Sunday, May 13, 2018

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi: A DNF that I Finally Finished

May has been a month where I've skipped the fun and frothy books and instead dove straight into the tough reads. I can't lie; reading too many in a short time frame tends to bring me down. 

That is part of the reason why I tried reading Homegoing before, and just couldn't do it. I definitely believe in books not only reflecting your mood, but affecting your mood. Homegoing was a tough read for me; I picked it for my book group's May read because it would push me to read it. We meet on Tuesday, and I'm looking forward to the discussion we'll have about this thought provoking novel. 

Homegoing  is about eight generations of people who come from two half-sisters who don't realize the other exists. One sister, Effia, stays in Ghana and is married to a white British officer there to help with the slave trade in the late 1700's--when British interests in acquiring and selling slaves was huge. Unbeknownst to Effia for most of her young life, she has a half-sister, Esi, who was also raised in Ghana, but in a different village and a different tribe. The cruelty of slavery and tribal affiliations begin early with Effia and Esi, as Esi is captured by raiders and sent to the dungeons at the Castle, the very place where Effia is living with her British husband. Esi is shipped off to the United States, to become a slave and begin the chain of events that will shape her descendants into the 20th century. 

Effia doesn't have it all good, either. Despised by her step-mother, caught between two worlds, unhappy with her life, her descendants remain in Ghana for generations, until Yaw, disfigured by an accident as a baby, moves to the United States to teach. Finally, the two branches meet in San Francisco as Yaw's daughter Marjorie and Esi's great-great-great-great-great (I think?!) grandson Marcus travel back to Ghana in a very moving final chapter. 

There are so many stories, and each is heartbreaking. No one in this novel has a happy life. The issue of slavery is so prevalent for both sides that it is soaked into the fiber of their being. Seeing the chain of generations, and reading their stories, it is very clear why, even today, events that took place hundreds of years ago keep thundering through our lives and our nation.  The women in this novel are extraordinary; fierce, strong, and survivors of enormously horrible situations. Sprinkled through the generations, there are also men who stand out. 

The story that I most connected to was H's story. Born into slavery (his mother's story is so sad I can't even think about it!), freed after the Civil War, and sent to work in coal mines as punishment for not being able to pay bail, H is such a strong character through every trial that comes his way. His journey was probably my favorite part of the novel. So, so good. 

Homegoing is a very emotional novel, and that is what makes it hard to read quickly, or in one sitting. You have to sit with it, think about each generation as they tell their story, and follow the chain of history down through the generations. Family history, world history, magic, spiritual belief, ancestor respect-all are a part of this novel, along with the all too often whims of fate.  People sometimes don't understand how something that happened 200 years ago can affect our present day; this novel shows that very thing over and over again, and for that, this is a novel that everyone should read. High schoolers and college age students should read this and discuss it together. 

I am very glad I returned to this DNF and finished it. Not many books have the power to deeply move me; Yaa Gyasi's astounding novel joins that list. 

Rating:  5/6 for a novel that is not an easy read-not because of writing style, or plot, but because of the powerful characters who live, love, dream, and survive tragedy after tragedy through the generations. I highly recommend this for book groups, high school and college students, and anyone interested in history. 

Available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audio.

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