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Archived | Regional Books 2018 > Jan/Feb 2018 | Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi SPOILERS ALLOWED

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message 1: by Anetq, Tour Operator & Guide (new)

Anetq | 719 comments Mod
This thread is for discussions of out Jan/Feb 2018 read of Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi - Notice that there may be SPOILERS (there is a thread with NO spoilers too) - so feel free to discuss anything you like about the book: Here's a few questions to get you started:
How did you like the characters? The plot? The style? The portrayal of characters and their surroundings?

message 2: by Wathingira (new)

Wathingira Gituro There are many parts of this book that I strongly relate to. What I am most keen to hear is the experiences of others - especially non-Africans when they read the book. What is your take on her commentary on superiority of religion and culture?

message 3: by Julien (new)

Julien | 3 comments Before I started reading the book, I was really curious to see how the author would pull off including so much history and so many generations into a cohesive narrative.

I think that sticking to one character/one generation per chapter and going back and forth from one lineage to the other really worked. It was almost like a collection of short stories/vignettes that were part of a cohesive whole. I was always eager to get to know the "next" character and I found myself not being able to put the book down. On the other hand, having to leave so many characters behind each time I started a new chapter, left me wanting more.. I wanted to spend more time with them, discover more about their lives... but maybe that's what makes this book so good.

message 4: by Margitte (new)

Margitte I really loved this book. The author managed to make this epic saga work, although it could have been a disaster. The first part of the book, the beginning of the family tree with the two sisters captured me the most. But there was nothing in the book that really lost my interest. I just wanted to read everything.

Although the prose was consistently beautiful throughout, there was a lack of bonding with any of the multiple character. However, each character's part in the saga brought another hue to this three-hundred-year history of two sisters, Effia and Esi from the Gold Coast (Ghana).

Atmospheric it was for sure. Perhaps the combination of so many characters devoid the reader of connecting with them all, which is a pity. It also was more a written history than a story with a well-defined plot. It was a still a great, informative, heartfelt, sad experience. There are so many excellent reviews of this book that I will refrain from trying myself..
- This was basically my review. I hope to read more of this author's work. She has a beautiful relationship with words.

message 5: by Margitte (last edited Feb 05, 2018 02:45AM) (new)

Margitte Wathingira wrote: "There are many parts of this book that I strongly relate to. What I am most keen to hear is the experiences of others - especially non-Africans when they read the book. What is your take on her com..."

I experienced the book as warm, heartfelt, strong family bonding, Wathingira. The author brought the essence of the community's history alive. The reader can taste and feel the ambiance of the story. Those dark, depressing, inhumane bunkers where people were kept in overcrowded spaces ripped my heart out. The entire sale of people, those who raided villages, and those who bought the captured souls, really got stuck in my gut. I wanted to break those doors down and let the people escape. But first I wanted to give them good food and then water to bath ... It drove me insane to keep on reading. I constantly wanted to vomit and cry. The sense of helplessness of the reader probably equaled that of the captives.

message 6: by Manu (new)

Manu (manuherb) | 166 comments EDITING YAA GYASI’S HOMEGOING 1/3

Apart from this short introduction, this three-part posting is fiction. It assumes that Jordan Pavlin, Yaa Gyasi’s editor at publisher Alfred A. Knopf, sought the advice and assistance of a scholar familiar with Ghanaian history and culture. She should have done so but, judging from the result, it seems most unlikely that she did. In what follows, I speculate on what the input of such a scholar might have been.

I proceed from the premise that an author of historical fiction has a responsibility to respect the indisputable known historical and cultural facts.

I invite those of you who have read the novel, to re-read chapter one (Effia), with my fictional scholar’s comments by your side. I look forward to your response. Please don’t pull your punches.
Dear Ms. Gyasi (or Yaa, if I may),

Your publisher’s editor will have advised you to expect to hear from me.

I teach African history at the University of XXXXX, specializing in the history of Ghana in the period of the Atlantic slave trade and its aftermath. Your editor approached me because, so she wrote, she lacks the historical and cultural knowledge to edit the African chapters of the manuscript of your forthcoming novel Homegoing.

Let me say at the outset that I admire your courage in addressing the theme of slavery from an African point of view and I support your commitment and enterprise. I believe that it is important that the quality of your work, when it is published, should not be compromised by unwitting errors of history or culture. I understand that, although you were born in Ghana, your parents brought you to the U.S. when you were only three years old and that you have since paid only two relatively short visits to the country of your birth. That being the case, it would be unfair to expect you to know all you might have known if you had grown up in Ghana.

