Sometimes you read a book and while you know it’s really good, you also have the sense that it is really important. Homegoing is one of those books. It’s not just compelling fiction; it’s also a tale of what it has meant to be black in America and in Ghana over the past three centuries. It’s a book that you should read because it’s fascinating and literary, but it’s also a book you should read because it can teach you so much.
Gyasi’s plot follows a family tree for over three hundred years, beginning in Ghana in the mid-1700’s. Effia and Esi are born to the same father but different mothers, live in different tribes, and never learn of their connection. Effia is married off to a British soldier stationed in Ghana; Esi is sold into slavery and shipped off to America. In alternating chapters, Gyasi tells the story of each family descendant. Those in Ghana are grappling with slavery, tribal warfare, and constant conflict with their foreign colonizers. Those in America face the brutality of slavery, the continued oppression through Reconstruction, and the urban poverty and drug epidemics of the 20th century. Woven throughout are the unresolved issues of race, the importance of family and tribe, and constant migration between countries, cities and social classes.
Homegoing doesn’t sugarcoat anything. Gyasi’s writing is direct and unflinching, her characters are morally complex, and she weaves their stories together almost effortlessly. If I had to make one criticism of the book, it’s that there are almost too many stories. Just as you get to know one character, it’s time to move on to the next – but I guess that’s bound to happen when 300 years of plot is condensed into just over 300 pages. Homegoing is a vividly painted multigenerational saga and an illuminating read.