Monday, November 14, 2016
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi Review
Homegoing follows the descendants of lost sisters Effia and Esi. Effia and Esi are lost to each other and eventually to the families and communities that they are raised in. Being lost and disconnected is the entire theme of Homegoing. Suffering and struggle is inherited by each generation of these two women's children much the same as if they were passing down eye color or the ability to sing. Due to circumstances unique to each generation, the descendants of Effia and Esi are disconnected not only to each other, but to the communities that they live in as well. It's as if they are cursed to live among but not be a true part of the communities that they live in and need in order to survive and thrive. These characters each seem to have damaged and inescapable destinies that they have to try to manage and survive. They are always moving, no generation is able to settle and establish roots. They are unable to find a place in the world where they settle and thrive. It took me a while to figure out why this book was making me feel so unsettled. The sense of not being grounded but always adrift; with no extended family to speak of and no community to lean on is what did it. Somehow Gyasi is able to portray each generation as being on it's own, with no strong link to the generation that came before it until quite a bit further into the book. For the longest time it felt as if each branch of Effia's and Esi's family was begin broken off. Gyasi drove that point home brilliantly and made me completely empathize with what the characters would have had to feel in their circumstances.
Overall, Homegoing was a disconcerting read for me but that is the point in reading stories like this. Gyasi keeps her reader unsettled right up until the end, and for me the ending didn't feel like the healing balm that I was hoping for. I know that after all of the ugliness heaped upon this family true happiness at the end is a bit unrealistic, but I was still hoping for it. What Gyasi provides in the end is more hope of eventual happiness rather than actual happiness. About a quarter of the way through reading, I thought that I may have chosen a bad time to pick up Homegoing due to our current political climate and the sense of despair that I feel at the moment. Yet, I can't help but think that my mood may have been just right to read and connect to what happens to the characters in this book. It's important to have your memory prodded so that the sacrifices and suffering of people who came before us isn't forgotten or taken for granted, and Homegoing definitely did that for me. I am so glad that I finally got around to reading this awesome first work from Yaa Gyasi and I look forward to reading whatever she puts out next. Of course, this one is going on my favorite reads list!
Effia and Esi are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.