Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is an exquisitely written epic of one family, spanning a number of experiences throughout African American history, over the space of more than 200 years and eight generations. The story is episodic, featuring brief coverage of a member of each generation from two different perspectives – one strand of the family who mostly remained in Ghana, and one sold as slaves in America.
The stories of these people, through slavery, emancipation, the civil rights struggles, police brutality, and drugs in America, as well as the wars and hardships they faced in their homeland is heartbreaking and beautiful. Within so few pages, such an emotional connection is developed with these characters – who are constantly struggling with issues of race and identity against the background of colonialism. The characters each went through different struggles with their identities, and relationships with white people. In writing this novel, Gyasi didn’t shy away from the difficulties of womanhood, sexual relationships, or sexual identity either, with such a vast range of female characters embodying vastly different experiences, not to mention the potential suggestion of homosexuality in one particular character. Despite their often domestic settings, the women are not confined to motherhood, and are all presented as autonomous, individuals, often strong and with their own desires. With many of the characters, I found myself constantly wishing that they could just have a happy ending after all the hardships they had faced.
There are very few overt references to dates or eras – time is measured through generations of family or through social context, which prevents it from feeling like a history book and keeps it personal. The only fault I could mention was that sometimes it was frustrating to reach the climax of a characters story, only to move back to the parallel tale of the other side of the family – however, it was this structure that makes the book so dynamic and you often catch up with previous characters you were invested in through their children.
This book is an epic and heart-wrenching tale of black history. It’s beautifully written, symbolic, and literary, without ever tipping into cliche or predictability. The characters and their stories are so compelling that you won’t be able to put it down. This is a truly exciting debut novel and I cannot wait to read what Gyasi has in store for the future.
I received this book as an advanced reader copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review; all opinions are my own.
Image from Penguin UK