Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi- Book Review

Right off, in the beginning, I have to be open and honest with my readers. I was really excited about this book before it came out. I heard so many things about it from people who got an advanced copy that I was hyped for this book. Well, that sounds strange as it is about slavery, but I am guessing most understand what I mean. One of my main passions is understanding race/race relations. I have been waiting for this book for that reason. I even pre-ordered it months before it came out on Amazon.

Now I have read Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and I have to write- if you care anything about race, telling the story of slavery, great writing, or anything like that, this book needs to be on your shelf.

Homegoing begins with two stories of half sisters from Ghanna- Effia and Esi. Effia winds up married to a British slave trader, while Esi winds up as one of his slaves, yet they do not know the other is present in the same castle. Each is presented with a precious black stone before they leave their respective villages and face their futures.

From that point on, each chapter alternates with the descendants of each of these women. Each chapter looks at significant times in their descendants' lives. Effie's son Quey's story, for example, begins when he is older and is asked to return to his mother's village. The problem is he is now of mixed race, so there are some ramifications to his identity in the world- he is neither English nor from Ghanna. Ness' story on the other hand, the daughter of Esi, is more of a tragic story because she is a slave woman's illegitimate daughter. She is property rather than of privilege. She is a slave who picks cotton in Alabama. Her life is very different from Quey's.

The incredible part of Gyasi's stories are they are not straightforward and don't necessarily go where one thinks they are headed. There are heartbreaking stories, there are romance stories, there are stories about identity, and many other deeper topics. One family does struggle a bit because of where they begin life, but that doesn't mean the other family has it any easier. The problems are just different.

What I really enjoyed about seeing how the generations progress is how some of the great grandchildren have elements of their great grandmother. Some say similar things for example or have a way about them that just reminds the reader of a previous story. It isn't overtly done though and that is what is fun. There isn't a character who comes up and states something to the effect of- "That is just like what your grandmother used to do." That would be too easy. Gyasi allows to reader to pick up certain things because you, as reader, know each person's history.

This book could have easily fallen flat, but I am so grateful that it didn't. This isn't just a good book to talk about race, identity, history, etc, but it is also great writing and storytelling too. Even though the reader only gets a glimpse of a character's life, one feels comfortable and knows that person.

The book isn't necessarily the feel good story though and a few times I had to put the book down because I couldn't take what I just read, but it is an important book. I read The Underground Railroad right next to this one and I am telling you that will be a great companion piece to this book, when it comes out. This was an ambitious and risky book and it really paid off. Gyasi weaves the stories so well together that they stand on their own, but savvy readers will pick up little hints on ancestry. Seriously, get this book.

This was a 5 star book!

Here is the Amazon link- Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

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