am always trying to overcome through art or reading. And so I am drawn to people who think like this. I am awed by their deep connections to the past, whether they were ever really close to it or not. I fall in love a little bit with their way of framing these things. I think if I met Yaa Gyasi I would be a little in love with her.
In Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi traces two branches of a family line for three hundred years from Ghana to America and back. The roots of this line are seated in tragedy and trauma born of fire and war, water and slavery. Each chapter features another piece of the family tree, contending with the aftermath of decisions made long before them and forces increasingly beyond their control. These stories trace the history of the slave trade in Africa and Britain and then America, the colonization of Ghana, and the battles, physical and cultural, being fought in all of these lands. Simultaneously, Gyasi is heart wrenchingly exploring the ways trauma manifests in individuals and the ways that trauma is carried through family. I don’t know that I have ever read such a beautifully horrific yet accurate accounting of intergenerational trauma. In particular, Gyasi’s ability to layer the realities of inherited trauma with more: the impacts of systematic violence, the legacy of slavery in the communities of Ghana and America, and the cultural violence that forced migration wreaks, is brilliant.
I couldn’t put this book down. I highly recommend it, especially given the current social and political climate. Knowing that there are people (specifically Americans) today who still don’t understand how trauma works is mind boggling. Even more mind boggling is short sightedness regarding slavery’s (both ancient and modern such as the prison industrial complex) impact on families and communities, how our society is built around this trauma and constantly reinforcing it. I can’t think of many better books to read to illustrate those ideas in a way that is %110 accessible and engaging and, of course, heart breaking.
Also, I don’t cry a lot when I read and this book made me cry several times.