I ask you to accept that my detailed comments are made with the intention of helping you to enhance the quality of your work. You are, of course, free to reject them.

In preparation for my task I have read, with a critical eye, all the historical novels I have been able to find which tell stories of the Atlantic slave trade from an African point of view, including works by Harold Courlander, Judith Gleason, Alex Hailey, Lucy Safo, Manu Herbstein and Lawrence Hill.

I have also done some reading on the relationship between historical fiction and the work of historians, in particular Jacques Depelchin’s Silences in African History.

I would like to direct your attention to a short paper by Joyce Sarricks, entitled "Writers & Readers: Historical Fiction--Rules of the Genre" which is available on-line at

“Accuracy,” Joyce Sarricks writes, “is essential.” She also stresses the importance of authenticity.

In this first message to you, I’m going to concentrate of the first chapter, raising issues in the order in which they appear in your manuscript. Some of these might strike you, with some justification perhaps, as nit-picking; but please consider the cumulative effect. I’ve numbered my comments, for ease of reference. The numerals in brackets refer to the page numbers in the printed mock-up of your manuscript, sent to me by your editor.

So, here we go.

1. This is how the first sentence of the novel begins:

“The night Effia Otcher was born into the musky heat of Fanteland …” (underline added)
What does “musky” mean? Please look at the definitions found on-line at
Why did you choose to use that word here? Does the story which follows, justify its use? Would “muggy” not be more appropriate? (3)

2. The sentence continues, “…a fire raged through the woods … until it reached an Asante village.”

“The woods” is an unusual term to describe the tropical forest, but let that pass.
The distance from Cape Coast to the River Prah, the southern border of Asante, is about 120 km. Internal evidence suggests that the story starts in the village of Assin Manso, roughly half-way from Cape Coast to the Prah. So, if the fire was, say, 1 kilometre wide, it would have covered an area of 60 square kilometres.
Current literature describes fires in forest reserves of a maximum extent of about 100 ha, i.e. 1 square kilometre. The fire in the novel covers an implausibly large area. Is it based on any historical evidence?
How could any character in the novel have known its extent? (“… until it reached an Asante village”) So this seems to be the intrusive voice of an omniscient narrator, something which I suggest you consider avoiding.
What made the fire stop when it reached the Asante village?
“The memory of that fire,” we read, “would haunt him, his children, and his children’s children for as long as the line continued.” I’m sure you know that the Akan, including the Fante and Asante, are matrilineal. This sentence suggests otherwise. Cobbe’s line of descent would have run through his sisters’ children, not his. And his sisters don’t even appear in the novel. (3)

3. “Effia’s father, Cobbe Otcher, left his first wife, Baaba, with the new baby…”

At the end of this chapter (and only then) we learn that Effia is not Baaba’s child. (Fifii, Baaba’s son, tells Effia, “She is not your mother, you know ... Our father had you by a house girl who ran away into the fire the night you were born.”)
The temporary withholding of information is a common novelistic technique. But this seems different. The omniscient narrator appears to plant false information, inviting the reader to read “with the new baby” as “with her new baby.” This is confirmed, when on page 5 we read: “… that didn’t stop mother from beating daughter…” On page 8: “Effia felt the warmth of her mother’s breath” and “… in her mother’s eyes.” And on page 11: “Effia was certain that their mother had gone to sleep.” The omniscient narrator knows that Baaba is not Effia’s mother and so appears to be deliberately deceiving the reader. Is this not a breach of one of the unwritten rules of the writer-reader contract? Please consult the blog entitled “The Implicit Contract Between Writer and Reader” at (3)

4. “The villagers began to say that the baby was born of the fire, that this was the reason Baaba had no milk.” Baaba was not pregnant and, presumably, showed no physical signs of pregnancy. How, then, would the villagers expect her to bear a child and be able to breast-feed it? The “house girl” was pregnant and would presumably have shown such physical signs. Were the villagers not aware of this? Would they not have asked questions about the disappearance of the “house girl”, clearly pregnant when she was last seen? (3)

5. Cobbe Otcher demands of his wife, Baaba, “We will never again speak of what happened today.” What is he talking about? The fire? The disappearance of the “house girl” (of which, as readers, we will know nothing until the end of the chapter)? Once we re-read the chapter, and know this, why must Cobbe demand that this be concealed? Was the “house girl” a slave, without a family? If she had a family, would Cobbe not have been obliged to inform them of her disappearance? Why does the omniscient narrator withhold all information about Effia’s nameless biological mother, including her origin? Why would she have run away into a forest fire soon after giving birth to Effia? This is revealed in chapter 2, but what is the point of concealing it until then? (3)

