Listed under books I will probably read again is Homegoing, the debut novel from author Yaa Gyasi. It’s been a moment since I’ve enjoyed a book this much, so I felt it deserved a review.
Homegoing is much different from the several “slavery and its enduring aftermath” novels I’ve read. It is not just a story of slaves, trauma, or diaspora, meant to induce pity, anger, or white guilt. It is a story of a family, choices and non-choices, consequences, women’s and men’s voices, African voices and African-American voices, of complicity and action. There is a lack of a victim narrative, despite the many victims. Among the unsettling anecdotes are beautiful, uplifting stories of faith, survival, and love. I don’t know if I’ve ever read a book like this that took so seriously into consideration the realities of inter-generational trauma, both within families but also within entire societies.
The author uses her personal background as a Ghanian-American, along with a research trip to Ghana, to connect two sides of the Atlantic in a way that is not always showing a momentous turn toward the American ideal. Ghana continues to exist in and of itself, grappling with its own trauma from the slave trade and its role in it, as America suffers from the legacy of the same slave trade in different ways.
One of my biggest takeaways is this clear connection to the family line, yet the disconnect among them due to trauma and separation. It goes from the interruption of life cycles by British and Dutch colonists, to forced separation by the Atlantic slave trade, to the slavery-adjacent prison culture in the coal mines, and the limited job opportunities for dark skinned Americans. The point isn’t to make anyone pity these characters, which anyone naturally might, but it is to know these characters. They feel lived-in, honest, and familiar. I felt in their heads, in their hearts, and not like an audience member on the outside looking in.
Literature is a powerful tool , it can induce a form of radical empathy and understanding. Gyasi has created such a book that can speak to so many while refusing to sacrifice its strong point of view.