Tuesday, 11 July 2017

ARC Book Review: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

I received an e-arc of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the book in any way.

Publisher: Viking

Published: January 2017

Pages: 305


Summary


Effia and Esi: two sisters with two very different destinies. One sold into slavery; one a slave trader's wife. The consequences of their fate reverberate through the generations that follow. Taking us from the Gold Coast of Africa to the cotton-picking plantations of Mississippi; from the missionary schools of Ghana to the dive bars of Harlem, spanning three continents and seven generations, Yaa Gyasi has written a miraculous novel - the intimate, gripping story of a brilliantly vivid cast of characters and through their lives the very story of America itself.

Epic in its canvas and intimate in its portraits, Homegoing is a searing and profound debut from a masterly new writer.


My Thoughts...


By far one of the best books I've read this year, Homegoing's wide praise is definitely well deserved. This book follows the story of two half sisters, Effia and Esi, who will never meet and will live lives at their opposites: Esi becomes a spoil of war during long-standing tribal disputes and is eventually sold into slavery; while Effia marries a British governor and slaver and lives her whole life in Ghana. From this starting point, we are slowly drawn into an incredibly well-constructed story, following the descendants of both sisters as the family's history unfolds before our eyes.

I tend to enjoy reading family sagas, mainly due to my love of characters and the fact that we usually get to delve deep into internal dynamics, examine relationships and discover hidden secrets. Lots of drama in families. But this book takes it a step further: we follow these families for the beauty of six descendants each, spanning centuries. That's an incredibly ambitious project, and one that fully hits its target.

I'll admit, I was a bit sceptical at first when I noticed the narrative style: each chapter is narrated by a different descendant, alternating between Effia's and Esi's, and jumping (sometimes substantially) forward in the timeline. I was afraid this would quickly become confusing or leave too many plot holes. I was happily contradicted. Notwithstanding the terrible formatting of my review copy (the beginning and ending of each chapter were never indicated, so I actually had to guess who the next narrator was, and indeed that the previous chapter had ended, from the change in register... oh well, it was an arc after all!), I was never confused and all my doubts and questions were somehow always answered! Even though they had a very limited time at their disposal, characters are all extremely well-rounded and I easily grew attached to them. They are often faced with incredibly difficult situations and live in periods of great social and political turmoil, which of course influences their decisions and their fate.

Speaking of which, I also really enjoyed the historical aspect of the book. Slavery and colonialism are incredibly dark pages of human history, which far too often we prefer to ignore, as if we could forget they ever happened at all. Luckily, writers like Yaa Gyasi are there to remind us that, right up to modern times, we are living with the consequences of the choices that were made so many years ago. I particularly appreciated being able to read about the situation both in the USA and in Ghana: it is rare to read a book that isn't focused solely on a Western perspective of history, and for this Homegoing is even more precious. It seems as if the author took the advice of her own characters:

"We believe the one who has power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history you must ask yourself, Whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there you get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture."

Overall, Homegoing is an extremely powerful and gripping novel, masterfully combining family, history and social issues tied together by an excellent writing style, leaving you with a book that is over way too quickly, but will likely stay with you for a very long time.

Rating: 5/5