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October 4, 2016

Review – Homegoing: A Novel

Homecoming revolves around two sisters born in Ghana around 1760 under circumstances so different, that they are barely aware of each other’s existence. As one character says of separated sisters, “they are like a woman and her reflection, doomed to stay on opposite sides of the pond.”

The first girl, Effia, is born to a Fante ‘big man’. Effia’s stepmother conspires to marry Effia off to one of the white British men occupying the Cape Coast castle, a turn of events that sends her lineage in a direction very distinct from Effia’s sister Esi. Esi’s father was a powerful Asante man. She is captured in a Fante raid led (I believe) by Effia’s half brother. At one point Esi is held in the dungeons under the living quarters of the very same castle where her sister Effia makes her home.

The structure of the book is almost like a collection of short stories, separate yet intimately connected as each focuses on a particular ancestor of the sisters. The narrative leaps from sister to sister and generation to generation, tracing the sisters’ ancestry into the present. Gyasi’s prose is fluid and natural and reading her book almost feels like listening to your own family’s story on grandma’s lap. As the tale moved into the modern day, I found myself missing the strange familiarity and richness of the African back drop, and looking forward to seeing where the tale would lead as I anticipated some sort of poetic rounding at the end. I was not disappointed.

The author touches on many issues including struggles over religious beliefs, power struggles, and Ghana’s complicity in the Atlantic slave trade. It is clear that this last theme is included neither to place blame nor to relieve any party of blame, but to reveal the complexity of the situation as it existed in the 1700s.

As one of Gyasi’s characters says, “… the problem of history …[is]…we cannot know that which we were not there to see and hear and experience for ourselves….We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history you must always 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 being to get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.

Homecoming certainly gives voice to a suppressed aspect of Ghanaian and American history. Highly recommended read.

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