Homegoing is reminiscent of Roots (Arthur Haley) and The Book of Negroes (Lawrence Hill) and provides a graphic description of the generational impact of the horrors and violence of slavery. The novel begins with half-sisters, unknown to each other, living in the Cape Coast castle of Ghana. Effia lived upstairs, in comfort, with her slaver husband and Esi was imprisoned in the dungeon below, suffering in terrible conditions, as she waited to be sold and shipped to America. Each woman’s family history is described for generations to come – one story-line focusing on the tribal war and British colonization of Ghana an the other story line descending from slavery in America.
The book reads like multiple, linked short stories with generations of characters dealing with issues of war, slavery, arranged marriage, homosexuality, mental illness, the struggles as a freeman, forced hard labour, racism and poverty intertwined with love, loss and resilience. Each story was raw at times, emotional and very visually described. Although there was connection back to the two half-sisters, the many characters made it challenging to follow at times and I needed to refer to the family tree often. One thing that seemed unfinished was a connection with the necklaces that had given to each woman yet passed down only from Effia’s side of the story. Although Esi’s was buried in the castle, I was looking for closure with this thread.
It was interesting to to learn more about the author after reading in a Time article that Yaa Gyasi was 26 years old when she received a 7 figure advance for this novel. The author was born in Ghana but raised in Alabama and she shared, in the article, that she was shy and that her closest friends were books. Gyasi was inspired to write the story after visiting Cape Town Castle. The castle was originally a fort built by the Swede’s and taken over and upgraded by the British in 1655 to be used in their slavery business. It is currently a museum (Ghana Museum and Monuments Board website) sharing the sad history of slavery in Ghana.
I have read a number of books describing the terrible treatment of humans this year ranging from The Dovekeepers (Roman wars), Black Apple and Indian Horse (Canadian residential schools), Obasan (Canadian internment of the Japanese during WW2) to Night (the holocaust). It is shocking to think that humans can treat each other so terribly yet atrocities continue across the world. Through fiction, it is important to gain knowledge of history to share compassion with generations affected by these horrific events and to work towards the world being a better place for all.