6. Now the yams. “Cobbe had lost seven yams, and he felt the loss of each as a blow to his own family.” What does this mean? Seven yams wouldn’t last a family a week. Why seven? (3)

7. At this time, Fante had not been committed to writing. When the missionaries did so, nearly a hundred years later, they did not use the letter ‘c’. Cobbe is short for Kobina, the name given to a Fante boy born on Tuesday. Similarly, Otcher is an anglicized rendering of Okyere; and Effia of Efua. Why have you chosen this unusual spelling? (3)

8. Cobbe’s daughter is referred to as Effia soon after her birth. Akan children are not named until their outdooring, eight days after they are born. (3)

9. Next, an issue of grammar. Cobbe’s second wife “had just given birth to a son three months before.” ‘Just’ means ‘very recently’, not ‘three months before’. So: ‘had just given birth to a son’ or ‘had given birth to a son three months before’. Take your choice. Either or. (3)

10. ‘Latch on’, used in the sense of an infant’s connection with its mother’s nipple, seems to be a recent American expression. It struck me as anachronistic, but I might be wrong. (3)

11. Cobbe’s second wife, who is not given a name, is given the task of breast-feeding the infant Effia. She has problems breast-feeding her. Would she not have asked other women, relations perhaps, for help and advice, based on accumulated experience? This second wife has a son, also unnamed, three months older than Effia. She breast-feeds the two of them at the same time. Would a relationship not develop between the two infants as they grow up? Breastfeeding usually plays an integral role in forming a deep attachment between mother (or wet nurse) and baby. In spite of the breastfeeding problems, would such an attachment not have developed between Cobbe’s second wife and Effia? Yet the second wife and her son both disappear almost immediately from the story. (3)

12. Baaba, Effia’s step-mother, doesn’t love the baby. (Page 8: “It was only when Effia didn’t speak or question, when she made herself small, that she could feel Baaba’s love, or something like it.”) Why not? Should this not be explained? (4)

13. Baaba dreams of leaving Effia in the dark forest “so that the god Nyame could do with her as he pleased.” The phrase “the god Nyame” suggests that Nyame (‘the god’) is one of many gods. This is reinforced by writing “god”, rather than “God”, with a capital letter. In his Dictionary of the Asante and Fante Language, Rev. J. G. Christaller defines Onyame as ‘the Supreme Being, the Deity, God.’ (4)

14. “… as he pleased” suggests that “the god Nyame” behaves in an arbitrary manner, which might be good or bad. In West African Traditional Religion, Archbishop Peter Sarpong describes God (the single pre-Christian African deity) as just and kind. While He has power over life and death, He rewards the good and punishes the bad. Would Onyame (God) kill an abandoned child who is not yet three years old? Are you perhaps confusing Onyame with Sasabonsam? (4)

15. “The summer after her third birthday…” There is no summer in the tropics. (There are several more references to temperate zone seasons, summer and spring, elsewhere in the novel. Page 25: "It was spring".) (4)

16. “The summer after her third birthday…” “By the time Effia had reached ten.” “When she was twelve… “ Page 6: Effia’s brother had “just turned eleven.” Page 10: “two days after her fifteenth birthday.” Page 20: “tenth birthday”. I am pretty sure that the Akan did not count years in this way in 1760. Until quite recently, Ghanaians did not have birth certificates and did not celebrate birthdays. For a description of the complex Akan calendar as it might have been in 1760, see . (4)

message 7: by Manu (new)

Manu (manuherb) | 166 comments EDITING YAA GYASI’S HOMEGOING 2/3

17. Baaba beats Effia cruelly. “Cobbe … understood immediately what had happened.” Then: “Effia could hear them …” The point of view jumps from Cobbe to Effia. (4)

18. In Effia’s dream, “Cobbe was a lion.” What mental image would a small child of that time and place have had of lions? (4)

“…the savanna dwelling lion was generally absent from the forested Akan areas, where the leopard was indigenous. The leopard was clearly the most prominent of the two great cats in the earliest examples of Akan expressive culture—goldweights and kuduo. During the second half of the 19th century, lion images introduced by the colonial powers, especially Great Britain began to supercede the leopard.”

