Friday Reads: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

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Every Friday I will be recommending a work of fiction or non-fiction written by a woman who has influenced and shaped my intersectional feminist perspective, with special emphasis on women of colour, women in translation, LGBTQIA women and women of different religions.

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Homegoing

Published in 2016, Homegoing is the debut historical novel by Ghanaian-American writer Yaa Gyasi. Following the descendants of an Asante woman – Maame – the novel opens with the distinctively different paths of her two daughters, Effia and Esi, brought about by circumstance. Whilst the former marries a British governor in charge of Cape Coast Castle, the latter is held in the dungeons below waiting to be shipped off to America as a slave. What unfolds is a tale through history and time as these two branches from the same family tree interweave and wind around each other until we reach the present day.

When I first realised that each chapter was dedicated to a new character and that the book spanned over 250 years I was worried that I would find each new story and piece of information overwhelming. That the characters wouldn’t be fully developed enough to really capture my interest and allow me to emotionally invest in their situations. That their situations would only be superficially described and explained. However Gyasi masterfully weaves this tale that begins and ends on the Cape Coast/present-day Ghana in such a way that I was mesmerised. Each story is so vividly described that we are immediately aligned with the characters and their tales of loss and resilience. Their stories drip with the history of slavery that’s gone before and the racism that awaits them in the present. However, it’s the personal, human touches that really made this novel stand out for me. At once tragic, touching and resilient, Homegoing reminds us of the millions of stories that have been lost in the face of history.

‘We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So, when you study history, you must always ask yourself, whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth?’

 

Yaa Gyasi

 

Yaa Gyasi was born in Ghana but moved to America at a young age. Her debut novel, Homegoing, was inspired by her first journey back to Ghana in 2009. Homegoing won the National Book Critics Circle’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’ honours for 2016 and the American Book Award.

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