The scope of what Yaa Gyasi achieves in Homegoing is truly impressive. In just over 300 pages, she lays out eight generations, two branches splitting out from one woman. The story begins with two young women, Effia and Esi. Daughters of the same woman, they grow up in separate villages, each unaware of the others. This is Ghana in the 18th century; one goes on to marry an Englishman while another is captured and sold into slavery. Each chapter introduces a new character and new generation, alternating between the family branches. We witness the rise and fall of family lines, the journey and life of one branch in the United States, and the turmoil of a fight for independence in West Africa.
Each chapter creates a new story, a fully fledged and compelling character and here Gyasi’s talent truly shines. The variety of voice and characterization is astonishing and yet each individual’s story is interesting. While we don’t get to see any one person from beginning to end we get to learn quite a bit of each person’s history as the generations progress. We see the struggles that repeat and the ones that are new with changing times and attitudes.
There is tribal warfare and slave trade in Ghana, the feeling of unbelonging that comes for the children of both black and white parents, the struggle between old and new traditions, the corruption and abuses of the prison system in the USA, and the battle against addiction and poverty that continues for so many today. Any one of these chapters felt like it could be expanded into an entire novel on its own and yet the novel never felt like it was reaching too far or not providing enough. I was satisfied with the snapshot given of each character’s life and, again, this is a testament to Gyasi’s skill.
I’m now very excited to read Gyasi’s next novel.