Summary and book reviews of Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing

by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi X
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2016, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2017, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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About this Book

Book Summary

Winner of the 2016 BookBrowse Debut Novel Award

A novel of breathtaking sweep and emotional power that traces three hundred years in Ghana and along the way also becomes a truly great American novel. Extraordinary for its exquisite language, its implacable sorrow, its soaring beauty, and for its monumental portrait of the forces that shape families and nations, Homegoing heralds the arrival of a major new voice in contemporary fiction.

Two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle's dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast's booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia's descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.

Generation after generation, Yaa Gyasi's magisterial first novel sets the fate of the individual against the obliterating movements of time, delivering unforgettable characters whose lives were shaped by historical forces beyond their control. Homegoing is a tremendous reading experience, not to be missed, by an astonishingly gifted young writer.

Effia

The night Effia Otcher was born into the musky heat of Fanteland, a fire raged through the woods just outside her father's compound. It moved quickly, tearing a path for days. It lived off the air; it slept in caves and hid in trees; it burned, up and through, unconcerned with what wreckage it left behind, until it reached an Asante village. There, it disappeared, becoming one with the night.

Effia's father, Cobbe Otcher, left his first wife, Baaba, with the new baby so that he might survey the damage to his yams, that most precious crop known far and wide to sustain families. Cobbe had lost seven yams, and he felt each loss as a blow to his own family. He knew then that the memory of the fire that burned, then fled, would haunt him, his children, and his children's children for as long as the line continued. When he came back into Baaba's hut to find Effia, the child of the night's fire, shrieking into the air, he looked at his wife and said, "We will ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Evaluate the title of the book. Why do you think that the author chose the word Homegoing? What is a homegoing and where does it appear in the novel? In addition to the term's literal meaning, discuss what symbolic meanings or associations the title might have in terms of a connection with our place of birth, our ancestors, our heritage, and our personal and cultural histories.
  2. Explore the theme of belief. What forms of belief are depicted in the book and what purpose do these beliefs seem to serve for the characters? Does the author reveal what has shaped the characters' beliefs? Do these beliefs seem to have a mostly positive or negative impact on the believer and those around them?
  3. What perspective does the book offer on the ...
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    BookBrowse Awards
    2016

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

...This marvelous debut succeeds in creating an impressive sweep by the sheer dint of powerful writing and narrative scope. “In my village we have a saying about separated sisters,” Esi’s mom tells her. “They are like a woman and her reflection, doomed to stay on opposite sides of the pond.” An ambitious saga that moves back and forth across these “opposite sides of the pond” and weaves a rich and colorful tapestry, Homegoing is an emotionally resonant debut that hints at great things yet to come from an immensely talented storyteller.   (Reviewed by Poornima Apte).

Full Review (638 words).

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Media Reviews

Booklist

The author has done her research, and though the book occasionally reads like a historical overview (each element - the beginning of cocoa cultivation in Ghana, the Fugitive Slave Act, and, later, the convict-lease system in America - feels summarized rather than dealt with dramatically), it has power and beauty, thanks to Gyasi's commanding style.

Kirkus Reviews

A promising debut that's awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. [The] story elements purposely echo like ghosts - as history often repeats itself - yet Gyasi writes each narrative with remarkable freshness and subtlety. A marvelous novel.

Author Blurb Ta-Nehisi Coates, National Book Award winning author of Between the World and Me
I think I needed to read a book like this to remember what is possible. I think I needed to remember what happens when you pair a gifted literary mind to an epic task. Homegoing is an inspiration.

Author Blurb Phil Klay, National Book Award winning author of Redeployment
Homegoing is a remarkable feat - a novel at once epic and intimate, capturing the moral weight of history as it bears down on individual struggles, hopes, and fears. A tremendous debut.

Reader Reviews

Nikki

The chapter about Ness
If you are still a serif about the emotional horrors of the slave trade and how it damaged people through out the. The chapter about Ness breaks your heart in ways that are too familiar. I am captivated by this story.

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Beyond the Book

The Ashanti Nation and the Gold Coast Slave Trade

Homegoing is set against the backdrop of the Gold Coast slave trade. Protagonists Efii and Esi, the two half-sisters, come from warring states in 18th century Ghana, the Ashantis and the Fantes.

Cape Coast CastleThe Ashanti Nation was a loose group of fiefdoms, an ethnic subgroup that was formed in 17th century Ghana as a trading coalition with the Europeans. The foreigners, mostly Portuguese, were initially most interested in the gold ore — hence the subsequent name, Gold Coast. While the beginnings of the Ashanti (also spelled Ashante) were not very rigid, it was consolidated by the leader Osei Tutu who created a constitution and installed a seat of power in Kumasi. Osei Tutu served as defacto king and the region's most important natural ...

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