Homegoing (2016) by Yaa Gyasi is about storytelling, history, survival and family. It reminds me a little of A State of Freedom in the way it’s set up – brief snapshots into different people’s lives who are somehow all connected – but its much more well done in this book. Gyasi’s connections are more direct and relevant, and the snapshots are more complete. The stories follow Maame’s descendants down seven generations.
“Hell was a place of remembering, each beautiful moment passed through the mind’s eye until it fell to the ground like a rotten mango, perfectly useless, uselessly perfect”.
Each piece was beautifully written. Each character has a story of stunted love, violence and fear that will pull at your heartstrings.
“These tears were a matter of routine. They came for all of the women. They dropped until the clay below them turned to mud”.
Of course, because there are 14 protagonists in a 300 page novel you do come away with gaps and questions, but I feel like that works in Homegoing’s favour. Each snapshot does give you enough character depth to fall in love and the questions left behind are as real as the questions we have about our own ancestors. Especially for the characters whose histories were interrupted by slavery, leaving black stains like redacted documents, the leftover unanswered questions add a sense of reality. There is never a true way to know everything that happened in our own personal histories, and the same goes for Gyasi’s characters.
“You can learn anything when you have to learn it. You could learn to fly if it meant you would live another day”.
Slavery is obviously an important theme in this book but it encompasses more than that, it covers many different facets of the African diaspora and this variety is so informing of all the different types of issues that people can face. How race is not one issue, or one manifestation but a plethora of different struggles.
“He was living in his own head, and he could not tell where that ended and where the world began”.
Of course, stemming from slavery are the matters of gender, objectification and a lot of emphasis placed on bodies and ownership. Gyasi tackled them all briefly and eloquently, saying things like “he looked at her like her body was his shame”.
“Fear was one smell that would stand out forever. It curled his nose and brought tears to his eyes, but he had learned long ago how to keep himself from crying”.
I might be biased because African and African American literature are two of my favorite genres but I definitely recommend this book.