“You can learn anything when you have to learn it. You could learn to fly if it meant you would live another day.” -Maame
Despite having a jam packed summer, I always make time for my first love i.e. reading and this book I’m about to review is the best piece of fiction I’ve read in quite a long time. My good friend, Josephine recommended this book during one of our many Skype calls and girl, I cannot thank you enough. I don’t think I’d have paid this book the attention it deserves if you hadn’t sang its praises.
The novel chronicles the lives of two half sisters, Effia and Esi who though related by blood, never met and end up with entirely different lives thanks to the divide between the rich and royal and the poor and suffering in Ghana’s colonial times. The one thing that somehow connects the two families centuries later until present day is a black goldstone necklace that is handed down from generation to generation.
Effia is the beauty of her community and remains so after being saved from a fire that plays a significant role in her family’s lineage for centuries to come. She is despised by her stepmother and is soon sold to the British to keep the slave trade alive and all she takes with her is the black stone necklace. Her sister, Esi who she had only heard of but never met lived with her biological mother. When tribal wars broke between the Asante and the Fante communities, her mother refused to go on the run with her. She instead gave Esi a similar necklace and told her about the older sister she never knew she had as she ran for safety. Esi was soon captured and enslaved in the same Cape coast castle where her half sister lived as the Governor’s wife a few floors up from the dingy dungeon she was locked up in. This stone necklace, being the only memory she has of her mother and sister, gives her hope of a better tomorrow despite being sold into slavery to the cotton farmers of Alabama in the U.S
The novel tells the story of each descendant from both sisters, chapter after chapter, seamlessly connecting the stories down to present day. Gyasi spins the story of each family along the complex family tree so well that one feels like part of the family. We get to learn about the progression of the intertribal wars in Ghana, the result of colonialism and how the country fared after the British left. We are also given an in-depth look at slavery and racism in America from the 18th century to the early 90s.
Esi’s family tree grows and expands within America while Effia’s dominates parts of Ghana until the same fire that she was saved from as a child, causes a severe rift between mother and son Akua Collins and Yaw Agyekum, descendants of her lineage. This divide moves the remaining part of her family tree into the U.S as well and it is there that the two sisters’ last surviving descendants, are reunited in the most interesting of ways… the black stone necklace still prominent to the very end.
Gyasi’s writing is powerful and captivating, enticing and emotional. Her words flow freely but giving just enough detail of each part of each family member’s story. It kind of feels like it is her family’s story that she tells though this is entirely a fictional tale. I have learnt a lot more about Ghana through this book that I never knew before and I kind of wish the story didn’t end the way it did, but alas, everything must end at some point right? Here’s to hoping for a sequel. Maybe.
Homegoing is Yaa Gyasi’s first novel and for a debut piece, it has really surpassed my expectations. Anyone who saw me in the past month knows I could not put this book down; the last book that intrigued me in this way was Chimamanda’s Americanah. African literature is doing so well and I could not be more proud. Get yourselves a copy folks, you will not be disappointed at all.
“There should be no room in your life for regret. If in the moment of doing you felt clarity, you felt certainty, then why feel regret later?” -James Richard Collins
N/B: All quotes are from the book.
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