19. “The summer of 1764.” “The spring of 1767.” See comments above. The Fante would not have identified years as 1764, 1767. This is the voice of an omniscient 21st century narrator. (4)

20. Baaba “broke yams across [Effia’s] back.” Do you have any evidence to support this strange form of punishment? Try to picture the scene. Did Baaba hold the yam in one hand or two? Did the yam break? Was it then cooked? Was Effia held in position as she was beaten? If so, how? How was she prevented from running away? What explanation is there for Baaba’s cruelty? (4)

21. “…her breasts arrived: two lumps that sprung from her chest, as soft as mango flesh.” Whose point of view is this? Aren’t lumps distinguished by being hard rather than soft? And mango flesh may be hard or soft depending on how ripe the fruit is. (5)

22. There is another issue, a somewhat surprising one. “The mango tree was reported for the first time in West Africa, in Senegal, in 1824. It was at the end of the XIXth century that the mango trees began to have a significant distribution, especially in the coastal zones” So whose simile is this, “as soft as mango flesh”? (5)
Also: “ It was spring, and the mango trees outside the Castle had started to drop down mangoes.” (p25) (curious expression: to drop down)

23. Several men of the village each bring gifts to Cobbe and Baaba, staking a claim for the pre-pubescent Effia. Cobbe and Baaba accept the gifts from all the suitors. Does this competition in any way conform to Akan practice, I wonder? Acceptance of a gift from one suitor would imply the sealing of a contract. This seems more like an auction. See and the text linked at 41 (5)

24. “In 1775, Adwoa Aidoo became the first girl in the village to be proposed to by one of the British soldiers.” (p5) “… Millicent, the half-cast daughter of a Fante woman and a British soldier.” (p9) The second statement appears to contradict the first. (5)

25. Skip to page 26: “The journey” [walking, from Cape Coast] “back to the village took about three days.” The village, unnamed, might be Assin Manso, 56 km from Cape Coast. Back to page 5. (5)

26. “The first time the white man came …” What was he doing so far from Cape Coast? If he was looking for a Fante girl for casual sex or as a concubine, why come so far? (5)

27. “Here, in this village, each wife has her own hut...” Why would Cobbe be telling the white man this? Regarding Akan marriage customs, please consult the text referenced at 41, below. (6)

28. “… she hid behind her father’s leg…” Effia was born after 1757, perhaps in 1761. This incident takes place in 1775. So she might have been 14. Would a girl of 14 hide behind her father’s leg? (5)

29. “… above his upper lips.” Lips? Plural?

30. “…suddenly Effia realized that he [the white man] was seeing through new eyes…” etc. Farfetched? (6)

31. “… the small fishing boats … that the men carried with them when they walked the few miles down to the coast.” See reference to page 26, above. The “few miles” to the coast would seem to be a three day journey. Why “with them”? Does that imply that they carried their canoes down to the coast and back? And who were “the men”? (6) page 26. The estimated weight of a 15m canoe is 2900 kg. 15 men on each side, one meter apart, 30 men total, would have to bear a weight of 100 kg. each. It would have been impractical to carry even the smallest, 7m or 8m, canoe down to the coast along winding forest paths. Dugout canoes are carved by itinerant professional specialist artisans, usually from Wawa logs. In those days I guess that the trees would have been selected for their proximity to navigable streams, on which the logs or carved canoes could be floated down to the coast. (6)

32. “She smelled the sea-salt wind…” Three days from the coast? Or, if this is supposed to be in her imagination, how would she know that the wind might smell different at the coast, which she had not yet visited? (6)

33. “… bark of a palm tree…”

“…unlike trees, palms have no bark or woody tissue.” (6)

34. ““Baaba,” Effia asked…” Would a child address her mother by her name? (6)

35. The white man brings a bride price and gifts, “carried on the backs of Asantes.” Why Asante? What was their status? They are described as “servants.” Do you know of any historical evidence of the whites at Cape Coast employing Asante as servants? (6)

36. “…carried on the backs…” The goods would have been carried on the servants’ heads, not on their backs. (6)

37. “Millet” is one of the gifts. Millet is grown in the savannah, far to the north of the forest zone. How would the whites have acquired millet? (6)

38. “Abeeku Badu was next in line to be the village chief.” “…when you become chief…” “When I am chief…” This is unlikely. Amongst the Akan, the choice of the successor to a deceased (or destooled) chief is not automatic. It is subject to a complex procedure, governed by custom. Even if Abeeku Badu met all the requirements for a successor, he would have been no more than one of the candidates vying for election/selection. (Ernest E Obeng, Ancient Ashanti Chieftancy, Chapter 7.) (7) (8)

39. “… with skin like the pit of an avocado…” (7)

The avocado was among the plants West Indians introduced into the Gold Coast in 1843.
The European Introduction of Crops into West Africa in Precolonial Times,
Stanley B. Alpern, History in Africa, Vol. 19 (1992), pp. 13-43
The pit of an avocado is light brown in colour. Was Abeeku of mixed parentage? That seems unlikely. What does the reference to an avocado tell us?

