Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi

I’m part of a book club at work (because of course I am) and Homegoing was the book selected for this month. It definitely prompted some interesting discussion – prompted by the narrative, we covered fluid versus fixed identity, and talked about the question of knowing who you are based on knowing where you come from. We talked about the interesting structure of the narrative – it follows several generations, each character only getting one chapter before time skips on and we meet the children (then their children, and their children’s children) – I personally found it a little jarring at first, because I wanted closure for each character, but by the end of the book Gyasi has built a picture of a whole family tree, and it feels complete again.Many of us in the room had learned things – about Ghana and the Gold Coast, or about the slave trade and the historical basis for this work of fiction – as you can tell, there was a lot to talk about!

The narrative itself starts with one woman, Maame, and her two daughters, who are born to different fathers and raised in very different circumstances. Each chapter then takes turns switching between the two branches of the family tree, introducing the next generation each time. The timeline stretches from the beginnings of the western-run slave trade in Ghana all the way up to modern day America, and it’s breathtaking to see how these awful crimes that were committed hundreds of years ago halfway across the world echo down the generations to have impact still today.

Honestly, I could probably write several essays about this book (it would make a good book for a literature class, actually!) but rather than bore you all, I will simply say this: Homegoing is well worth reading. I recommend taking your time, making heavy use of the family tree at the front of the book, and being ready for some emotional impact – there are some horrors described that don’t make for easy reading. But absolutely read it – if only for the fascinating conversations it will provoke.

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