Book Review: Homegoing // Yaa Gyasi

When it comes to books, I am definitely someone who has a rapidly growing to-be-read list, almost to the extent where I can’t keep up, so it is incredibly rare that I delve back into novels that I’ve already read. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is a massive exception.

I read this book for the first time in 2017, and it really stuck with me; in light of recent events, I picked it up again, and was immediately sucked back into the poignant narrative that Gyasi has so expertly crafted. Whilst it is fundamentally vital that we educate ourselves with the facts surrounding historic events, and the enormous adversities faced by Black communities throughout history, I’ve often found that fiction can be the most powerful tool for bringing about change; by seeing life through the eyes of characters who have experienced such injustice, it feels far more moving than mere facts and statistics on a page.  

Gyasi’s Homegoing should be on everyone’s bookshelf, and I think now, more than ever, this book is a must-read.

Homegoing begins in the 18th-century, in what is modern day Ghana, where two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, are born into entirely different circumstances; Effia, the eldest daughter, becomes the wife of a British official, and remains in Africa amidst the ongoing rivalries between the British and Dutch colonists and slave traders, and the Fante and Asante nations. Esi, on the other hand, is imprisoned in the dungeons beneath the luxury in which Effia is living in, and is about to be shipped off to America with thousands of others, where she will become a slave. What follows is a multi-generational masterpiece of the lives and experiences of the descendants of both Effia and Esi, covering everything from the slave plantations of Mississippi, the Civil War, all the way to the jazz clubs of 20th-century Harlem.

Packing an enormous amount of history into just 300 pages, Gyasi is a master of story-telling, and has you gripped from the very first pages. This epic-tale spans across numerous different locations, cultures, and eras, which has the potential to feel rushed given the length, but Gyasi executes a fantastic intimacy between the reader and each character, and has the ability to paint a vivid account of each setting.

Furthermore, the language itself is incredibly poetic, and each character has their own distinctive style and tone. There is an intoxicating flow to the narrative, and there are several recurring yet subtle symbols and motifs that crop up throughout the novel, reminding the reader that though each character’s experience is unique, they are nonetheless interconnected. I loved this theme, and found it fascinating how each perspective can be read and understood entirely independent from one another, but with the knowledge of each character’s heritage and backstory, it becomes all the more powerful and evocative.

Homegoing was extremely popular when it first came out, but I have seen so many readers delving back into it, and I truly hope that it has a resurgence so that more people can experience this exquisite piece of literature.

Words by Hollie McDevitt

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