"Two half sisters, Effia and Esi, unknown to each other, are born into two different tribal villages in 18th century Ghana. Effia will be married off to an English colonial, and will live in comfort in the sprawling, palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle, raising half-caste children who will be sent abroad to be educated in England before returning to the Gold Coast to serve as administrators of the Empire. Her sister, Esi, will be imprisoned beneath Effia in the Castle's women's dungeon, and then shipped off on a boat bound for America, where she will be sold into slavery. Stretching from the tribal wars of Ghana to slavery and Civil War in America, from the coal mines in the north to the Great Migration to the streets of 20th century Harlem, Yaa Gyasi's has written a modern masterpiece, a novel that moves through histories and geographies and--with outstanding economy and force--captures the troubled spirit of our own nation"--
This is the voice of Yaw, one of the many characters in Yaa Gyasi's wonderful novel of history, family, nationality, and race. Yaw is teaching history to middle schoolers; his message is also Gyasi's message. Homegoing begins in 18th-century Ghana with two half-sister's fates: one is married to a wealthy white colonialist who makes his fortune in slave trading, the other is kidnapped and sold as a slave. The novel is told from the perspective, one by one, of their descendants. Moving inexorably through the centuries and across the African, European, and North American continents, the story -- or stories, but that is one of the beauties of this novel, it is both story and stories -- is of tribal wars, wars for independence, slavery, freedom, family, and identity. The two threads of the narrative separate and then, perhaps predictably, come together again at the end. But the coming together is only mildly contrived and its emotional impact, and the moving exploration of individual identity as a reflection of generational endowment more than makes up for this one small quibble. With a truly unique and special voice, Gyasi joins the list of authors whose works I will seek out in the future. I look forward to seeing her name on the front of another book.
In Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi brings suppressed voices to life by following the lineage of two half-sisters born in eighteenth-century Ghana. The sisters never meet, and their lives take very different paths: one marries a British officer involved in the slave trade, and remains in Africa. The other is caught, imprisoned in the British officier’s dungeon, and sent to America to live in slavery.
Slavery’s legacy has profound effects on the eight generations that follow. Those remaining in Africa are still touched by the slave trade, and by war and the oppressive effects of Colonialism. The descendants of slaves experience generations of racism and oppression and struggle to survive in a culture where they are constantly at a disadvantage.
The novel’s structure, essentially a collection of linked short stories, works very well. Each chapter covers one person in the lineage, in chronological order from one generation to the next. Even though there are huge gaps in time between generations, there are also connections, making the narrative feel seamless. The result is a rich tapestry of voices heard all too infrequently in literature -- illuminating and highly recommended.
In eighteenth century Ghana, two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, are born into different villages. Effia is married off to a wealthy Englishman by her stepmother and lives in the palatial comfort of Cape Coast Castle. Beneath the opulent rooms in which she lives, in the castle’s dungeons, her half-sister Esi is imprisoned. Esi, along with thousands of other Ghanaians, has been captured into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and will be sold off and shipped to America, where her children and her grandchildren will be raised in slavery.
One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana as the Asante and Fante nations combat the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America: from the plantations of the South through the Civil War, the Great Migration, the coal mines of Alabama, and into the jazz clubs of Harlem. Some three hundred years and seven generations after the novel began, the two threads of the sisters’ families will reunite.
Gyasi delivers a stunning first novel in Homegoing, setting unforgettable characters against the historical forces which shape them. I didn’t want to put it down! Highly, highly recommended.
“For Sonny, the problem with America wasn’t segregation but the fact that you could not, in fact, segregate. Sony had been trying to get away from white people for as long as he could remember, but, big as this country was, there was nowhere to go.” (244)
The focus of the story is two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, who live in 18th-century Ghana. Through them, the author shows the influence, sometimes good but most often the opposite, of white colonists in Africa. But she doesn't hesitate to show the brutality of the tribes and the role that they, too, played in the expansion of slavery. Effia marries an Englishman and lives a life of relative comfort, but the wars between the Ashante and the Fante continue to disrupt her home. Esi is captured in one of the raids, sold to a slaver, and shipped off to America. Homegoing follows the fates of the sisters' descendants, on into the 20th century.
