Book Review: Homegoing

One of the things I recently like about reading books is that I borrow them from friends, this has opened up a whole different genre of reading for me! A range of topics from around the globe, mythology, fiction, crime and comedy, I am absorbing them all in.

Thus I came upon ‘Homegoing’ by Yaa Gyasi, a debut novel that traces the stories of 7 generations of a family, starting with two step sisters. Stories of slave trade and helplessness, poverty and hope, wars and farming, drudgery and drugs, prisons and literacy, and finally, of going home to where one belongs.

The book is rich in its descriptions, bringing out feelings and emotions in its simple storytelling format. It isn’t for the faint-hearted, to read the about the beginnings of slave trade. I can imagine momentarily, what life was like for everyone at that time, but it would be preposterous to think that we can even feel a tiny bit of the pain they had to endure. From being stacked up in dungeons and ships, to being deployed in coal mines and plantation farms, the trauma and pain of the people is in the backdrop of the story, found beneath the simple expressions, questions asked by the characters, and the narrative style.

You are transported to a culture where so many things were shockingly acceptable, like a man having many wives, each in one hut, or a girl being auctioned before she even ‘got her blood’. Each chapter is the story of one woman or man, a descendant of the respective step sisters, interweaving throughout the book and culminating at the 7th generation.

The book draws the contrast between the family of one step sister who is sold into slavery, and another who marries a British slave trader, thereby having mixed race offspring. Love and loss, confusion and normalcy, mental illness and physical difficulties, childlessness and having 8 children, there is a range of stories for one to absorb. Finally the 7th descendants of the two step sisters meet – a boy and a girl, living in the second half century of the 1900s in modern day America. And while they don’t trace back their common ancestry, they both visit the Gold Coast in Africa at the end of the book, feeling at home because of their history, their tribe, and the cultural knowledge they gained through stories told to them by their parents and grandparents.

It is indeed no wonder that this debut novel was nominated for so many deserving awards.