Review: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi book review header

Published: June 7th, 2016 by Knopf | Series: N/A | Length: 300 pages | Genre: Adult fiction, historical fiction | Source: Borrowed from library | Possible Triggers: racism (including slurs), slavery, rape, drug use

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Summary from Goodreads:

The unforgettable New York Times best seller begins with the story of two half-sisters, separated by forces beyond their control: one sold into slavery, the other married to a British slaver. Written with tremendous sweep and power, Homegoing traces the generations of family who follow, as their destinies lead them through two continents and three hundred years of history, each life indeliably drawn, as the legacy of slavery is fully revealed in light of the present day.

Effia and Esi are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.

Homegoing comes recommended to me by a lot of people. As someone who both loves historical fiction and books that talk about difficult topics like racism, this was a great choice for me to read. Even though the hype got to me a little and left me expecting just a tiny bit more, this still was a fantastic book that I’d highly recommend.

Homegoing manages to do so much in just 300 pages. It goes through centuries of stories while still managing to go in-depth with each one. We start back in Ghana at the start of the slave trade and end up in modern America. And yet each story still manages to feel complete, despite only being one chapter. Obviously, many of these stories are intertwined since they’re members of the same family and I really enjoyed how characters from previous chapters were mentioned in later ones, giving you that little bit of extra closure on their stories. Some of the chapters were certainly more interesting to me than others, but overall, I was pleasantly surprised by how satisfying each story was.

I, of course, thoroughly appreciated how many tough but extremely important topics were brought up in this book. We start off with the first few chapters focusing a lot on slavery, but even when we’re in modern times, the discussions of racism don’t disappear. Chapter after chapter discusses the ways in which the slave trade is still having an effect on life in both Ghana and the US. As you can see from the quote I’ve included below, there are a lot of passages that are (sadly) still incredibly relevant today, even though they were part of a story meant to take place decades ago.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi quote 1

One thing I particularly liked was getting to see some of the culture of Ghana and the impacts of the slave trade there. I love learning about other cultures, especially when they’re a lot different from my own. I liked seeing the history of Ghana as well. Although I knew that there had been Africans helping capture and sell slaves, I didn’t know much about how that had actually happened, so it was interesting to see that side of things. I also enjoyed seeing how the culture gradually changed over the decades as the slave trade ended and Ghana gained their independence. Like the American stories, you still get to see the impact of all of those events in more modern times.

The stories and characters themselves were very well written and wonderfully captivating. Part of me was a little nervous that, being given only a chapter each, they would end up a little under-developed or feel flat, but that wasn’t the case at all. Each character is so uniquely human and even though you don’t always agree with the choices they make, it’s hard not to feel for them and think about how difficult their situations are. This is another one of the reasons why I liked that the stories are tied together. Some of the characters, right at the end of their chapter, end up making some big, life-changing decision and because you then get to see their children in the next chapter, you get to see how that decision played out.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi book review quote 2

 

Homegoing is well worth the hype that it gets and perfect for anyone looking for a good historical fiction book or just looking for a book that talks about racism. Because of the subject matter, there are definitely some passages that could be hard to read, so be aware of that. But if you can read through them, I can almost guarantee you’ll love this book. Ultimately, I’m not sure why this feels more like a four-star than a five-star read, but I think it might just be that the hype had me expecting just a little bit more out of it. Regardless, I highly recommend picking this up if you have the chance.


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15 thoughts on “Review: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

  1. So wait, each chapter is a different character? I didn’t know that. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book like that before so that’s interesting! It’s good to hear that you ended up enjoying this because I’ve heard a lot of great things about and am officially even more intrigued. It really does seem like a great book that covers a lot of important topics. And another one that I’ll have to try to get to at some point this year. Great review as always, Kourtni!! 😁

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    • Yup! The book goes through multiple generations of the same family, so each chapter focuses on a different member of the family. It kind of feels more like a collection of (connected) short stories. I definitely recommend reading it when you have the chance! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review, Kourtni! This is actually the first review I’ve read which has addressed the format of the novel. I didn’t realize each chapter was its own stand-alone story. This makes me more intrigued to read this book (which has already been on my TBR since its release). You also selected some beautiful quotes.
    Wow. 300 pages on the nose? I’m super impressed.

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  3. This was an outstanding read for me, an incredible use of the structure of the family tree to tel this history and legacy through two family lines and their characters, which might appear like separate stories, but are definitely interlinked and often tell something of the previous character from two chapters ago. I found the family tree essential to refer to before each chapter, a small price to pay for the wonderful experience this novel offers its readers, I was bowled over by it, one of the best of 2017 definitely – and I usually stay away from books that have been hyped!! Great review.

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    • I loved how each chapter could stand on its own, but was still interconnected with the previous ones. The family tree definitely was essential and I’m very glad it was included! I would’ve been lost without it, haha. I’m glad you enjoyed this so much!! Thanks, Claire! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: 10 Book Recommendations for People Who Want to Diversify Their Reading | Kourtni Reads

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