40. “… slender fingers that he waved around like lightning bolts…” Grammar. Does ‘like’ refer to the fingers or the waving? Does the metaphor work? (7)

41. “… he and Effia were to share a meal together.” That would be unusual. Women would have served the men and only when the latter had eaten, would the women eat. I recommend that you study MARRIAGE AND DIVORCE AMONG THE ASANTE, a study undertaken in the course of the Ashanti Social Survey (1945) by T. E. Kyei, which you can find on-line at (8)

42. [Baaba] “… did not take her to be blessed as all the other mothers did for their daughters.” Blessed by whom? Are you aware of any such custom in Akan culture, apart from calling for the blessing of the ancestors at an infant child’s outdooring?

43. Baaba instructs Effia to keep her menarche secret. She instructs her to use palm fronds as menstrual protection. Do you have any historical evidence to support this? My recollection of palm fronds would suggest that they are non-absorbent. (8)

44. “…teeth that twinkled against the dark night of her skin.” Does this metaphor work? (9)

45. “… the white men could not leave money in their wills to their Fante wives and children…” Have you found any evidence to support this statement? Who imposed the restriction? “Several late eighteenth-century wills left by British men made provision for multiple wives …” Carina Ray, Crossing the Color Line: race, sex, and the contested politics of colonialism in Ghana. Ohio University Press, 2015, p37. (9)

46. “Millicent’s mother had been given enough money … for a piece of land.” There was no private ownership of land in Fante society. Who would she have bought the land from? (9)

47. “… her eyes were tinged with green.” A rare occurrence. What’s the point? (9)

48. “… the fourth day of the rainy season…” The rainy season doesn’t start suddenly on a given day. The number of rainy days and total monthly precipitation both rise gradually from January to April, reaching a peak in May or June or July. (10)

49. “Abeeku was crowned Omanhin.” Crowned is a European term. Amongst the Akan, a chief is enstooled. Omanhene is best translated as the king or chief of a nation, or paramount chief. (Oman – nation, ohene – chief) The chief of a village is odekuro, or perhaps for a small town commanding the allegiance of nearby villages, ohene. (10)

50. “…his two wives on either side of him.” The new chief might be paraded around the village or town, born aloft in a palanquin, with a child representing his “soul” (kra) sitting before him. His wives have no traditional role in his enstoolment. (10,11)

51. “… a long machete. The handle was gold with carvings of letters that no one understood.” The gold handle is possible but rare. The letters suggest that it was imported. What is the point of including this fragment of undigested history of art here?

52. “He was so drunk that all his wives and children stood around him in a circle…” Was the positioning of the wives and children a consequence of his drunkenness?

53. “…all his wives and children stood around him in a circle, at a distance of two feet…” “Two feet” is the voice of the omniscient foreign 21st century narrator. “…by only a few inches…” similarly. The only words which I can recall which might have been used to define length in precolonial Akan, are tenten, long and tiaa or tiatiaa, short. (11)

54. “He wore his silence like a golden crown.” What does this mean? (While an Akan chief might well wear a crown, it has no special significance.) (11)

55. “Abeeku has made an alliance with one of the most powerful Asante villages.” I know of no evidence of direct alliances between individual Fante and Asante villages. Have you found some? (12)

56. Baaba tells Cobbe that Effia has not yet experienced her menarche. “Cobbe had grown nervous about the broken promise of Effia’s womanhood.” Later: “… we have been waiting for years now… Abeeku cannot marry her until her blood comes, and we have been waiting for years now.” (p15) Would Cobbe not have sent Effia to a traditional priest or herbalist for examination? His naivete is implausible. (12)

message 8: by Manu (new)

Manu (manuherb) | 166 comments EDITING YAA GYASI’S HOMEGOING 3/3

57. “And so, the white man came to their village… They…” Inconsistent grammatical number. (12)

58. “They came to approve of the goods Abeeku had promised them.” “They came to inspect the goods” would allow them the option of rejecting them. If the “goods” were slaves, do you know of any evidence that white men would travel three days from Cape Coast to inspect slaves? Would they bring with them the trade goods they would use to pay for purchase of slaves? The inspection and purchase usually took place in Cape Coast Castle, not in the hinterland.
What other “goods” might the Fante have sold to the whites? Foodstuffs? Elephant tusks? But again, why not inspect them at the Castle? (12)

