Yaa Gyasi begins Homegoing with a pair of sisters (Effia Otcher and Esi Asare) separated at birth at the height of the African slave trade. One sister, Effia, is raised and married off to a white Englishman on the Gold Coast. The other sister, Esi, stays in a tribal African village. The story covers seven generations. Each chapter is a new person advancing down the timeline and alternates between the two sisters’ family trees.
Effia’s descendants struggle to varying degrees with their white heritage and how that affects them living in Africa. Esi’s descendants are brought to the American South through the slave trade and we watch them go through one version of the Black American experience.
Gyasi covers the slavery system within Africa as well as America. She shows how African tribal affiliations impact people and the lasting effects of the white colonizers. We see a snippet of life just before, during, and after the American Civil War. Harlem at it’s height and then during during its fall. And the modern day story of one descendant getting to go between her life in America and visiting her grandmother in Africa.
In the space of a few short pages, Gyasi quickly establishes the time and place of the chapter and brings to life a fully formed character that we spend only a brief time with. The end of each chapter left me wanting to know more about the individual and their story. While a work of fiction, each of these stories is rooted in the experiences of millions of Black people through history. At times touching, many times it is truly heartbreaking.
This was a book club pick and not one I would have chosen on my own. I’m grateful it was brought to my attention because it brought to life parts of history that I only had the tiniest bit of knowledge previously. This back of the book praise excellently encapsulates Homegoing.
Homegoing is a remarkable feat – a novel at once epic and intimate, capturing the moral weight of history as it bears down on individual struggles, hopes, and fears. A tremendous debut” – Phil Klay.