Book Review: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi (Anchor Canada, 2017)

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.

16 thoughts on “Book Review: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi”

  1. Prior to this review, I hadn’t realized that the book was around 16 chapters, each a different generation, and altering between families. I hadn’t wanted to pick up Homegoing because I hate sagas that favor the older generations and start to race as we come closer to modern times. However, this sounds balanced, like those short stories collections in which each story has new characters, but they connect to the characters in the other short stories in some way.

    1. I hadn’t realized either and at first I wasn’t sure if I would like that because sometimes when books do that you end up feeling like you never get any complete story. But it really worked here. It did have a bit of a linked short story collection but there are also several over-arching connections and themes and so the stories do feel like one big story, balanced between multiple characters and generations.

  2. This has been on my TBR for quite some time and I hadn’t realized it spans 8 generations, and covers so much ground. That’s truly impressive! I’m glad you were satisfied with how it was executed; multi-generational family sagas can become very unwieldy as you go on. I’m excited to read this now, hopefully before her new novel comes out.

    1. Yes, I hadn’t realized that either. Usually books with a family tree at the beginning like this one are much bigger and longer but this was like many windows into this one family so that you end up with a big picture of them but also life in Ghana and life for many in America. It’s very good.

    1. I felt like I was the last person around to have read this but now I’m finding it’s not so! It definitely did get a lot of hype but I think it deserved it.

  3. This book is amazing and it’s one I always recommend to friends if they don’t know what to read! Even though it was hard to say goodbye to characters at the end of each chapter, I loved seeing so many generations and the legacy of the original two sisters.

    1. I agree! It’s so good and I’ll definitely be recommending it. I liked how the subsequent chapters gave an idea of what happened to previous characters so I never felt like anyone was left behind or forgotten about.

  4. I’ve always been curious about this book so I’m glad you enjoyed it. The way you describe the writing reminds me a lot of Maisy Card’s book that I reviewed a few weeks ago, mind you that book’s story line was much more convoluted-not linear at all!

    1. Oh yes, I can see how they might be similar. This one is very readable and quite straightforward to follow. There’s a family tree at the front that I referred to a few times, just to keep the two lines straight in my mind, but it is all linear and that helps.

  5. Ooh yay, I’m so glad you enjoyed this one! It was one of my favorite reads a couple of years ago, and I am also looking forward to pick up Gyasi’s new release this year! It would have been so easy for those individual perspective chapters to fall into stereotyped tropes and yet Gyasi manages to avoid those and keep each character uniquely interesting. That’s some strong writing skill!

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