59. “… pregnant belly … no bigger than a coconut, slung low.” I have Googled “shape of pregnant belly”/images. I don’t see any coconuts. (13)

60. “… they dug in …” Incongruous 20th century colloquialism? (13)

61. “… bucket full of water…” Wood and leather were the most common material for buckets before modern times. Galvanised buckets were patented by Stanislas Sorel only in 1837. The Fante would probably have used burnt clay vessels and/or calabashes for storing and conveying water. (13)

62. “The dark brown circles of his irises looked like large pots that toddlers could drown in.” ??? (14)

63. ““I’m still learning,” the white chief said…he was the newly appointed governor of Cape Coast Castle.” Have you discovered any evidence of the British company officials learning Fante? (14)

64. “Within a week he had come back…” Three days’ walk to Cape Coast and three days walk back to the village. Is this plausible conduct for a Governor? (14)

65. “…a black stone pendant that shimmered…” Pendant is something hanging. Later (p 18): “He had taken the black stone pendant … and put it on a string…” Only now has it become a pendant. (16)

66. “There was a chapel on the ground level, and she and James Collins were married by a clergyman… (P23) …they had been married in the chapel by the stern man in black who shook his head every time he looked at her.”
Philip Quaque, a Fante born in Cape Coast, was the Christian chaplain at Cape Coast Castle (where his grave is in the courtyard) from 1766 until his death in 1816. The fictional Collins had a wife in England, Anne. Quaque would not have conducted a bigamous marriage ceremony.
In The Life and Letters of Philip Quaque by Vincent Carretta and Ty Rees, Quaque is recorded as complaining to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in London: Here also is no clear marriage, except that which they term “consoring”, that is the practice of concubinage. P.13.
In Crossing the Color Line: race, sex, and the contested politics of colonialism in Ghana. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2015, p37, Dr. Carina Ray writes, “Although a number of church weddings did occur ….” but she is referring here to a much later period, not the eighteenth-century.

67. “… stopping at the gun platform that held huge black canons facing out towards the sea.” This seems to be only her second view of the sea. Yet she has nothing to say about it. (17)

68. “… she felt a breeze hit her feet from small holes in the ground… rested her ear against the grate.” Presumably vents from the dungeons below. Have you found any evidence that these existed? Have they survived and can they be seen today, from inside the dungeons or from the parade ground? (17)

69. “My father warned me about your ways.” Was Cobbe not involved in slave trading? What about Abeeku? So why was the existence of slaves in the dungeons such a shock to her? (17)

70. “James.” Would she address him by his first name? (17)

71. “Cargo ships like black specks of dust in the blue eye of the Atlantic…” Why would she think of them as cargo ships? And why black? Specks of dust in the eye might well appear black, but if their sails were up, the ships would surely appear white? Does this metaphor work? (18)

72. “Some were maybe three days away, others merely an hour.” How could Effia, lacking all knowledge of sailing ships, use these times to gauge distance? (18)

73. “A flickering of yellow light…” What could this be? A fire on a ship? What does it mean? (18)

74. “… the boat’s silhouette, long and curved like the hollowed-out skin of a coconut.” Does ‘long’ apply to the coconut? Is a sailing ship the shape of a coconut? And ‘skin’? ‘Shell’, perhaps? (18)

75. “He had taken the black stone pendant … and put it on a string…” How did he drill a hole in the stone? (18)

76. “… the only other Fantes she saw regularly were the spouses of the other soldiers.” What about the castle slaves? What about Philip Quaque? (19)

77. “Effia’s father (Cobbe) had twenty children.” How come, apart from Fiifi, we learn nothing of them?

78. “Effia spent more and more time wandering around the villages surrounding the Castle, roaming the forests…” Alone? Unlikely. She might be panyarred. Why doesn’t she just wander around Cape Coast, go the market, have her hair done? (23)

79. “…roaming the forests…” Even more unlikely. (23)

80. Does she never see slaves being delivered to the Castle? Doesn’t she see them being ferried out to the ships in canoes?

81. “… some of the other wenches…” This implies that Effia has begun to think of herself as a ‘wench’. You seem to be fascinated with this word. (23)

82. “Eccoah” – why not the common Fante spelling, Ekua?

