I just finished reading this book and I decided to write a review while everything is still so raw and so close to my heart. What a story.
Homegoing is the tale of two black half sisters separated, one (Esi) raised by their biological mother and the other (Effia) by her step mother. Effia marries a British slaver while Esi is sold into slavery in America. The book follows 6 generations after the sisters, Effia passing down their story to members of her lineage while things get a bit messier on Esi’s side. Every chapter is by a member of a subsequent generation, each side alternating. I really thought I would get confused a lot but I got so drawn into the story that I felt like I knew all of them so well, almost like there was a face to every name. Yaa Gyasi’s storytelling is beautiful and spellbinding.
My favorite thing about the book is how much it is about the people. Admittedly there’s more on certain characters than there are about others and I did feel more drawn to some characters for this reason, but I think that’s just like life. The book explores the cruelty of slavery and I began to feel such a deep appreciation for Ghanaian culture and everything the Gold Coast and Africa in general have been through. The book has been touted ‘Roots’ for the 21st century and I think the most important difference between ‘Roots’ and ‘Homegoing’ is that the latter is about a country closer to my heart and about people’s stories and humanity and love and survival.
“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.”
“It was only when Effia didn’t speak or question, when she made herself small, that she could feel Baaba’s love, or something like it. Maybe this was what Abeeku wanted too.”
“She’d heard the Englishmen call them “wenches,” not wives. “Wife” was a word reserved for the white women across the Atlantic. “Wench” was something else entirely, a word the soldiers used to keep their hands clean so that they would not get in trouble with their god, a being who himself was made up of three but who allowed men to marry only one.”
“Since moving to the Castle, she’d discovered that only the white men talked of “black magic.” As though magic had a color.”
“If he wants to call you Emily, let him call you Emily… Better that than to listen to him butcher your mother tongue over and over”
“Hell was a place of remembering, each beautiful moment passed through the mind’s eye until it fell to the ground like a rotten mango, perfectly useless, uselessly perfect”
“Weakness is treating someone as though they belong to you. Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves.”
“Quey, this village must conduct its business like that female bird. You want to pay more for slaves, pay more, but know that the Dutch will also pay more, and the Portuguese and even the pirates will pay more too. And while you are all shouting about how much better you are than the others, I will be sitting quietly in my compound, eating my fufu and waiting for the price I think is right. Now, let us not speak of business anymore.”
“You can learn anything when you have to learn it. You could learn to fly if it meant you would live another day.”
“for the rest of her life Esi would see a smile on a white face and remember the one the soldier gave her before taking her to his quarters, how white men smiling just meant more evil was coming with the next wave.”
“She wanted to tell Mrs. Pinkston that at home, they had a different word for African Americans. Akata. That akata people were different from Ghanaians, too long gone from the mother continent to continue calling it the mother continent. She wanted to tell Mrs. Pinkston that she could feel herself being pulled away too, almost akata, too long gone from Ghana to be Ghanaian”
“All children had heard the fables about people who lay together before they had their marriage ceremonies: the far-fetched one about the men whose penises turned into trees while still inside the woman, growing branches into her stomach so that he could not exit her body; the simpler, truer ones about banishment, fines, and shame.”
“You cannot stick a knife in a goat and then say, Now I will remove my knife slowly, so let things be easy and clean, let there be no mess. There will always be blood.”
It is Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel. Read it. I’m so excited to see what she puts out next (whenever that is). I will always be grateful for this work.