Why I loved Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

file-2016-10-31-23-38-32I should have posted this as a SundayRead, because it was my weekend read and I really, really enjoyed it. I have been reading Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi.

I have heard it being referred to as  “an ambitious debut” probably because it tries to chronicle the slave trade and its aftermath through one family in one book. That has many dangers to it:  can become heavy with historical references, empty on a personal level when bigger narratives are the aim, or just a novel that should have been a textbook. This is none of that.

I cried, I laughed, I lived through the many many personalities you meet in this book (the book opens with a family tree, love books that start with visual schema!) My favourite characters were beautiful Effia and her queer son Quey, Ness Stockham and her tragic fate (climbing down that tree!), and Willie Black and her father H. But I feel like I got close to all of the characters – I wonder, how did Gyasi accomplish that?

While the book balances on an educational tight rope, it skillfully blends themes such as identity, evil, the origin of the word “obruni” for white person, American slavery history such as Jim Crow, the historical advent of mass religion, happiness, the list can go on. Maybe in a few places it feels like contemporary debates are “placed” in the story, or discussed with a contemporary lense: homosexuality, interracial relationships, how to apportion blame in Ghana for the slave trade, however it is those same “educational” debates that makes the novel so relevant and make me consider this book as a text for a class I teach at Ashesi.

We can tell it was a labor of love because the language is sweet, decorated with gems such as “She dipped her to a into water so cool she could taste it “ (p.196), “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” (p.28) or “He had never seen a woman move that slowly. It was like she had to wade though deep and mucky waters to get to him” (p.250). And the sex scenes!

The book accomplishes what many political debates, pertinent protests, and academic works have not: to show that we are all one family, one that is hurting, and desperately needs to step into the cold water, share the
burden, and just come back home.