Book Review: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi


Book: Homegoing

Author: Yaa Gyasi

With her heart wrenching and ambitious debut, Yaa Gyasi has written a story that unfolds into six generations of the consequences of the actions of their ancestors and supporting actors. The tale starts out strong with a masterful handling of the dominoes being set in place before they begin to fall all over themselves; the loss and betrayals and pains here demand to be felt.
The conflict between the tribes and how their colonizers cash in on this is not a telling history lesson, which is a trap most historical fiction, are wont to fall into. It is rather a showing of the intricacies of humanity and the ways it gives itself permission to stretch and bend, while still insisting on its non-complicity.

Set in Western Africa and the people and tribes that form modern day Ghana, Homegoing is a tale of two sisters, slavery, wounds that burns through and through and a chronology of pain and loss. While the focus is on the two half sisters Effia and Esi who are separated and both unaware of each other’s existence, this tale really begins with Maame who lights the flame that burns through the length of the book.

The book begins with a raging fire which we will later come to learn is how Maame escapes from her owner Cobbe, whose baby she has just been delivered of. Effia is raised by Baaba , Cobbe’s wife whom she grows up believing to be her mother even though Baaba constantly hits and berates her and is in turn beaten up by Cobbe.  Effia grows into a great beauty and enchants the men of Fante land, including the future chief of the village and Governor of the British troops whom through the wiles of Baaba, she marries.

Homegoing Yaa Gasi Rovingheights

Esi is Maame’s lovechild with Big Man who finds her after her fiery escape from Cobbe and marries her. She is loved and adored by both parents until she is taken during a raid on the village by the northerners and is passed from one village to the other till she’s finally sold to the British.
At a point, while held in a dungeon with scores of other captured women where she is eventually raped, she shares the same air with her sister, Effia who lives in the same castle with her British husband. At this point, all the sisters share in common is a black stone flecked by gold which their mother has passed on to them.

The significance of this stone to Maame is never explained; however it soon acquires the status of a heirloom as shown by its significance in how it links the stories of the sisters, their descendants and their final resolution. .

Yaa Gyasi captures succinctly the role of the different and sometimes warring tribes of the former Gold Coast in the slave trade that bloomed and boomed on its shores and then far over its seas and how the British took advantage of this. In Homegoing, no one is spared.

Gyasi’s skill with language and powerful, moving dialogues is a pleasant plus. From  proverbs and parables, wisdom imbued tongues, to the familiar language of the eyes and lingering touches, to the unflinching and self righteous lash of cruelty, to cunning rhetoric and the universal dialect of loss and regret, there is nothing hidden here. The conversations, both spoken and unspoken, echo long after the last page is turned.

For readers as fascinated by language and characterization as they are by plot, Homegoing will be a thrill. The prose is as fluid as it is constantly portent without giving it all away at once and the characters are a joy to experience.

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