83. “… a line of ants passed over a strand of her hair…” What’s the point? (25)

84. “That was what the Asantes trafficked most here. Beasts. Monkeys and chimpanzees, even a few leopards.” The Asante generally traded though Fante middle-men. (25)

85. “…dialect… …tribal wars…” Why not: ‘language’, ‘wars’?

86. ‘Tribal villages’ ‘tribal wars’ I know folks refuse to let the T-word die the death that it deserves. The word is at best anachronistic, and at worst a verbal representation of slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism. It hurts most when the descendants of the previously-enslaved and colonized people of this world cling on to it. (also re half-caste) Kinnareads. (25)

87. “… letter from her village … written in broken English.” On the next page we learn that Fiifi wrote the letter. How would Fiifi have learned to write English? Even in the Asantehene’s court foreigners were used as scribes. And would Effia really be able to distinguish broken English? Why not give us the text of the letter? (26)

88. “With a house girl.” See dialect, tribal wars, half-caste, above (26)

89. “The colors of the treetop canopies…” In this sense, ‘canopy’ doesn’t have a plural. The correct term is ‘canopy’. (26)

90. [Abeeku] “… sent along gifts of palm wine and gold to meet her once she arrived…” If gifts are to be given, it is the visitor who should bring them first, when reporting his/her arrival. Then the recipient might reciprocate. (26)

91. “Apothecaries, witch doctors, even the Christian minister from the Castle…”
Apothecary, archaic, a person who prepared and sold medicines and drugs. Herbalist?
Witch doctors. This is another offensive term.
The Christian minister from the Castle – would this be Philip Quaque? (26)

92. “…as quiet as a field mouse.” Is the field mouse a name given to any species found in West Africa? Is this perhaps a Western cliché?

93. In chapter 2, we learn that the “house girl” was called Maame, that she was a slave in Cobbe’s household, that Cobbe raped her. We understand that she subsequently gave birth to a daughter who would be given the name Effia, that immediately after the birth she ran away, leaving her infant daughter Effia behind, that she set fire to the forest, causing a fire that burned all the way to the first Asante village. Somehow she then found her way, presumably through the burning forest, to a small village “in the heart of the Asante nation” (well over 60 km away, on the far side of the Pra River) where Kwame Asare, known as Big Man, married her, and where she had a second daughter called Esi.

I’m still working on my comments on the second chapter.

I hope that you will find this useful and look forward to receiving your response.

Best wishes,


message 9: by Manu (new)

Manu (manuherb) | 166 comments The missing chapter of Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing.

There is a chapter missing from this novel. Call it “Maame.”

Consider the character briefly introduced in the first chapter as Cobbe’s "house girl" (27) and, in the second chapter, given a name: Maame. (Page numbers in parenthesis.)

This is what we are told about her and/or what is implied in the first two chapters

1. She is slave in Cobbe’s household. (38)

2. Cobbe rapes her (38) and she becomes pregnant. (27)

3. After she gives birth, she abandons her newborn infant and absconds. (27) (42)

4. She sets fire to the forest. (42) The fire extends to the first Asante village (3), perhaps 60 km away. Cobbe loses seven yams, presumably to the fire, but it seems that his village is not burned.

5. She makes her way, perhaps along forest paths unaffected by the fire, perhaps through the burned forest, to a village in the Asante heartland. This is a distance of the order of 100 km., a journey of seven days or more, on foot, presumably barefooted.

6. When she arrives at a village in the heart of Asante, Kwame Asare, later called “Big Man", "marries" her. Since she is a slave, without family, this cannot be a true marriage according to Asante custom. She becomes, in effect, her husband's slave and concubine.

7. She has a daughter, Esi, but never tells her the full story of her origin. (34)

The following questions arise.

1. What is Maame’s “back story”? What is her ethnicity? How did Cobbe acquire her? Assin Manso (Cobbe’s village, very likely) was an important slave market, where the Asante brought slaves to sell to Fante merchants. Was she one of these? The Fante merchants took the slaves they bought down to the coast for sale to the Europeans. What experience did Maame have of this internal slave trade while in Cobbe’s household?

2. What was her relationship with Cobbe? What were the circumstances of the rape? Did he rape her just once, or serially? Did she resist? How old was she, more or less?

3. What went on in her mind when she was pregnant? When did she make the decision to abandon her newborn child? Was her escape pre-planned or did she make the decision on the spur of the moment? Who assisted her in the birth of the child? How did she escape? How soon after the birth? Did she ever hold her child or even see it? Did she consider taking the infant with her, strapped to her back? What was her frame of mind?

