Homegoing a novel by Yaa Gyasi, took me longer than usual to read because of how strikingly intelligent and personal it is. We’ve all heard the analogy that getting to know someone is like peeling off the layers of an onion. What Yaa Gyasi does is grow the onion before your eyes, building it layer by layer by layer. It’s fascinating.
Homegoing is the story of two sisters born in Ghana living in different tribes. Their mother, having been raped as a slave by her owner and having Effia, set a fire and ran away leaving Effia with her father. Later returning home, marrying and having Esi. The two sisters don’t know about each other until much later when their paths lead them to very different lives. Effia marrying a rich Englishman slaver who lives in the castle off the Gold Coast and Esi being sold into slavery and being kept in the same castle; in the dungeons.
The intriguing part about this book is that the story does not end with the two sisters. Each chapter visits the next generation on each side. Looking at Effia’s son and then his son and then his daughter and so on. Sandwiched in between those stories are the stories of Esi’s daughter, and then her son, and then his son, and his daughter and so on. Each chapter building onto a history you didn’t know you were learning. The frustrating part is that the chapters are not fully formed. They are not perfectly rounded, summarized or laid out in a way that you get each persons full history. They are messy and you pick up some of the history here and then you might get a clue about what happened to this person from their child in the next chapter. But never the whole truth. As if you are learning about your own family and parts of their past. I’ve never read a book with this kind of layout and I’m surprised no one thought of it sooner.
A theme I picked up on is the justaposition of wealth and happiness. How having wealth does not mean your children and their children will remain wealthy. Also, none of this gaurentees happiness or in some instances safety. This book breaches hard subjects like slavery, segregation, and the reality of a prison system designed to prolong slavery. It visits the other side of slavery that we don’t hear about as much; what happened to the people who stayed? Who survived. Who sold other tribes to keep their own safe. How the next generation learned and grew from Africa and how the opposite side grew apart from Africa.
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 words of others.
I don’t want to spoil the ending to this book because I highly recommend that you go out and buy it right this second. BUT I’ll say this. The ending seems like it’s crafted to be open to interpretation and I have a couple. One of my interpretations sort of cleans up the story and brings it full circle and I’m not sure that’s what I want from this book. My other is that I come away thinking you can never truly know everything. You can learn as much as possible but you may not ever get the full story.
What’s your next read?