by Yaa Gyasi
Published June 7th 2016
“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.”
This was a journey through time brought out brilliantly in this amazing debut novel. The author finds a creative way to take us through the different decades while showing the plights that faced black people all though. They were all from one place but embarked on different journeys that shaped the outcome of their lives and those of their descendants.
The whole novel felt like a collection of short stories, an outsider’s view into the lives of so many different people throughout time. These were lives of descendants of two half-sisters who never got the chance to know each other at any point of their lives as they were only told of the existence but never got a chance to meet. Their paths are separated and one remains in Africa while the other is taken in the slave ships to America. The stories and lives of all these people are all tied together by this simple fact.
We start with Effia in the eighteenth century who is one of the sister’s. Her life from the beginning and her relationship with her family is explained. She is married off to an English man who is a slave trader and moves in with him in the castle. She knows that he deals in slave trade and her village too was famous for selling the slaves to the white men. The story then moves to Esi who is the other sister. They both share the same mother with Effia being older than her. She is unfortunate enough to be captured after raiders come to her village and taken to the castle where they had ‘holding cells’ before the ships could take them away.
From there, the author delves into the lives of people in their bloodline. Six of each descendant’s stories are brought to life, SIX of each in just about three hundred pages. That’s twelve point of views in the whole book and there was no point I was like this is too much. These are the lives and experiences of people spanning through about three hundred years and how in each time period they faced a different struggle because of their blackness. She gives their stories from birth to marriage to children. I did feel the loss when she moved on to the next characters though because there were some that I just wanted to know more about (Quey and Cudjo?!? What happened there?)
It’s not a book about slavery but it’s a book that starts with slavery and shows the ripple effect of it throughout time. This made me want to take out my history books and remind myself a little about certain time periods. Okay fine, I didn’t pull out the books but I went on the internet and got lost in so many different articles on the history of the Africans. The struggles facing the blacks in America were not similar to those facing the ones in Africa. The author showed how the traditions came to change with the influence from the foreigners who came into Africa.
I feel like Homegoing served as a reminder. It shows how one event in the past can still affect people today even after centuries have gone by. With slavery came the oppression of the black people both in Africa and the West. They have been treated as the lesser of the two races and that has not come to a complete end even today. The problem with poverty mostly facing the blacks when before they came to Africa, their trade systems worked well for them and had empires that flourished in wealth. I could go on and on about this, but you get the point. Where was I? Yeah, the book serves as a reminder that all the things facing black people today started at one point. The struggles the slaves faced then may not be what people faced thereafter but they all originated from that point in time. There is also the fact that she brings out, the role played by both parties. Both the Africans and the Whiteman played a part in the slave trade in search for more power. The village chiefs who wanted to be respected from their wealth and the Whiteman who wanted to enhance their plantations by getting cheap labor.
The consequences of the trade are seen in part two. The blacks in America are free on paper but they are still treated horrible and the authority has found different ways where they can use them still for cheap labor. This is brought out clearly in H’s story. The fact that he was serving the same amount of time as a white guy who had killed someone when he hadn’t done as much. The Missionaries and the churches trying to salvage the Africans from their evil practices is also brought out. The struggles black people in America went through trying to get a decent job. The segregation of the blacks and whites, drug culture in America and how it affected the lack people. Colonization in Africa also comes in here and how the blacks in the West were fighting together with them through Pan Africanism.
Twelve different point of views means that the map at the beginning of the book comes in handy. Trust me. I got lost a few times and I had to go back and refer to the map just to know whose story I was reading and whose lineage did they come from. There were some characters that were quite forgettable especially in part two but even that didn’t make me lower the score. At some point in the book I kept on thinking I would lower it but Majorie came into the picture and saved it all. She was my favorite in the book.
This book is rich in history. It will make you think.