The strongest line running through this novel is the effect on generations of Africans of the disruption of home, the loss of home. Whether ripped from their homes to serve as slaves, to suffer, post-emancipation, as second class citizens living in poverty, or stay in their homeland only to see it torn apart by warfare, slavery, and colonization, the characters inherit the damage done by the past. If I was to describe the book using a single emotion, it would have to be sorrow. There is so much loss for everyone. Gyasi's novel makes it a little easier for people like me to understand why it has taken so long for many African Americans to break away from the inheritance of slavery and its long-lasting effects, and why, in some ways, they may have no desire to assimilate in the way some white Americans would like.
For me it was the African chapters that made this book soar as I learned about the Asante and Fante warrior nations not only wrestle with their centuries old rivalry but with British colonization. As with any book with such a wide timeframe and scope, the author has to balance providing the right amount of detail without dragging down the storyline, and while there were points where I wanted more detail this did not distract from this quietly seductive tale enthralling me from the first page to the last.
As I neared the end of the book I was dreading it coming to end and then another character put this storyline in perspective for me.
“So, when you study history, you must always ask yourself, whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice can come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there, you begin to get a clearer, yet still imperfect picture.”
Ms. Gyasi certainly succeeded in giving voice to a missing piece of history. Overall this was a rewarding, emotionally satisfying read for me. This stunning novel is definitely one to savor. #readingandreviewingchallenge
The novel focuses on the horrible cruelties of slavery and war and how it affected generation after generation. It’s also about family, identity, racism and so much more. These broken, defeated people suffered loss after loss and still carried on the best way they could. Some turned to family for support, “The broken family nestled into one another, each hoping the others’ presences could fill the wound their personal war had left behind.”
They are all scarred from various wars for freedom and some of them are at war with themselves. “No one forgets they were once captive, even if they are now free.” This book is incredibly moving and beautifully written. It’s one of those books that will stay with you long after you’ve read it. Five stars!!!!!
Each chapter paints a picture of the life of the descendants. Quey, the bi-racial son of Effia and James Collins is a "weak man" and his son, James Richard Collins, leaves the life of white slaving and marries Akosua but is considered an unlucky man. Abena, their daughter, is influenced by the white missionary church. Esi's life is hard as an American slave and her children and grandchildren have hard lives as coal miners in the South and domestics in Harlem.
This novel gives a wonderful broad insight into the Black experience both in Africa and in America. What exactly is "Black"; is it the color of the skin or the culture? Beautifully written with minute details that tell so much, it is a wonderful book that should be read by all. We are all products of our ancestors: both the decisions they made and the situations they had no control over.
This is the problem of history. We cannot know that which we were not there to see and hear and experience for ourselves. We must rely upon the words of others. Those who were there in the olden days, they told stories to the children so that the children could tell stories to their children. And so on, and so on. But now we come upon the problem of conflicting stories.
As with any collection of short stories, some are better than others. A few seem to be little more than a historical moment and a filling of the space in the narrative, but the ones that are good are very, very good. And, taken as a whole, this book is a powerful look at how history shapes our present and the effect of the slave trade and colonialism on both Ghana and the US on the present day.
We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history, you must always ask yourself, Whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there, You begin to get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.
Any book about slavery is going to be hard to read and this book is no exception. In alternating chapters, we go from Africa, to the south, and follow the descendants of the two women. We see what happens in Africa, the effects of the British Colonization and internal warfare. The South, slavery and than quasi freedom but under Jim Crow laws. Rather than reading as a novel it is almost like portraits, snapshots of the lingering effects of slavery. Characters change often, each chapter narrated by another though some overlap, this took some getting used to but each character was important, each character I took to heart. The writing is fantastic, the imagery of fire and water following the different lines.
Needless to say there is not alot of joy within, but there are occasional glimpses. The novel does end on a surge of hope and another fantastic visual. I cannot wait to see what this young, already accomplished author will tackle next.
ARC from Netgalley.
Across countries and centuries, land and sea, time and distance, families were separated and torn asunder by the slave trade. Yaa Gyasi takes the reader through the history of black life from the 1700’s until the present time, employing vignettes about each character throughout the book in order to convey their stories, rather than by writing an in-depth narrative about the black plight, in general.
Concentrating on the arc of the lives of two half-sisters born in Africa, Effia and Esi, two branches of a family tree that traveled totally opposite paths, she continues their story for about three centuries, beginning with the English/African slave trade in Ghana and ultimately ending up back in Africa in the present time, with the two character’s ancestors connecting to each other’s past through the stones that had been given, one to each half-sister by their common mother, centuries before. Only Effia’s stone had survived through all the years, while the other was lost after being buried in the ground of the slave quarters which were under the feet of Effia, in the castle where she lived quite well, married to an Englishman, even though she was known as his wench. Unbeknownst to her, her unknown half-sister Esi, now a captured slave, was in the castle dungeon where she had buried her own stone for safe keeping and was unable to retrieve it before being forcibly carried away.
