Review: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Published: June 2016
Genre: African Historical Fiction
Rating: 5 stars
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This is the first book that I've read in 2019 and boy, I chose a damn good one.
It is a well-known fact that I am not a fan of contemporary novels. 90% of my book collection falls within the fantasy and paranormal genres. Same goes for the TV shows and movies I watch. But this book has really made me appreciate contemporary story-telling. Maybe it was Gyasi's use of words or the connection to my own ancestry, but this novel provoked dormant thoughts in my mind to awaken and once again begin to help me see life through different eyes.
I hate books about slavery. They piss me off and it's not a feeling I can keep at bay. It was no different for Homegoing, yet there were more times where I felt hopeful and proud of the characters, despite their downfalls and often torturous circumstances. I loved how we got to live through over two centuries of a family's history from different perspectives every single chapter. It started with Effia and Esi, sisters who never knew they were sisters, and then moved from descendant to descendant, all the way up until present day. Effia's descendants remained in Africa. Esi's descendants came up in America. I loved reading about both sides of the slave trade from the perspectives of the slaves themselves and their brethren who joined with the Europeans, becoming wealthy slavers themselves. I felt a flurry of emotions throughout these chapters, having sympathy and compassion for the innocent ones kidnapped and sold, but feeling no ill-will toward the Africans who sold their own clansmen. I should have felt anger towards them, but I didn't. I surprisingly understood. I've felt fear before and I've felt greed. Both are human traits that can drive us to do some extraordinary things, good or bad. Am I justifying the actions of these individuals? Hell no. Their actions were deplorable. But I couldn't help but feel for them as I did the ones they turned against. Who's to say any of us wouldn't have made the same choice in these circumstances? Would we have sacrificed our own people or would we have walked right into hell with them?
The pacing of this book was fantastic. Each chapter introduced us to a new character that I felt like I really knew and understood by the end of their run, which was no longer than 20-30 pages each. I never felt like Gyasi left me hanging or ended a character's story too soon. A lot of that had to do with the fact that the character's childhoods were often seen through the eyes of their parents and then the reader gets to find out later how their lives turned out as adults. It was a really brilliant way to construct this book and I couldn't imagine it being told any other way. This was a real take on how life truly is, even now. Sometimes we make bad decisions that we later have to atone for, if that's even a possibility. Sometimes the bad decisions are made for us and the effects are terrifying and far-reaching. Sometimes we curse our own lives. Sometimes we curse the lives of our children, our family, our friends–sometimes for generations. Sometimes forces out of our control interfere and rule our entire existence. Sometimes we are that force that can't be controlled and at the end of it all, we have only let ourselves down.
By the end of Homegoing, I had a smile on my face and spent several minutes just turning things over in my head. I loved this book and highly recommend it to those of you who aren't afraid to take a dark ride through the brutal history of an entire people. Gyasi and her characters will make you feel something so real. It's definitely a feeling I don't want to let go of.