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This topic is about Homegoing
2018 Book Discussions > Homegoing - Part One (Spoilers allowed) (May 2018)

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message 1: by Hugh (last edited May 02, 2018 12:36AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2835 comments Mod
This topic is for open discussion of the first half of the book. Spoilers to events in this part are allowed, but please do not talk about the second half here. Note that the second half begins with the chapter on H.

How do you feel about the structure of the novel? The focus changes after each chapter - did this cause any issues? How well did Gyasi capture the historic parts of the story? Any favourite characters?

Whitney | 2253 comments Mod
I did like the structure of the story. A large part of the African diaspora is the experiences of those who remained as opposed to those brought in chains to the US. I think Gyasi showed us the different yet connected experiences without beating anyone over the head with it. On a more popular front, Black Panther engaged with the same issue.

I'd seen the slave castles before, but have to confess I thought Gyaasi was exaggerating about how bad the conditions were. Nope, people literally chained together for days if not weeks at a time in a dark basement dungeon, with the human waste piling up beneath them. That level of torture and disregard of human life doesn't even make sense from a purely economic standpoint.

I appreciated seeing the relationships between the British officers and their "wenches" from the perspective of said wenches and their families. Not naive victims of false promises, but people who saw the opportunity for what it was.

Lucy | 8 comments This is such an ambitious book and a really striking debut achievement. I think the structure is cleverly chosen to express the legacy of slavery through different contexts and life stories. Though some of the material is horrific (especially the slave castles at the start), Gyasi doesn't shy away from the moral ambiguities that arise, while at the same time not denying where the weight of responsibility lies.

The narrative style is conventional so far (and surprisingly lacking in texture given the shifts in geography and time), but it is well controlled. In a way the book is closer to a set of linked stories than a novel, though, and for me the panoramic effect offers too many different situations at the expense of intimacy with some of the key characters.

Kathleen | 293 comments I am enjoying this so much. The switching back and forth between family lines does drive me back to the family tree often, to remind myself of how the characters fit together.

As Lucy says, I'm struck by how controlled the narrative is. I prefer writing with more intimacy, as she says, but I think this works for what it is trying to do.

This excerpt from a Poets & Writers interview Gyasi did with Angela Flournoy gives a compelling explanation for the structure:
“In a lot of ways the structure of this novel is my reaction to all of the people who have said, ‘Slavery was a million years ago. Why are we still talking about it?’ I felt like if I could stop in every generation, from the height of the slave trade to present day, I could really help make it clear that history is not this discrete thing that happens neatly and then ends. It’s dynamic; it affects everything that follows. I wanted the structure to feel like that rippling effect.”

Marc (monkeelino) | 2880 comments Mod
That excerpt is very helpful, Kathleen--thanks!

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2835 comments Mod
Thanks Kathleen - I think that sums up why I admired the book without really loving it.

Lucy | 8 comments Thanks Kathleen. I think that the novel is really successful in creating that 'rippling effect'. I also like the way it keeps the African and American strands intertwined - both co-exist in the formation of later generations.

Kathleen | 293 comments You are all very welcome! And yes, Lucy. It's weird--the way it is intertwined is for me what makes it feel controlled, yet I like that aspect too.

Hugh asked about favorite characters, and for Part One, I think I'd say Kojo's story stands out. His section was heartbreaking, and it struck me that in this story of connections, he was cut off from both his parents (protected from "catchers" by Ma Aku but having no memory of his parents Ness and Sam) and then later from his wife and last child who were stolen from him. We see him in this progressing familial line, but yet he's kind of floating alone within it, cut off from both sides. So sad.

message 9: by Meike (last edited May 10, 2018 09:48AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Meike (meikereads) Thanks for the quote, Kathleen! Slightly (but only slightly!) off topic: It also made me think of Childish Gambino's new "This is America" video, which seems to have stirred a major discussion in the States: In the video, he is wearing pants that resemble those of confederate soldiers, he is hinting at Jim Crow, minstrel shows and lynchings, at one point he dances in a South African style (gwara-gwara), he is criticising gun violence, he is followed by a mob etc. - although I am sure he didn't have the book we are talking about in mind, he also shows that historical dynamics do not end, but that the repercussions persist.

(For the 3 people who haven't seen the video yet: Watch it, it's amazing and disturbing and apparently, everybody's talking about it in the States: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYOjW... and here's a New York Times article about it: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/08/ar...)

message 10: by Sue (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sue So just finishing Part I. I'm appalled all over again at how horribly one group of humans can treat another group of humans.

Following some of the conversation here so far, I like Lucy's suggestion that the book is organized as a series of stories, mirroring the story telling from parent to child we see in the narrative.

I'm very interested in the two halves of the story - America and Africa - and I can't wait to see how both turn out.

I think the American half is very well-known from movies and literature and history class. Certainly no cliff hangers about whether the Fugitive Slave Act will pass, or whether Civil War will start.

But the African side of the story is less well known - to me anyway. I want to see what unfolds.

To answer the question of my favorite character, so far I'd have to answer Ma Aku. She survived her own horrors, but still had hope and humanity to save herself and others. And she raised Jo like her own child.

Alana (alanasbooks) | 26 comments I liked seeing both sides play out at the same time, to kind of anchor myself in what was happening concurrently in history, which can be hard to do. We tend to learn about historical events in a place, but not necessarily what's happening in other parts of the world at the same time, which is important for understanding true world context.

I kept flipping back to the family tree as well, as the story moved along, because I kept finding it getting more difficult to remember where and when I was.

message 12: by Suki (new) - rated it 4 stars

Suki St Charles (goodreadscomsuki_stcharles) | 23 comments I had meant to read this with the group last year, but I never got to it. I've just finished the first section, and I'm enjoying the structure of the novel as it alternates between the descendants of Effia and Esi, Africa and America. Actually, referring to it as a novel doesn't seem quite right-- it is more a collage of biographical sketches that forms a larger picture. I certainly agree that the family tree is crucial to understanding the framework of the story.

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2450 comments Suki, Glad you are enjoying the structure. It is a bit of a different structure for a novel. I saw it as like a big family saga, where two major components of the initial family have lost each other. Calling the segments biological sketches is a good description.

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