One sister had been traumatized by the fire set by her mother the night she had run away and abandoned her after her birth, and the other, who was born later, was traumatized by the water her mother had crossed when imprisoned on a slave ship that ultimately carried her to a life of captivity and hardship in America. Both fears, birthed early in the history of the family, are happily erased in the future when the story journeys full circle, with the two characters rejoicing in Ghana, without really knowing they are joined by a common heritage, but the trading of the stone, when passed from Marjorie to Marcus, is the symbol that unites them.
The narrative is almost hypnotic, holding the reader so fast that the desire is to read straight through without stopping. Unable to even take notes for fear of losing the thread, I kept on listening to a marvelous narrator who captured the import and tone of the story and the attributes of the characters flawlessly. From slavery to quasi freedom and ultimately an imperfect equality, the many characters traveled from continent to continent, from Africa to America and back again, from slavery to freedom, from villages to cities, from community to anonymity, from character to character and ancestor to ancestor, from infamy in some cases to glory in others, as the novel marched on impersonating reality so well that it was hard to remember that it was fiction, it was so close to the actual experience in its telling.
This book is destined to be used in schools to instruct students about the horror and hardship suffered by a people captured and used because they were perceived by others to be less than they themselves were worth. It will point out the shared guilt and shame. It was not just the color of the skin that was an issue, since they were preyed upon by those in opposing tribes and of varying shades and colors who sold them to the white man like chattel, kidnapped and abused them for personal gain, but was also because they had a value in trade, as merchandise. They were viewed not as humans but as product.
From their primitive lifestyle in mud huts, in some cases, most were described as gentle and happy, apart and aside from their personal domestic problems caused by some of their more ancient customs, i.e., multiple wives, few rights for women and a lack of any advanced technology. However, women were ultimately thrust either into marriages not of their own choosing, becoming paramours of white men and kept as property, even if loved, or else transported to slave havens where they were used like animals, beaten and tortured in some cases, along with men. Even when treated decently, still they were slaves unable to leave or better themselves, unable to educate themselves, unable to progress in a world that held them down. Does it matter that they would not have learned to read in Africa in their huts, in most cases, does it matter that they were happier there with far less creature comforts, does it matter that they were treated like possessions that had no feelings or minds, like inanimate objects, yes, it does matter.
Beginning with “crazy woman” who birthed both Efia and Esia in Ghana and ending ultimately with the legend of the now called “old woman”, and Marcus and Marjorie, the descendants who returned to Cape Coast, Ghana, this is a must read.
The lifestyle of the characters is explored from slavery to the civil rights movement, from Cape Coast to Harlem, captivity to liberty, from innocence to worldliness, from gentleness to violence, from exploitation to development, illiteracy to scholarship, morality to criminality, from jazz to drugs, the life of the black individual is outlined and explored, completely expressing the nature of their experience and the reasons for their anger, hostility, resentment and difficulty in attaining success. Preyed upon by external and internal forces, the author believes the responsibility for the failures and successes must be shared and not placed only on the shoulders of the white man. The book feels like it ends on an upward note of hopefulness for future success and accomplishment, joy and love, back in Africa where it all began and back in America where they may well return.
The number and nature of the characters will be confusing without the genealogical tree printed in the book. It would have been better had years been added to it so the arc of time could have been followed with the arc of life. I was often confused by the place and time and only the narrator’s voice and accent clarified it for me so that I could isolate a particular family and character thread. In the print copy, it might be easier to follow.
Although I listened to the audio, I immediately went out and bought a print copy to reconfirm some parts of the story and to have one to keep! It is a book I wish to have in my personal library as well as the public library.
The story begins in the 1700s, on Ghana's Gold Coast, with two half-sisters. One is claimed by the commander of the Castle, where kidnapped Africans lay in squalor before they die or are transported across the ocean. The other is one of those women down in those dungeons of despair.
Across the centuries to the present, each chapter is the story of one of the progeny of those women, with each line of descent taking alternating turns. The reader learns about lives in both Ghana and America as the years and tears roll by.
