Two sisters never to meet, bound by blood but not by fate.
Effia, beautiful and strong, has been living a lie.
Esi, defiant and lonely, lives in blissful ignorance of what’s to come.
One is destined to be a slave traders wife, the other a slave bound for the Americas.
And so our story begins, panning seven generations and three continents – this is a tale of identity and humanity unlike any other.
Homegoing is the debut novel of Ghanaian-American novelist, Yaa Gyasi.
Born in Mampong, Ghana in 1989 – her family moved to the US in 1991, so her father could complete his PhD at Ohio State University.
She has a BA in English from Stanford University, California and a Master of Fine Arts from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. It was during her time at Stanford, she began writing Homegoing.
The novel was said to be inspired by her first trip back to Ghana, in 2009, since she originally left the country as a child.
Written in third person narrative, each of the novel’s 14 chapters is told from the perspective of a different fictional character in the family tree.
The novel starts in the 18th century with Effia and Esi and works it way through seven generations to Marjorie and Marcus in the 21st. The chapters alternate each time between Effia’s family line and Esi’s.
What I particularly love about each chapter is that they only give you a snapshot of what happens in that person’s life.
Sometimes the later chapters will then fill in more of that mystery and sometimes they don’t which keeps the story real.
Gysai is confident and believable when writing from both male and female perspectives and the characters she creates as a result are very convincing.
Another triumph of the novel is that it keeps its reader on the move from location to location – which stops the plot from seeming too stagnated without being too busy.
This is not what I would call a typical story about the slave trade. Whilst that features as a prominent theme, there are many cultural elements across the time periods that carry the story through.
From tribal war to drug addictions, day to day segregation, struggles with homosexuality and trade union campaigns; there’s a lot of ground covered by this novel.
Gysai also avoids the generic American fiction cliches of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars (whilst the later does get indirect mentions throughout several chapters).
Instead she concentrates on capturing real lives, dealing with realistic problems that make her characters relatable. This gives them a gravity you don’t always find in historical fiction works.
Overall, this is a fabulous debut novel and a fantastic example of clever and well-written story telling.
Published in the UK in January 2017 by Viking, Homegoing retails at £12.99. The novel was published in June 2016 in the US by Knopf and retails there for $26.95.