“HomeGoing” (ISBN: 9780385686136) is one of those rare books that stay “New”; so, it is hard to believe it is Yaa Gyasi’s FIRST Book! Don’t let the language fool you- it is not a light read- but it IS a Worthy Read!
Through 300 pages, Gyasi has managed to create a number of vivid characters who span through a lifetime of generations covering about 250 years. I had to refer to the front Family Tree several times to keep track of them all! Gyasi uses symbols and metaphors to capture the truths of a Fluid History of two lines of descendants and succeeds in uncovering events that are as relevant today for Majorie and Marcus, as they were, then, for Effia and Esi.
Within the first 10-15 pages, Gyasi gains control over her reader’s emotions- the physical world is established as weak, when compared to the spiritual/metaphysical world. In fact, the physical beatings Baaba lays on Effia did not evoke any emotion in me, but the passing of her to James Collin evoked a faint tremor. Why? Perhaps it’s because I focussed on the tenderness of a first crush, when Effia talks about Abeeku, and the emotional crush she experiences when given to a white man instead. The concept of Slavery is introduced almost immediately- how the native Chiefs thought they were working “with the British…not for them”. Knowing history, I cringed at this statement- because this is how slave trade began in several countries…it was a trade of the “other” and did not concern “us” until the “other” became “us”.
While Gyasi continues to satisfy my literary critique through the vivid images, hints at historical facts, heart-racing emotions and a sense of melancholy, the structure of the book taunts me. Her initial chapters are rich, full of life and the bond with the characters is strong, however, once Modern Day dawns, the chapters seem shorter because we are not given a chance to bond with the characters. I think Gyasi did this to taunt us- to hint at the “lack” of colour in the North American Culture.
Enough about the structure…I will share my views of the plot by discussing some of the memorable characters (SPOILER ALERT: if you haven’t read the book yet and don’t want to know the plot- don’t read further- instead go and pick up your copy at your Indie Bookstore today!).
Both sisters, Effia and Esi, born by the same father, must live different lives- and have a sense of anachronism through the Black Stone they wear around their necks. Effia is given to a white man, as his “wife” (Woops! I meant “wrench”) and learns of the “others” in the dungeon below. I would argue that it is when Effia starts acknowledging the similarity between her and the “other” women kept in the dungeons, does she start having the realization of “Self”. It is shortly, after this realization, when she must face the truth hinted by Baaba, her stepmother- Effia is born of Fire, nothing grows from Fire. This knowledge passes down and acts a curse through her generations. Her descendants have strong visions/fears of the Fire, and remain grounded through the Black Stone around their neck. This “Fire” curse is only broken when embraced by Water- a realization, Akua “Crazy Woman” passes on to her granddaughter, Marjorie. I think it is this realization, that encourages Akua to move to the waterfront and shed her name “Crazy Woman”. Akua even goes to the extreme of protecting Marjorie from the curse of the Fire, by throwing her umbilical cord into the ocean that joins both the American and African Continent.
Esi, the other sister, is sold to the white man and lives in the dungeons below, only to go work on a plantation farm. She lives a life of physical hardships and a sense of not belonging, but the coolness of her Black Stone, and her newly found faith holds her together. This feeling transcends down her generations, who lay roots in this foreign land. Her descendants play parts in the making of American Modern History because that is the only continent they know. It is Esi’s descendants who experience the effects of drug abuse, and a fear of leaving the land, possibly due to a subconscious fear of being uprooted. It is only when the descendents of both separated sisters, Marcus and Marjorie see each other for the first time, that they feel a sense of belonging in the truest form.
Together, through love, they unite a family severed by the hands of fate. Once they do so, both lines of generations conquer their fears (of fire and of water) and return Home.
Such strong characters seemed to feed on my energy- and I have to admit, this book spanning a course of 250 years, exhausted me…but it also left its impression on my mind- forever to keep.
I strongly suggest going to your Independent bookstore, and purchasing your own copy ASAP.