Homegoing Might Be the Best Book of 2016 (According to Me)

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Yaa Gyasi’s groundbreaking debut novel, Homegoing, begins in 18th century Ghana with two half-sisters who will never meet. Effia, of the Fante tribe, marries a British slaver and lives her life in relative luxury in the Cape Coast castle. Beneath her, captured tribes wait to be shipped to the Americas as slaves. Among them is Esi of the Asante, Effia’s half-sister.

homegoing

Gyasi follows Effia and Esi’s descendants in subsequent “chapters,” one for each generation. The stories run parallel to each other in time but are separated by continents and circumstance. Effia’s lineage remains in Ghana, her children and grandchildren part of the slave trade Effia married into. Wars with Britain and Ghana’s struggle for independence provide historical backdrop to the family narrative as time passes and we approach the present day. Esi’s family, transported in chains to America, lives through familiar American history:  Southern slavery, post-Civil War segregation and incarceration, life in Harlem and the struggles of modern day African Americans.

One of the things that drew me to this book right away is its fantastic cover design (by Peter Mendelsund, who has designed many iconic book covers). That and rave reviews from critics as well as friends. I expected a good novel, but was surprised by how much I enjoyed this epic family saga. Gyasi follows seven generations throughout history, totaling fourteen separate perspectives featuring different members of Effia’s and Esi’s family.

“We believe the one who has power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history you must ask yourself, ‘Whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth?’ Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there you get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.” —Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing

If fourteen narrators over three hundred years sounds more like a textbook than a novel, you’d be surprised to learn Homegoing clocks in at a modest 300 pages. Each character’s perspective manages to represent the entirety of their life story while also fitting into the larger saga that stretches over time. At the end of each character’s “chapter,” I always felt invested and eager to read about the next generation.

Gyasi shows us the importance of family history and how people are influenced by their heritage (even if they are unaware of their history). She also shows us perspectives not often given voices, like the nameless slaves kept in the Cape Coast dungeons.

If you’ve heard some of the buzz about this new book, believe the hype! This is by far one of the best books I’ve read this year (maybe even the best). And if this is your first time hearing about Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel, I hope I’ve inspired your interest. Request Homegoing today and come find me at the West End so we can talk about this amazing novel.

-Adina

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Adina enjoys cooking and eating (mostly eating), ranting about books and watching movies with her friends. You can find her working at the West End branch or relaxing in her cozy apartment.