Tuesday, October 31, 2017

[Book Review] Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Book Review Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is an absolutely heartbreaking story about hardship and unfairness. However, it is also a beautiful story about family and love.

The first two chapters set the story. In one chapter we meet Effia, who marries a white man. In the second chapter we meet Esi, who is enslaved and taken to America. Though they never had the chance to meet, Effia and Esi learn that they had a sister out there in the world. The novel then follows the children of these two women through many generations. With each chapter, we see how slavery affected each of them.

This book had been on my TBR for quite a while, so when it was picked for our second book club read, I was so excited.

Of course, I had heard quite a bit of hype around this book, so I treaded carefully when I began reading. I am very happy to say that this book surpasses that hype.


Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

A novel of breathtaking sweep and emotional power that traces three hundred years in Ghana and along the way also becomes a truly great American novel. Extraordinary for its exquisite language, its implacable sorrow, its soaring beauty, and for its monumental portrait of the forces that shape families and nations, Homegoing heralds the arrival of a major new voice in contemporary fiction.

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. 

Generation after generation, Yaa Gyasi's magisterial first novel sets the fate of the individual against the obliterating movements of time, delivering unforgettable characters whose lives were shaped by historical forces beyond their control. Homegoing is a tremendous reading experience, not to be missed, by an astonishingly gifted young writer. 

My thoughts:
Even though a lot of the content was stomach-turning and difficult to read, this novel totally captivated me. I spent every spare moment that I had reading.

The organization of the novel was perfect. When I first saw that each story was about a different character, I was nervous. I usually have a very hard time with books formatted this way. However, the author wrote each "chapter" so wonderfully! While each chapter really seemed to be it's own short story, everything also flowed together perfectly. Each story had elements of struggle, heartbreak, and unfairness, but also, love. But even so, each story was so unique!

I absolutely loved the way that the story circled back to the original two sisters. Though the sisters has been strangers, and their descendants didn't know they were related. The scene at the very end of the book when one handed the stone necklace off to the other made me tear up!

Everything about this book was so incredible. I was totally shocked when I saw that this is Yaa Gyasi's debut novel. I cannot wait to see what she does next!

Character breakdown/summary:
Effia- The daughter of Cobbe Otcher, raised by Baaba thinking she was her birth mother. Married off to a white man, James Collins, that she grew to love. Her brother is Fiifi.

Esi- The daughter of “Big Man” and Maame. Through a house girl, Esi learned she had a sister. After sending word that Abronoma was being held as a slave in their village, the village was attacked and Esi was captured and brought to the Cape Coast Castle.

Quey- The son of Effia and James Collins. Sent to Effia’s village on a work assignment from the castle. Friends with Cudjo. His uncle Fiifi captured Nana Yaa, the Asante Kings daughter, and expected Quey to marry her, protecting their village from revenge of the Asante.

Ness- The daughter of Esi. Forced to marry another slave named Sam. Gave birth to Kojo, a son. The family tried to run from their owner but got caught. The person helping them escape was able to keep the baby hidden. Ness was whipped very badly, Sam was hung. On another farm, Ness got a young girl, named Pinky, to speak.

James- The son of Quey and Nana Yaa. Left his life of power for Akosua Mensah, a girl from a family with nothing.

Kojo- A family man. Married to Anna with 7 kids, one on the way. A white man warned Kojo about a new law that the South and the Free-Soilers were trying to pass. This law could cause trouble for any alleged runaway slave. The man told Kojo to go further north.

Abena- The daughter of James and Akosua. Determined to marry her childhood friend, but that didn’t work out. She left the village to start fresh. She was pregnant when she left. Later murdered by a church missionary trying to baptize her.

H- VERY tall and strong. Was a free man, but got arrested and had to work in a coal mine.

Akua- The daughter of Abena. Married to Asamoah. They have three children, Abee, Ama, and Yaw. She is haunted by a dream of fire.

Willie- The daughter of H. Has a son named Carson with Robert. Has a daughter named Josephine with Eli. (A story about her finding her singing voice again)

Yaw- The son of Akua and Asamoah. The son that survived the fire, but was left with a facial scar. Now a history teacher.  Hired a house woman to help out, ended up marrying her.

Sonny (Carson)- The son of Willie and Robert. Has three kids with three different women. Got into drugs.

Marjorie- The daughter of Yaw. Close with Akua. Fell for a German that couldn’t be seen with her, and didn’t try when in public.

Marcus- The son of Sonny. Studying for a Ph.D. in sociology at Sanford.

My favorite passages:
The curse may have been rooted in a lie, but perhaps it bore the fruit of truth.

“You can learn anything when you have to learn it. You could learn to fly if it meant you would live another day.”

Willie smiled at Robert, and it wasn’t until that smile that she realized she forgave him. She felt like the smile had opened a valve, like the pressure of anger and sadness and confusion and loss was shooting out of her, into the sky and away. Away.

My final thoughts:
This is definitely a book that will stick with me for a LONG time. I highly recommend it to everyone, even if historical fiction isn't your favorite.

Thanks for reading!
What is your favorite historical fiction book?


  1. My sister recently bought this book so I can't wait to see what she thinks of this one too. It sounds like a really moving and powerful book. I am looking forward to reading it too.