Saturday, May 27, 2017

My take on: Homegoing

Two half-sisters, born at the dawn of slavery in Ghana. One is "married" off to an Englishman, living a life of luxury. The other sold into slavery, and shipped off to America. In alternating chapters, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, tells the tale of their descendants, over the course of 300 years.

Effia grew up loved by her father, but hated by the woman she thought was her mother. The woman Effia believed to be her mother hates her with a passion and takes her anger out on Effia. Nothing Effia does is right. Rather than remain with the family, her mother sees to it that Effia is taken away from the family. Effia is "married" off to British soldier James Collins. She's not really his wife, but his wench. The woman he gets to have sex with while his real wife and kids live in England. Effia goes to live with James in a castle on Africa's Gold Coast, eventually giving birth to their son, Quey.

Several floors below Effia's new family, the slave dungeons are filled to the brim with African men and women who have been stripped of not just their clothes but their dignity. One of those women, Esi, is Effia's half-sister. Effia and Esi don't know each other, but their paths in life and their descendants are full of strife and heartache. Despite being chained to multiple women in a dark dungeon, Esi tries to remember happier times. She was on the verge of getting married before being captured. She holds onto those memories. She tries to forget the stench of human waste. She tries to forget the stench of death. While she can occasionally escape mentally, physically there is no escape for Esi as she is shipped to America landing on a plantation in the South.

Effia's descendants live through war in Ghana, between the Fantes and the Assantes, and the booming slave trade. Esi's descendants live through slavery in the American South, the Great Migration, and the jazz era in Harlem. Both narratives leading to the present day. To me, each chapter has a different degree of sadness. Ness, Esi's daughter, endures such severe beatings that her skin often cracks open and bleeds. She and her husband, Sam, risk everything to get their son out of slavery and on the path to freedom but it comes at a high price. Akua, one of Effia's descendants, is driven to bouts of madness. Almost everyone on both sides of the family tree has some degree of tragedy in their lives. Each character truly could have filled an entire book on their own.

How did this book land on my radar? This month I got to pick the book for our office book club, and I chose Homegoing. With such a broad scope, I thought this was a good choice. I still think it was a good choice...even though I had issues with it. The front cover says "a novel" but that word has a certain meaning for me. When I read a novel I expect it to draw me in, to connect with the characters. For me, it was hard to find that connection when every chapter is about a different character. In my opinion this wasn't novel, but a series of connected short stories. I have never been into short stories. Because each chapter begins with a different character I found the timeline hard to follow. Problems aside, the writing is very well-done and engaging. I would definitely read another book from this author!

Rating: Give it a try

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