What’s it all about?:
Effia and Esi: two sisters with two very different destinies. One sold into slavery; one a slave trader’s wife. The consequences of their fate reverberate through the generations that follow. Taking us from the Gold Coast of Africa to the cotton-picking plantations of Mississippi; from the missionary schools of Ghana to the dive bars of Harlem, spanning three continents and seven generations, Yaa Gyasi has written a miraculous novel – the intimate, gripping story of a brilliantly vivid cast of characters and through their lives the very story of America itself.
Epic in its canvas and intimate in its portraits, Homegoing is a searing and profound debut from a masterly new writer.
What did I think?:
An enormous thank you to one of my brilliant blogger besties, Jennifer from Tar Heel Reader whom I got to experience this incredible novel with for the very first time and holy moley – what a powerful and riveting experience it was! I think when you read a book like this, with so many complexities and difficult subject matter, it gives you an almost endless ream of discussion opportunities and I think I can speak for both of us when I confirm that this was such a rewarding experience as we got to talk about so many different things at the time we were both encountering the same events in the narrative. As there is a bit of a time difference between our countries of residence, Jenni and I deliberately try and schedule our chats at the weekend so that we can talk “in the moment,” and believe me, with a novel like this, you’re going to want to talk to somebody immediately after reading certain passages.
Yaa Gyasi, author of the debut novel, Homegoing.
I have to admit, I’ve been putting this novel off for a while. It’s been taunting me from my bookshelves and I’ve heard so many brilliant things about the author’s writing and the way in which this book is set out but I was a teeny bit nervous. I was aware that the novel begins in 18th century Ghana and follows the descendants of two half-sisters, Esi and Effia from that time until the present day. Now, I love a novel with multiple points of view but when I heard that each chapter follows a completely different character and even initially, when I picked the book up and glanced at the family tree at the beginning, I was ever so slightly intimidated. Would I be able to keep all the characters in my head? Would a chapter be sufficient to tell a portion of that character’s particular life or would I be left wanting more? Well, the answers to those questions were both “no,” but funnily enough, not in any negative connotation at all.
Esi and Effia, who both have no idea of the others existence, are two young women whose lives fan out in very different directions. However, both sisters and their descendants end up having very individual struggles ranging from slavery, single parenthood, loss, heart-break, addiction and poverty that makes the reading experience an incredibly humbling one. There isn’t an “easy,” life for either branch of the family and watching each character go through their own hardships as Ghana and America changed through the years was a fascinating and at times, very uncomfortable journey.
Modern day Ghana, 2017.
Personally speaking, I was really affected by some of the passages in this book. Yaa Gyasi does not shy away from gritty, realistic and detailed descriptions of how slaves were treated and at some points, I felt as if I had to put the book down, the horrific abuse of the women in particular was gut-wrenching and hard to stomach. Throughout it all, I had to applaud the author’s honesty and her bravery in the way she wasn’t scared to expose the nastier details of what these poor people went through and indeed, how race relations are still a major, hugely important issue in modern times.
Yes, there ARE a lot of characters to get to grips with and I did find myself getting slightly confused about which part of the family tree that particular individual came from. However, this is exactly why we have a family tree at the beginning that can be easily referred to for a quick reminder! Thinking about the novel a little while after finishing, it’s true that I haven’t kept a lot of the characters in my head due to the sheer volume we meet but the ones that have stayed with me appear to be permanently etched on my memory because of the power and strength of Gyasi’s writing and that particular character’s struggle, some of whom imprinted on me more than others.
Did I want some more time with certain individuals? Of course! Yet this is the beauty of the novel too – it constantly keeps you wanting more and led me to wondering about certain characters and where they might have ended up. Their story certainly continues on in my own imagination. I only have very small things that I wished would have been different but it hasn’t affected my enjoyment, memories of the book or rating in the slightest. First of all, I did prefer the more historical aspects of the narrative where for me, the writing felt impactful and more affecting. Secondly, it was slightly unfortunate that the might behind the author’s words faded as we entered modern times and I would have loved if the ending had been as much of a sucker punch to the gut as the majority of the rest of the novel had been. Taking everything into consideration, my minor niggles and the knowledge that this is the author’s debut offering, I can’t give this any less than the full five stars. I am incredibly excited to see what the author produces next and I’ll be one of the first in line to read it.
Thank you to Jennifer for another wonderful buddy read!
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):