History and Familial Lineage Take Center Stage in Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Homegoing begins in eighteenth-century Ghana and spans several centuries (eight generations!) to follow the generational line of Maame, an Asante woman.
Maame has two daughters. One (Effia) while she was slaved by the Fante and another (Esi) after she escaped to Asanteland. Effia marries an English slave trader while Esi is sold into slavery. These half-sisters never meet, but their stories are deeply intertwined.
The novel captures Effia and Esi’s respective paths and that of their descendants. Most often, African and African-American history is told through the perspective of White conquerors, utterly devoid of individual stories and collective human experiences. Yaa Gyasi weaves both personal and historical events together to give voice and power to all of her characters.
Each chapter centers around key historical periods, including the transatlantic slavery, post-Civil War slavery (the coal mines), the Jim Crow era, Harlem Jazz Renaissance, the crack epidemic, and present-day racism in the U.S.
Homegoing also explores a lesser known fact about slavery: it had and continues to have grotesque effects on Africans who remained in Africa.
The power of history and familial lineage is resounding in this novel. “History is Storytelling,” Yaw, one of Effia’s descendants, proclaims this truth in a lesson to his students. Indeed, who gets to tell the story matters. To tell a complete story, all accounts, even those of the marginalized and oppressed must be shared.
I am blessed to have read this spectacular and illuminating novel. Homegoing provides a powerful way to learn about and claim a history that has been missing several parts.