As you may all know, the members of Le Savoir Book club met up last month to discuss their selected read from the African Literature genre; Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and boy do I have a whole lot to say about it!
I’ll start with the author herself. Yaa Gyasi, 30, is a Ghanaian-American novelist who was born to a Professor father and nurse mother in Mampong, Ghana. Her family moved to America (where she has lived ever-since) in 1991. At the age of 17, Gyasi was inspired to choose writing as a career path after submitting her first story to the Reading Rainbow Young Writers and Illustrators Contest and consequently receiving a certificate of achievement signed by Levar Burton. This inspiration was further fuelled after she read Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon. All I can say (and I’m sure everyone that has read this book will agree with me) is; we sure are grateful that she did!
Now, to the juicy part! Homegoing is Gyasi’s debut novel, published in 2016, and I must say that it was a fantastic formal entry into the literary world, there is little wonder that the book earned her the National Book Critic’s John Leonard Award for best first book; the PEN/Hemingway Award for a first book of fiction, the National Book Foundation’s “5 under 35” honors for 2016; Granta Best of Young American Novelists and the American Book Award.
Homegoing is the story of two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, born in pre-colonial Ghana, each unaware of the other. The book tells the parallel stories of both sisters once brought so close in different parts of the same building without ever knowing, and their respective descendants across eight generations right from the advent of the British colonialists in pre-colonial Ghana to the early 2000’s in Gold Coast Ghana as well as America through an intricate tale of love, loss, longing and rivalry. It gives an enlightening, albeit sorrowful, insight into the phenomenon that was slavery as well as its deep-rooted and multi-faceted consequences on its victims as well as in the present-day world that we live in, some of which are evident in the racism and even colourism that we witness today. This was the primary theme of the book and while portraying this, Gyasi, gives an adept description of the inherent evil in man while still portraying the purest form of love and the extent to which people go for those to whom such love is directed. Through her plot and characters, Gyasi portrayed slavery in a very holistic sense, giving me a better understanding of the reasons why Blacks fight for the rights that they fight for and for slogans like “Black lives Matter”. She however goes on to show towards the end of the book and through one of her characters, Marcus, that despite her attempt, one would find that the effects of slavery could never be exhaustively understood or discussed. This realization was personally disheartening for me and it stimulated a lot more curiousity, compassion and sympathy/empathy within me.
The book also had numerous thought-provoking quotes and here are a few of the Le savoir members’ favourites:
“Weakness is treating someone as though they belong to you. Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves.”
“But the older he got, the better he understood; forgiveness was an act done after the fact.”
“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.”
“When someone does wrong, whether it is you or me, whether it is mother or father, whether it is the Gold Coast man or the White man, it is like a fisher-man casting a net into the water. He keeps only the one or two fish that he needs to feed himself and puts the rest in the water, thinking that their lives will go back to normal. No one forgets that they were once captive, even if they are now free. But still, you have to let yourself be free.”
Gyasi ended the book by portraying a true “homegoing” of some sort, a questionable one for some, but beautiful and bittersweet for me. Undoubtedly though, it was a very worthy and enlightening read for us all. I absolutely love the fact that Gyasi told the story in very simple language and managed to do so through numerous characters without confusing her readers. She certainly deserves all the accolades. I highly recommend that everyone reads this and would absolutely love to know your thoughts in the comment section.
You can grab a copy of the book here.
Until next time,
INTERESTING FACT(S): The Cape Coast described by Yaa Gyasi is still in existence and has become a tourist attraction in Ghana and the dungeons where the “slaves” were kept before being shipped abroad are, even after decades, said to still have a stench indicative of the terrible living conditions to which they were subjected.