October 07, 2016

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi | Book Review

Homegoing begins with the nighttime birth of Effia Otcher, one of the two great ancestresses whose lineages we will follow to the end. We see Effia grow, get married off to a white colonialist named James Collins, and birth a boy named Quey. The three of them live in a castle that holds captives in its murky dungeons. Esi is the other great ancestress. We catch her just as she turns fifteen while in the dungeon of Cape Coast Castle, a holding place for kidnapped persons just before they are shipped off to the United States of America to serve as slaves. Each chapter in  Homegoing is about a character; each character is a descendant of one of these two ancestresses. We follow these descendants from chapter to chapter, life story to life story, in sickness and in health, till death (sometimes), and then we part. They head off to the afterlife and we, witnesses to their immense pain and suffering, head back to our daily lives incredibly moved and much more aware of the horrors of our history.

Homegoing deals with the slave trade that resulted in millions of men & women being uprooted from Africa and shipped to the United States of America to undergo abominable treatment in the hands of white men. I was nervous about this book at first because I know that the author is a 26 years old immigrant from Ghana not an old, wizened African American lady writing about a history she either knows firsthand or via tales handed down to her from generation to generation. As much as it makes me cringe to admit it, I wondered if this was Yaa Gyasi's "story to tell".  I was worried that this whole thing might come off as a ROOTS (the miniseries) wannabe. I was worried that Homegoing (305 pages) would reek of researched content that would render it lifeless, a big bulky mess in the end. The most appropriate GIF that immediately came to mind to mirror my thoughts before and during the first few pages of Homegoing is this scene with Meryl Streep (one of my favorite actresses in the world) from the movie Doubt. 


Homegoing at HARVARD
I had so many doubts but I was rooting for Gyasi to triumph. And she did. She freaking did. Gyasi's writing is confident, commanding, and effortless like this isn't her first rodeo. Homegoing weaves stories across generations, across cultures, and across continents, a terrifyingly ambitious undertaking. It's the first novel I've read that tells the slave trade story from the African perspective. Gyasi takes us to these characters in whatever corner they may be, either living with family or weathering loneliness, some knowledgeable about their ancestral roots and others not so aware. They are split up just like slavery split up millions of families and you yearn for them to reunite but you know for this plotline to pay true homage to our ancestors they shouldn't reunite because in real life lots of black families did not reunite. By the end of Ness's story on page 87 I was certain our ancestors gave Yaa Gyasi the talent, wisdom and fortitude required to tell this story and that they would be so proud if they could read this. As I neared the end of Homegoing and in the ensuing silence after I finished it (including the Acknowledgments), I was more aware of the magnitude of this project, of this literary achievement, this gift that was crafted by the amazing Yaa Gyasi.

Homegoing is one of the most inspiring books I've ever read. I'm so proud. I'm so moved. I'm ready to stand on the street corner selling copies of this book. I saw it displayed in the window of the HARVARD Bookstore late September when I visited and I was like "yessssss...". You need to read this book. BUY it. BORROW it. Just find some way to READ IT.

[Book Cover Image via Amazon, GIF via ReactionGifs

11 comments:

  1. yuhooooo!!!! I will read it! Thanks. I have been reading alot on slavery lately e.g the book of negroes.. quite a page turner. Have you read it¿

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    1. Hey Mary! Please do! I need to read more on slavery for sure. I saw your review for The Book of Negroes. I haven't read it. I might check it out.

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  2. EXCELLENT review, Osondu. You truly, truly loved this!! We should have buddy-read it together and discussed all the chapters hahaa! After I read Homegoing, I entered a deep reading slump - because I didn't want to come off the high from this great book. I gave it to my Mom to read and we discussed it thoroughly, so I'm finally down from the high, after our discussions lol. Is this the best book you've read all year? What are you reading now?

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    1. Thank you Darkowaa!! I truly did. Truly, truly did. Yeah we should have lol. I know you haven't checked out Mbue's "Behold the Dreamers" but after reading I really wanted to call up someone to discuss that book lol. We need to buddy-read one of these books we agree on. :) The last book I read was Elnathan John's "Born on a Tuesday". Finished it on the 28th. Will post my review on the 14th. I'm not reading anything now cause I still have to study but I have 4 novels I hope to read before the year ends. I'm going to pick up Ben Hinson's "Eteka: Rise of the Imamba" and "How to Read Air" by Dinaw Mengestu next. What are you reading now?

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    2. I love how you discussed it with your mom. I feel like I want to make a trip to Ghana after reading that book. I hope I eventually do. I visited once in 2006.

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    3. Agreed! We should def buddy-read a book in 2017 (seriously, we should lol). I have BOAT by Elnathan. I even got my copy signed when he came to Accra back in March, but I haven't been in the mood to read it yet :(. Eteka: Rise of the Imamba seems like an involving read! I've seen reviews on it and I hope he turns it into a graphic novel. I'm yet to read anything by Dinaw Mengestu - I'll look out for the reviews of those two! I'm reading As The Crow Flies by Veronique Tadjo. Its a good book so far, but I don't think its for everyone lol. And 2006 is so long ago!

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    4. I remember you posted about getting your BOAT autographed some time ago. Yeahh we should. Might be easier to do it with new releases since we both check out new releases. For 2017 releases, I have my eye on "Welcome to Lagos" by Chibundu Onuzo. It will be released in January. And also "Season of Crimson Blossoms by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim. Amazon says May 2017. I've preordered both. I'll let you know once they arrive. I don't know if we'"" be able to read them at the exact same time but i'll just inform you anyway.

      Hmmm... haven't heard of Veronica Tadjo before now. Will keep an eye out for your review.

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    5. Yeah, it will be easier with new releases. Not sure if I want to read Onuzo's book just yet. I'm leaning more towards Ibrahim's book (which is already out or?). But there is still time! When 2017 rolls along, I'll send you an email with my suggestions and you can do the same, then we can agree on when we would read the book together - cuz thats the point of buddy-reading! LOL. Time dey.

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    6. I'm pretty sure Ibrahim's book is out over there but Amazon made me preorder it for May. So I'm guessing it's not available internationally yet? Idk. I can wait though. Lol and yeah email me when you're ready and I'll email you back. Time dey lol :)

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  3. It never occurred to me to doubt whether Yaa Gyasi should tell a story like this. But I can understand and respect where you reservations came from. So glad you loved the book, though! I did as well and I will personally join you in selling this book out on the streets. We'd make a convincing team! :D

    Have you heard of or read Lawrence Hill's novel, "The Book of Negroes"? It's another fantastic story about the slave trade told from an African perspective.

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  4. Thanks for mentioning that and thanks for understanding where the reservations would come from. I'm glad you loved the book too. I read your review too. We both live in Texas so it would be easy to meet up and sell the book haha. Mary Okeke recommended it in her comments and I read up about the author. I might check it out but I'm not sure yet. If you do read it I'd love to see your review of it. I think it already has a miniseries made out of it. Thanks for stopping by!

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