I first read Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi last year. It’s a powerful novel that I haven’t been able to emotionally detach from, since that initial reading. Rich, beautiful, heart-breaking, inspiring. I found my way to this novel as a result of my own personal desire to know more about where I came from. Some of my family have taken on the task of researching our genealogy. But as most descendants of enslaved Africans know, often these endeavours swiftly meet a dead-end. It’s one of the more lasting and heinous legacies of slavery. Rooted in a time when children were stripped from their mothers, black bodies cast about from plantation to plantation. Origin stories, languages, whole lifetimes erased. Those who weren’t completely forgotten, may have been given a name. And maybe that name was recorded in their master’s ledger. And maybe just maybe that ledger was kept for posterity. Not much to go on when you’re looking for some connection to your roots.
Homegoing begins in the mid 1700s, in what is now the country of Ghana. Two sisters (who have never met) are forced into lives that take disparate turns. One sister, Effia, marries a wealthy white governor and lives a life of privilege and comfort in the Gold Coast Castle (for historical context-this is the same castle that contained dungeons used to hold captured Africans, and “The Door of No Return” which they walked through and onto ships en route to America.) The other sister, Esi, is kidnapped from her tribe and sold into slavery. We witness her harrowing experience in the castle’s dungeon as she awaits transport via the middle passage.
The novel follows seven successive generations stemming from these two lines. Effia’s line (born of fire) remains in Africa. They struggle with class, war, tribal strife, the threat of colonialism, unstable governments, fiery elemental forces, and an ancestral voice- a ghost that will not rest until it is heard and understood.
Esi’s line (oppressed by water) lives the African-American experience. The story follows them through the times of slavery and the subsequent sharecropping and convict leasing systems (which were just slightly dressed up forms of forced labor), the oppression of Jim Crow South, and the disappointments and struggles experienced after the Great Migration North.
I’m not gonna lie. This book has uncomfortably painful moments. There were times when I had to close the book and take a few breaths before continuing. But I don’t regret a single minute. There is pain and loss. But there’s so much love and forgiveness, as well. And a feeling that the fates will conspire to reunite those who were wrongly separated. Even if it takes centuries. This novel is overwhelmingly powerful in that respect. But mostly I love it because it helped me feel closer to “home.”