Mar 11, 2017

Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi

I was hesitant to pick up this debut novel, despite its numerous accolades from readers and writers alike, and though it has already garnering several awards. The reason for my reticence is my coworker and fellow buyer, who has been in this business for thirty years and has impeccable taste. She didn't like it that much, though agreed it's an important addition to the small but growing library of literature by women of color. In this case, however, I disagree with her entirely. I think this is an incredible novel, particularly since it's a first effort.

Homegoing follows the lineages of two half-sisters, Effia and Essi. The former is a Fante living on the Gold Coast who marries the white commander of the Cape Coast Castle, an important stop for African slaves from the interior on their way to slavery in the Americas. The latter is an Asante, captured in a raid and shipped off to be a slave in the American South. We step in on the lives of six generations of their direct descendants, alternating between one sister's line and the other's, showing the disastrous affects of slavery both on the enslaved and on those complicit in their servitude.

Gyasi's writing is clear and insistent, rich in metaphor and description without being overbearing or long-winded. She manages to get at the heart of being black in America in simple phrases that hit you as so obvious once uttered, but were anything but thirty seconds earlier. Gyasi's characters are fully realized; I feel I could meet any of them walking down the street. This is a powerful, stunning debut for what I hope will be a long writing career.

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