I have a sense that Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi will be one of those books, like Beloved or The Color Purple, that will be taught in school. Reading it felt like learning, in one of those glorious ways that reminded me how easy it is to forget history we don’t acknowledge as a society.
Homegoing is the tale of two sisters, Effia and Esi, and the history of their descendants. One sister is married to a white slave trader, the other sister is captured and made a slave. This is not a story about slavery, as much as the white invasion influences what happens. Instead, this is a story of politics, family, and race.
“Two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.” GoodReads.
Homegoing was impossible to put down. I enjoy stories that follow families and give narratives from multiple protagonists. There is such a richness to this novel, you feel the pain and struggles of Gyasi’s characters – but most of all you feel their determination to fight the obstacles they don’t ask for or deserve.
I cried once, near the end of the book, when one of Effia’s descendants reads the poem below in school. As an African in America, rather than an African-American, she is ‘other’ to all the students. This poem is her response to her experience in America and from my understanding, she is conveying that although she has not grown up African-American, their experiences aren’t all that different.
Split the Castle open,
find me, find you.
We, two, felt sand,
One felt whip. Whipped, once shipped.
We, two, black.
One grew from
cocoa’s soil, birthed from nut,
skin uncut, still bleeding.
We, two, wade.
The waters seem different
but are same.
Our same. Sister skin.
Who knew? Not me. Not you.
There is so much to say about Homegoing, but I want you to read it so I shan’t say more.