Martha's Reviews > Homegoing

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
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Yaw nodded..."This is the problem with history. We cannot know that which we were not there to see and hear and experience for ourselves...We must rely upon the words of others...We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the must always ask yourself, Whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth?"

This deservedly hyped-up novel begins with half sisters Effia and Esi; two women who never meet, but whose destinies intertwine all the way down from the early days of slavery to modern-day Ghana and America. One sister's family tree takes us down through the history of the Fante and Asante tribal wars; while the other's travels through the slavery in the southern states, the Great Migration and the racial segregation of the USA. Themes of displacement, inheritance and mysticism run through this beautiful feat of storytelling.

One of my favourite elements of this book was the format. Gyasi's intention to move through history via one family isn't just a theme; each chapter is written from the perspective of one of the sisters' descendants; moving down a generation each time, with no voice repeated. This format allows a rich tapestry of characters to come alive; no one had to compete with each other to be the "main character", as each is the hero (and sometimes the villain) in their own story. The only book I've read before with that format is The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis, and I loved that one just as much for its complex characters. This format really helps to drive home the idea of displacement and searching for home; the opening events are like dominoes down the family tree, each story sparking a new direction for the next character.

The only problem I had was that in providing a family tree at the start of the book to aid us in remembering whose line we are going down with each chapter, it spoiled some of the early plot points around which characters married each other, which was a shame. Each new character has been mentioned in a previous chapter, so it is possible to figure out where you are without using that family tree if you've got a good memory - I would recommend trying this if you can.

James hadn't understood this when he was younger. When the legal slave exportation had ended and the illegal one had begun, but he understood now.. The British had no intention of leaving Africa, even once the slave trade had ended. They owned the Castle, and, though they had yet to speak it aloud, they intended to own the land as well.

I appreciated the early chapters for the history around how the slave trade existed as part of tribal wars, and how the British exploited that. The slavery novels I have read have largely picked up from when the enslaved people were already in the USA, so I was glad to be able to tie some of this into the history of my own country (which is conveniently not talked about on the history curriculum). Gyasi also showed her skill in portraying the role of the African tribes in slavery without suggesting blame or letting the 'white man' off the hook.

There should be a mild trigger warning for sexual violence in this; I say mild because the scenes were short and not too graphic, so I didn't find myself triggered, even though the subject of the events in itself would be considered horrifying. It might also be that I expected it from a novel that examines slavery so was not taken by surprise.
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Reading Progress

August 29, 2016 – Shelved
August 29, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
November 9, 2017 – Started Reading
November 9, 2017 –
page 93
November 10, 2017 –
page 176
November 10, 2017 –
page 206
November 11, 2017 – Shelved as: fiction
November 11, 2017 – Shelved as: needs-trigger-warning
November 11, 2017 – Shelved as: would-read-again
November 11, 2017 – Shelved as: read-2017
November 11, 2017 – Shelved as: 2017-yorwoc
November 11, 2017 – Shelved as: read-women-17
November 11, 2017 – Shelved as: read-women-world
November 11, 2017 – Finished Reading
February 28, 2018 – Shelved as: bipoc-authors-black

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