The way the narrative is built shows several of Gyasi's writing strengths. The reader is immersed in what a life might be like for someone in each time period, in each place. But the focus is not a treatise on politics, economics, race relations or slavery.
Instead, the focus is on how all of these things, in all of these times and places, could affect a person without defining who that person is. Each character is fully realized within the space of a short story, setting out on a journey whether it is what he or she seeks or not.
What each character seeks is to be his or herself within the strictures of their lives. They suffer heartbreak, find love and sometimes find a fulfilling niche. Each story deserves its own space -- I could have easily read a whole novel about H, whose free mother was taken in Baltimore and who grew up in slavery.
But each chapter also fits well within the overall narrative arc, which is best described by the title of the novel, Homegoing, rather than homecoming. Gyasi tells their stories with a lovely, engaging style. One of the characters is a dreamer, a seeker who isn't quite certain what she is after. Here's how Gyasi describes her days:
But she wasn't just staring into space; she was listening to all the sounds the world had to offer, to all the people who inhabited those spaces the others could not see. She was wandering.
Whether each character realizes it, she or he is wandering toward something. Gyasi's fulfillment of that search is a moving tribute to the different parts of herself, a person born in Ghana who is now a writer living in the United States, and someone as interested in history as she is in literature.
That interest in history is, for the most part, something that is shown rather than told in the book. But one of the characters, a teacher in Ghana, has a way of engaging his students on the first day and making an important point for every reader as well:
"Whose story is correct?" Yaw asked them. ...
"We cannot know which story is correct because we were not there." ...
"This is the problem of history. We cannot know that which we were not there to see and hear and experience for ourselves. We must rely on the words of others. Those who were there in the olden days, they told stories to the children so that the children would know, so that the children could tell stories and so on. But now we come upon the problem of conflicting stories. ... Whose story do we believe, then? ...
"We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study ask yourself, Whose story am I missing?"
Whether each character finds what she or he is searching for, there is an arch to the search within the novel, to give us stories of those that have been missing.
Each story could be it's own book because you want to know more about each and every character. The connecting stories cover everything from the slave trade and British colonization in Ghana to Southern plantations, convict labor camps, and Harlem dope houses. The author did a wonderful job of showing the legacy of slavery and how it affects the descendants, even through multiple generations.
The characters are stunning and their stories emotional. It's both powerful and thought provoking. This is the debut of a gifted new writer and I highly recommend it.
I am not a lover of short stories, so the fact that I liked this book so much, which is very much like a book of related short stories, indicates the power of the writing. My one complaint is that I really do want to know more about most of the characters and their lives, and also to know more definitively the back story before their births. My knowledge of African history is not my strong suit, so I did do a bit of reading on that to help shore up the knowledge base of where the story begins. For me, as a white reader, I was quite involved and quite moved/impacted by many of the experiences. It is not my heritage, nor my history (for despite living in the South much of my life, Southern heritage is not my family heritage.) I am curious to hear how other readers, for whom aspects of this story are incorporated in their own family history, relate.
Tags: 2016-read, didn-t-want-to-put-it-down, i-heard-about-it-on-npr, made-me-look-something-up, read, read-on-recommendation, taught-me-something, thank-you-charleston-county-library, thought-provoking, will-look-for-more-by-this-author, wow
This book is becoming known for its heartbreaking qualities. Centuries' worth of pain compressed into a few days' worth of reading is exhausting. It needs to be read more slowly to be digested more slowly.
Given its structure, Homegoing is a very fast read. This was okay for some of the chapters, as I never connected with the character or story. Others, however, could've easily been turned into full-length novels. There are heartbreaking moments involving wonderful characters. Throughout the whole novel—I keep wanting to call it a collection—throughout the novel, the imagery and language are of a high caliber. Gyasi is evidently capable of weaving a wonderful story. I believe the only thing that keeps this particular novel from being its best is a level of disconnect. In some of the mid to mid-later chapters, some characters lack full realization. It seems to me as if the author wasn't as invested in their stories; perhaps she wasn't as in love with these characters as she was with those in the earlier and later generations. Despite this hiccup, and an overly glib final few pages, Homegoing is a vividly drawn portrait of a family that is well worth savoring.
Not only is it tempting to call this “novel” a collection, it's extremely difficult to not call it Homecoming. I had to go back through this review and correct a couple of those mistakes. It's a great title, but I suspect I'm not the only one struggling to call it the right name.