Review: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Evil begets evil. It grows. It transmutes, so that sometimes you cannot see that the evil in the world began as the evil in your own home.


Summary and Thoughts

Two half-sisters, 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 may be Gyasi’s debut novel, but it reveals the skill of a master with her laser sharp focus on her characters’ journeys, expansive descriptions of Ghana and the United States, and heart-wrenching emotional beats that tie in a complex but accessible story of separation, brutality, love, and endurance. This is a deeply moving novel, not for the faint of heart, and also ambitious in its mostly successful analysis of life for Black Americans and Ghanians over 300 years. Though the first half of the book was stronger than the second, I can hardly linger on this slight decline in intensity due to its overall strength. This is a fantastic book and one excellent way to kick off black history month.

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