Throughout history there have been many terrible barbaric things that have happened which will never leave our minds, examples such as Turkeys mistreatment of Kurdistan for 100s of years, Hiroshima, the genocide of Armenians and so on. Like many of these events in history the enslavement of Africans is an open wound unable to heal no matter how many years have gone by. It is a wound which to be honest will never heal no matter how hard one tries it is a pain which will forever remain in the minds and hearts of African people.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is such a book which revisits this moment of great sorrow. The story set in West Africa in the 18th century specifically the Gold Coast focuses on the transatlantic slave trade which at that moment in time was booming. The structure of the book focuses on two sisters who due to certain events are separated and are now living on the opposite sides of the Gold Coast(eventually becoming Ghana). One of the girls Effia Otcher is sold to an Oyinbo man by her father, this man is a slave trader and is thus sent away to live with him as his wench(side tings were known as wenches rather than wives back then) in Cape Coast Castle which was a fort situated by the sea(picture below).
The horrible thing about this castle is that below its surface slaves are kept in dungeons until being shipped off across to another part of the continent. Amongst these slaves we meet the character of Esi Asare who is the half sister of Effia. Effia was captured during a raid by Africans working for the British, these individuals were known as “bomboys”. Thus with these events occurring we follow the direct bloodline of both Effia and Esi consisting of 7 generations and covers their lives in Africa and the US.
The book is full of detail and covers a very large scope focusing on slavery, racial injustice, plantations and labour camps in this case mining in the US. You can really tell Yaa Gyasi conducted a lot of research in writing this book because the detail is mesmerising. In addition to this you feel like you’re observing the journey each character goes through like a shadow following them(i know it sounds creepy but bare with me) as they go through the highs and lows god many lows. Each character is emotionally damaged in their own way due to events in their lives and like a curse its passed on from one to another.
Moreover a fundamental component for the men and women of this book is love. There are many scenes in the book which shows how love has shaped the characters throughout their lives for better or for worst. A powerful scene was between the characters of Ness and Sam when they first eloped in their hut “He runs his hands along her scabby back, and she does the same along his, and as they work together, clutching each other, some scars reopen. They are both bleeding now, both bride and bridegroom, in this unholy holy union. Breath leaves his mouth and enters hers, and they lie together until the roosters crow, until it’s time to return to the fields”. However my favourite part of the book was when their son Jo(short for Kojo) first sets his sights upon his future wife Anna and the shows that the booty has the same power as “the force” in Star Wars “It was the butt that had done it 19 years ago, was still doing it now. He’d seen it coming around Strawberry Alley and had followed it for four whole blocks. It was mesmerising the way it moved, independent to the rest of her body, as though operating under the influence of another brain entirely”. Clearly we can see the power booty the booty has, equivalent to the likes of Thors hammer or a Jedis lightsaber.
Furthermore i really liked the structure of this book and was surprised that being a generational book skipping from character to character it wasn’t at all confusing which showed me how amazing Yaa Gyasi is as a writer. Each character felt familiar as we have already been acquitted with them through the previous generation and thus builds up towards suspense as you dive in anticipating and second guessing what happens next in their lives. One aspect which binds the characters together is are two black stones given to Effia and Esi with Effia passing passed down the stone from child to child. It can be argued that the stone being black symbolises the fact that the colour of ones skin paves the way for judgement by both white and black people e.g. the character of Robert Clifton is light skinned (his dad was white) allowing him to be treated like a white man and thus is given a white mans privileges .
Finally i really enjoyed learning about the history of African people especially with regards to the tribes in competition with each other i.e. the Asantes tribe and the Fantes tribe. I actually had no idea that some tribes were working hand in hand with the British in abducting and selling on other black men and women from different tribes. This issue plays a key part for the generation that follows Effiaa and can be considered the passing of a curse. I used to think that it was only the west who were the main force behind the enslavement of African people, boy i was wrong.
In conclusion i think everyone should read this book, like many books i read they all feel like journeys and this one is such a book. You will most definitely learn a lot from reading it.