What beautiful and unique storytelling about family and legacy. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi absolutely blew me away and I have never read a book that packed so much in between its covers. Homegoing is a generational story that spans 300 years (yes, 300 years!), two continents, and the ocean that divides them, in just over 300 pages, but does so in a way that is thought provoking and not overwhelming. Be prepared for a lot of characters to be thrown at you and having to refer to the family tree in the beginning of the book. Homegoing is a story of family, identity, and Black lineage.
Effia and Esi have never met, but they share the same mother. Both of their lives go down a different path, as does their lineage, but both of their lives start in the small villages of Ghana. Effia is married to a British soldier, lives a life of comfort in a castle, and her ancestors stay in Ghana, facing their own set of issues to overcome with war, colonization, and the threat of capture for slavery. Esi is captured and imprisoned in the basement prison of the same castle Effia resides in just floors above. Esi lives in squalor with hundreds of other captives and is eventually sold in the slave trade and set across the ocean to America where her family is born into slavery, eventually follows the path of the Great Migration, and deal with the racism that is embedded in the country they live in.
I adored this book. The story is heartbreaking and breathtaking. Each chapter is a new character and is an excerpt from their life, alternating between Effia and Esi's lineage until the final chapter. Each character had a different path in life, yet they all have similar human wants and needs: to make a difference and feel like life is worth living and to understand and appreciate their ancestors and what they sacrificed for them. Each character's story builds off the last and it is impossible not to become emotionally invested in each of them. I loved how Homegoing began and ended with Effia and Esi.
Gyasi's storytelling is poetic and there was no hint of victim mentality. Each character stood on their own and Gyasi was able to touch on heavy topics, such as rape, slavery, racism, substance abuse, neglect, and abuse in a way that makes the reader reflect on the layers behind the person's actions. Reading about one of the characters who becomes addicted to heroin in New York City during the 1980s, makes more sense when you understand that the character's great great grandmother was captured from her village in Ghana, raped, and sold into slavery. Learning what their ancestors endured to get them where they are, gives the reader another level of empathy. We are all carrying the ghosts of our ancestors and Homegoing is the perfect compilation of that.
The only thing holding me back from a full five star rating is that some chapters were a little hard to follow and I found myself flipping back to the family tree at the beginning of the book. Keeping track of each family legacy was difficult, but also necessary for what Gyasi wanted to achieve with this book. I am also a huge character person, so some of these characters tugged at my heartstrings and I wanted more from their story, but I understand that she could only give us a quick glimpse of their life, otherwise this book would have been 1,000 pages long.
"You want to know what weakness is? Weakness is treating someone as though they belong to you. Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves."
"No one forgets they were once captive, even if they are now free."
“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.”
"Evil begets evil. It grows. It transmutes, so that sometimes you cannot see that the evil in the world began as the evil in your own home."