Review: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

  • Title: Homegoing
  • Author: Yaa Gyasi
  • Genre: Literary fiction
  • Intended audience: adult
  • Format read: physical book
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • Pub date: June 7, 2016
  • Trigger warnings: rape and sexual assault, fire, racism, child/spouse abuse, whipping, drug addiction, kidnapping, suicide, murder, death
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

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.

I realize that it’s not necessarily new or interesting to write a Homegoing review. After all, it was published in 2016, and I’m sure lots of people smarter and more eloquent than me have already written reviews.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth reviewing! For one, I really enjoyed it and genuinely want to recommend it to people, which is reason enough. Maybe you’re a person who has heard a lot about Yaa Gyasi and need that final push to pick up one of her books. If so, consider this post that push. Just imagine me, forcibly shoving this book into your hands. I would recommend you move your Yaa Gyasi book of your choosing to the top of your tbr.

Also, I realized that I have yet to spotlight any books on my blog by non-white authors, which needed to change ASAP. And Homegoing is a great place to start.

Honestly, just the description of the book itself blew my mind. Showing the ripple effects of actions, including slavery, throughout history through the eyes of two sisters and their descendants? And Gyasi’s writing makes it live up to the expectations. Homegoing is a powerful narrative examination of the generational influences of colonialization and slavery. It reminds me of one of the reasons we read fiction. It’s one thing to learn history and trace the struggles of Black people caused by slavery and other institutionalized racism, but it’s another to read a story that focused on one family, one person, and be able to link what appear to be their personal struggles to the generations of racism faced by themselves and their ancestors. It brings individuality, empathy, and human connection into these completely overwhelming concepts.

I think what really made me realize how well written Homegoing is was thinking about all the ways it potentially could have gone wrong. Telling a story that spans centuries and over 10 different perspectives? That is a feat. Gyasi is certainly not the first person to write something in this format; I’ve read lots of books told from many different perspectives. But when you only spend a chapter with each character, it can be hard for readers to get invested in the individual stories or feel connected to the characters. I (mostly) didn’t have that problem with Homegoing. I was incredibly invested in each individual story. I of course liked some characters more than others, but what’s important was that I liked the vast majority of them.

Some of the literary fiction I’ve been reading lately has a very detached tone. Like it’s not cool if we actually get to feel the characters’ emotions and connect with them. Thankfully, Homegoing did not have that extremely detached feel. I felt like I actually got to know the characters and see inside their heads. I really enjoyed reading about each complex character. They hurt others, they loved others, they were interesting characters. And although I was generally sad to see them go, I usually got just as invested in the next one. (And if you’re lucky, they might appear in future chapters).

Admittedly, I occasionally found the pacing a bit slow. And like I said, there were some sections that were just not as much my favorite. But overall, I really enjoyed Homegoing, and I really think it’s worth picking up.

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