Book review – Homegoing

Cover of Homegoing - drawing of 2 Black women in parial sihouette facing each other and surrounded by cotton plants

For International Women’s Day we asked members of the Library Student Team at Manchester University to share their thoughts on some of the relevant books in our library. This is the second of their reviews.

Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi [FIC/GYA]

Reviewed by Tabita “My name is Tabita-Gabriela Juravle and I’m a final year Politics student at The University of Manchester”

‘Homegoing’ is the debut novel of Yaa Gyasi, a Ghanian-American author. Gyasi was born in Mampong, Ghana, her family emigrating to the United States in 1991. She was raised in Huntsville, Alabama, later earning her Bachelor of Arts in English at Stanford University, California. ‘Homegoing’ was inspired by Gyasi’s first trip to Ghana in 2009 since she left the country as a child. When she toured the Cape Coast Castle, Gyasi was struck by how it was divided into the dungeons which had been inhabited by slaves and the living space above their heads occupied by free people. Thus, the paradoxical nature of the castle becomes an important indicator of privilege and racial discrimination in the novel. Also, Gyasi constructed the characters based on her family tree, tracing her present back to forgotten histories of the past. ‘Homegoing’ suggests that understanding the past contributes to healing the open wounds of the present.  

The novel showcases the complex experiences of seven generations, covering approximately 250 years of American and African history. It begins with the story of Maame, an Asante woman in the 1700s, who gives birth to Effia while being enslaved in the Fante village. When Maame manages to escape from Fante back to Asanteland, she gives birth to her second daughter, Esi. The novel follows the parallel stories of the two half-sisters, who are unaware of each other, and their line of descendants. Effia marries a wealthy Englishman and lives a luxurious life in Cape Coast Castle, while Esi is imprisoned in the dungeons of the same castle. When Esi is sold and shipped to America, the narrative of the novel is split into portraying the experiences of Effia’s descendants who remain in Africa and the ones of Esi who grapple with life in America.  

Gyasi manages to overlap the histories of two continents. She exposes the systemic racism in an America that criminalizes black people, voicing the struggles faced by Esi’s descendants in their fight to overcome their social conditions. At the same time, she illustrates the effects of colonial structures and racial powers in Africa by presenting the lived experiences of Effia’s descendants. However, Gyasi connects the two half-sisters by the end of the novel through the relationship between Marjorie and Marcus, the final descendants of Effia and Esi. Their relationship is a sign of hope: the hope that one can be liberated by coming to terms with a complicated past.  

Other reading recommendations: ‘The Bluest Eye’ by Toni Morrison, ‘Kindred’ by Octavia E. Butler, and ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ by Zora Neale Hurston.