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“Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi

By Nathan Coker
In Bayou Pages
Jan 30th, 2023


“The family is like the forest: if you are outside it is dense; if you are inside you see that each tree has its own position.”

In this sweeping epic that spans almost three centuries, Yaa Gyasi delivers a powerful punch to colonial history and the transatlantic slave trade. Two sisters are born with no knowledge of one another in opposing villages. While Effia is married off to a white colonial soldier, Esi is imprisoned and relegated to the Gold Coast Atlantic slave trade, and monetized in America’s chattel slavery institution. In alternating chapters, the story follows their descendants in Ghana and America. Gyasi lures readers into an intense meditation on the binds of family and the horrors of history. She compels readers to complicate foremothers and forefathers, the distant relatives whose choices and circumstances so greatly impact our current lives.

The opening pages feature two parallel family trees. As each chapter introduces a tangential plot line, I kept referring back to the tree for reference. While it may sound confusing, the novel flows quite seamlessly between the sisters’ families. Gyasi’s visuals of the historical African landscape and the battles between Asante and Fante tribes depict a transatlantic history we rarely see with such clarity. The integral layers of the story show the magnitude of political decisions and the impact affecting generations. Each chapter reads like its own vignette or short story; woven together, the quilt of familial existence comes into focus. This novel is impossible to read without experiencing a flood of emotions.

I sped through this novel, relaxing into Gyasi’s command of prose and storytelling. The novel lacks predictability, much like life itself. Though fictional, each character’s story beats with historical relevance and brings the importance of ancestry into full view. Gyasi refuses the convenience of resolve, often retaining the fate of one character to the background of another. I left each chapter hesitantly, wanting to climb back into each plot line for a bit longer. As a woman, witnessing the lack of female agency is harrowing, especially when it happens on our own continent. The girls exist as currency to the patriarchal system both in Ghana and America. Whether owned by white masters in America or married to tribe leaders for the sole purpose of procreation, their lives are not their own. Gyasi intensely focuses on the historical human experience through the lives of women, lacking in agency but brimming with determination. Homegoing is Gyasi’s debut novel and won numerous awards after its publication in 2016.

“Theirs was the kind of life that did not guarantee living.”