Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi


My latest read was a book I was familiar with which was recently recommended to me. Homegoing is the debut novel by Yaa Gyasi, and one that was well received amongst readers in addition to being shortlisted for literary prizes so it was one I was looking forward to discovering.

Homegoing begins by telling the story of two sisters in 18th century Ghana whose lives take very different paths. Effia and Esi never know each other, with one being sold into slavery and another who becomes a slave trader’s wife. From this point we move through time, and see how the fate of these two sisters has an impact on their future generations, as well as providing fascinating and harrowing insight into slavery through the years and life in Ghana and in America. It is a story which takes the reader from the Gold Coast of Africa in the 18th century, to 19th century in the American South and Harlem in the 20th century. And along the way we see the world from the perspectives of Effia and Esi and twelve of their descendants, making for a novel that is vast in scope and a powerful read.

It is remarkable to think how Yaa Gyasi has managed to cover so much in Homegoing. In a novel of 300 pages she has woven together a family saga which spans hundreds of years through the eyes of fourteen family members, comprising seven generations of a family. I enjoyed the multiple perspectives and didn’t feel as though any of the chapters or characters were lacking, with each one making for an engrossing read which helps build up a picture of what life was like for this family through the generations. And of course, given the fact that slavery makes up a key theme to this book, there are parts which make for uncomfortable reading as we see the challenges faced by some of the characters. That said this is a topic that the author tackles with sensitivity, and this made for an honest, unflinching portrayal of a troubling era in history. I found this to be a richly detailed story filled with history and a family of characters that grow and change through the years as the world they live in changes around them, and attitudes are altered. I enjoyed following the family through the years, and was gripped by their individual stories as well as their history.

Homegoing is a powerful and ambitious read which explores so much as it spans continents and generations. It is a book which explores heavy subject matter, told with empathy and hope as the reader gets a glimpse into the lives of an extraordinary family, and the challenges they face.

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