4. How did she set fire to the forest? Did she collect firewood and build it into a pile? Did she take a brand from the village to set it alight? What did she hope to achieve? Did she want to burn down Cobbe’s village? What motivated her? Was it revenge? Did she want to punish Cobbe? Did she realize that the newborn child she had abandoned might be burned to death?

5. Once established, the fire would have had a life of its own. How did she avoid getting burned?

6. What led her to head north? Was she hoping to find her own ancestral village? How did she find her way? (I know, from personal experience, how easy it is to get lost in the tropical forest.) Is there any historical evidence which might serve as a basis for the story of Maame’s escape? (Perhaps the story, The Booroom Slave page 83, which the author, Sarah Bowdich Lee, claimed was based on fact? I know of no other.)

7. What happened on her journey? What was she carrying? What did she eat? How did she find food? Was she able to cook? How would she have made a fire for cooking? Where did she sleep? Did it rain? How did she cross rivers, particularly the Prah? How did she avoid recapture? What went on in her mind?

8. How did she meet Kwame Asare? Did he re-enslave her, with or without her consent? Wasn’t she scared of being sold and sent back south, for re-sale to Cobbe, or for sale to the Europeans?

Maame is the ultimate ancestor, through Effia and Esi, of all the characters in this novel. Why does the author tell us so little about her? Is what we do learn plausible?

Is it fair to expect the author to provide at least some of this information or must the reader just take what little is told, on trust?

How is it that none of Yaa Gyasi’s interviewers or reviewers of the novel, seem to have asked questions such as these?

message 10: by Wim, French Readings (last edited Mar 04, 2018 01:34PM) (new)

Wim | 721 comments Mod
I finished Homegoing and I found it a wonderful book and agree with the excellent comment of other readers in the group.

Manu, I think you are too critical on this work: the book is not intended as a scientific historical analysis, but gives insight in how ordinary people have suffered over centuries.

Moreover the chapters are nice and pretty short: of course many details are left out. Maybe some of them had to be included, but it never disturbed me while reading.

I also think the Maane chapter is not missing: we have some information about her and to me that is sufficient. Remember that her two daughters also know very little about her. Yaa Gyasi had to start at a certain point in time and for me she made a good choice.

message 11: by Anetq, Tour Operator & Guide (new)

Anetq | 719 comments Mod
I finally finished this - and I didn't breeze through it - actually I had to take a break after the first 100 pages because I just couldn't bear another story of suffering / slavery /rapes / injustice... The whole "epic family story" didn't really rope me in, it ended up feeling more like an exercise in cramming all of the suffering of black America into one book (imagine all the history teaching you can sneak into the question guide for school readings... It even includes the point about history being written by the winners). Maybe my problem is there is too little storyline for each character for them to really matter to me as more than examples of unjust treatment of human beings? Anyway I am glad that others found it more enjoyable!
Review here:

message 12: by Wim, French Readings (new)

Wim | 721 comments Mod
I understand your feeling about the book, Anetq: it is indeed a compilation of centuries of suffering. But unlike you, I did not think it was harder than genocide books.
To me, there was some kind of lightness to the characters and the stories, and in spite of the suffering, they are very human and recognisable.
Homegoing is more of a collection of (loosely connected) short stories, and I enjoyed each one of them.

message 13: by Anetq, Tour Operator & Guide (new)

Anetq | 719 comments Mod
Wim wrote: "Homegoing is more of a collection of (loosely connected) short stories, and I enjoyed each one of them..."

Maybe I should have read it that way? Even so they seemed a bit too short to actually like the characters for me.

message 14: by Tinea, Nonfiction Logistician (last edited Apr 02, 2018 04:16PM) (new)

Tinea (pist) | 395 comments Mod
Joining you all late to say thank you for selecting this powerful, complex book. I wrote a review referencing some discussion I saw in the King Leopold's Ghost thread about how Homegoing, as fiction, is able to provide a history of the stories that were not recorded.

Manu, I think this point is important: Gyasi writes in the tradition of magical realism-- like Ngugi, like Morrison. Perhaps Gyasi was not trying to write 100% historically accurate manuscript you're seeking, and instead was bending truth to make stronger-- truer-- fiction?

The whole time I read this book I wished I was reading it for a class. I like to learn about new places by reading both a non-fiction history or memoir and a fictional novel that captures the poetry, the way of thinking, the feeling of a place or time or event. Gyasi opened up poetry for things I wanted to study deeper. In particular, the chapter on police as slavecatchers in the Reconstruction era is haunting me.

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