Thursday, May 11, 2017

Review of "Homegoing" by Yaa Gyasi - An Epic Tale of 300 Years of Captivity

It is easy to see why the voice of novelist Yaa Gyasi has reverberated so loudly in the literary world. This first novel, "Homegoing," has an epic reach in telling a story that spans 300 years and many generations. While steeped in history and full of complex and fascinating characters, it speaks clearly to the current issues of race relations - in Africa and in America.

The plot begins with two half-sisters born in different villages in Ghana in the 18th century. Following a common custom of the time, Effia is married off to an Englishman. She and her husband live comfortably in his household in the plush apartments of the Cape Coast Castle. The Castle is a place that contains a large holding cell for captives who are about to be shipped as slaves to the New World. Unbeknownst to Effia, her half sister, Esi, is one of those captives being held in the dungeon. Esi is about to be sent to America.

Throughout the novel, two narrative threads are constantly intertwining. The first thread follows Effia and her descendants as several generations in Ghana wrestle with the complexities of British colonization and the internecine warfare between the Fante and Asante tribes. The other thread follows Esi's children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren as they move from the ante-bellum plantations to the Civil War, the Great Migration to the North, the coal mines of Alabama, and the jazz clubs of the Harlem Renaissance.

Ms. Gyasi, born in Ghana and raised in Alabama, creates multi-layered characters about whom the reader comes to care deeply. This chronicle that follows generation after generation of a single family reminded me of the best of Alex Haley's "Roots." Throughout several centuries, strong individuals are swept up by forces larger than themselves. The bottom line is that this gifted writer shows us how the deep-seated memory of captivity and slavery can influence an individual several generations removed from the physical shackles.

I agree with the many others that have called this novel the best book of the year.



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