Book Review: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Effia and Esi: two sisters with two very different destinies. One sold into slavery; one a slave trader’s wife. The consequences of their fate reverberate through the generations that follow. Taking us from the Gold Coast of Africa to the cotton-picking plantations of Mississippi; from the missionary schools of Ghana to the dive bars of Harlem, spanning three continents and seven generations.

I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but the first thing that drew me to Homegoing was the spectacular dust jacket on the hardback. I spotted it straight away, practically glowing from its stand in the Falmouth Bookseller. It was love at first sight. However, I’ve been burned by this shallow attitude to book buying before and was keen to read a little of the first chapter before taking it home with me.

I was instantly hooked, thrown into the life of Effia (the first of many characters), a Ghanaian girl considered the beauty of her village but hated by her mother. I read on hungrily, intrigued to find out more about Effia’s life and what would happen to her until she was married to a slaver and her chapter ended. I was slightly taken aback by the sudden ending of Effia’s story, especially when I found myself catapulted across the land to the perspective of another young girl, Esi, who was destined for a very different path.

I quickly learned that Effia and Esi were half sisters (not a spoiler as it tells you in the blurb!) born from the same father, but that is where their connection ends. While Effia lives in a castle surrounded by white slavers, her sister Esi is sold into slavery and shipped across the sea to America. The sisters never meet, but instead the reader follows two epic timelines; spanning the generations of a family torn apart by the slave trade, from the 18th century to the turn of the 21st.

This book is horrific in places, heartbreaking, but an important read. There’s nothing in Homegoing that we don’t already know from history class, but reading it from the points of view of Gyasi’s incredibly realistic characters served as a poignant reminder of the atrocities of mankind.

But this book is not full of misery. There are plenty of moments filled with hope, love and power that made my heart swell in my chest. So real are the characters that you grow attached, even though you only spend one chapter with each them and their losses feel like your losses, their successes yours too.

My favourite characters/chapters were Esi, H, Sonny, Yaw and Marjorie. But they were all incredible! My only criticism of this book is that I wished I could have read more about each character, some of the chapters ended quite abruptly and I wasn’t ready to let go. It’s hard to believe that this is Gyasi’s first novel and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is published by Penguin. I bought this book myself and all views stated are my own.

Available in Hardback, £12.99

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Yaa Gyasi was born in Mampong, Ghana and raised in Huntsville, Alabama in the US. Homegoing is her first novel. It was selected for the National Book Foundation’s ‘5 Under 35’ and shortlisted for the Centre for Fiction’s First Novel Prize.

 

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