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"History is storytelling… We cannot know that which we were not there to see and hear and experience for ourselves. We must rely upon the words of others… But now we come to the problem of conflicting stories… Whose do we believe? We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history, you must always ask yourself, Whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth?"

Yaa Gyasi’s debut, HOMEGOING, is shatteringly magnificent. It comes forth to counter the revisionist history we’ve been taught, the realities that have been systemically erased, ignored, replaced and rewritten. It reclaims the past 300 years. It does not rival the great novels of our literature; it is one of them in its own right, and in many ways --- in perspective, scope, authenticity and depth --- it surpasses them. Within the span of 300 pages, Gyasi brings us a tight yet sprawling novel that is urgent, unique, brilliant in form and content, and nothing short of essential.

Two half-sisters are born into different villages in 18th-century Ghana. One is married to a wealthy English slaver and lives a comfortable life in the Cape Coast Castle. The other is imprisoned in the horrors of the Castle’s dungeons, sold into the slave trade, and shipped off into American slavery. This is, among many other accomplishments, the stories of their parallel lineage, the lives borne from these two distinct women. Gyasi traces Effia and Esi’s descendants through Ghanaian villages, American plantations and the Reconstruction, as well as through Harlem and the Civil Rights movement. We bear witness to how the slave trade shaped Ghana and America, how plantations transitioned to coal mines and the prison industrial complex, and how jazz and activism were borne out of history and pain.

"...shatteringly magnificent.... HOMEGOING is an epic, and I am grateful to be entering a present in which a novel like this can be celebrated."

Gyasi twines and alternates the narratives expertly, so the reader traces the tandem bloodlines through time. She masters simultaneity, weaving the lives into a flow so natural it could come from the sea, bearing us onward while never losing track of the wave that came before or the vastness and connectedness of the waters. We experience parents sacrificing their futures for their children, children reclaiming their ancestry, quiet love and unending torment. Gyasi presents us with relentless truths, never pulling back but rendering the harsh complexities of our history and present into fiction nothing less than exquisite. Here are the worst atrocities of humanity, the violent racism that instilled in white culture a sense of ubiquity and righteousness we still must undo to this day. Here is the sheer selflessness of love. Here is the struggle for identity when every fragment of your adopted homeland rejects you, when your mother tongue sounds foreign on your own.

We discover how fear can become embedded in a bloodline, taking on new life in every generation --- so, too, can kindness, tenacity and curiosity. We recognize how, at every step of the way, the fight for true equality can be thwarted by our systems of power --- how quickly a life or a thousand can be stolen for no reason other than hatred and greed, and how often this has happened in our history, how frequently it still does, how little the dying are listened to and how marginalized their voices. We experience the transcendence of place, the lingering resonance of what once was home, what remains and reverberates after generations of struggle.

I have no real authority here --- you will have to read the book for the authentic truths Gyasi explores so eloquently and beautifully. You will love her characters, and how skillfully and tenderly she treats them. HOMEGOING is a rich novel about race, its constructs, belonging and nonbelonging. A painful, poignant and absolutely necessary read, it is a reclamation, a reparation, a revolution. We must bring forth and listen to voices like Gyasi’s if we are to understand our history, how we speak to each other today, and the ways we perceive each other.

HOMEGOING is an epic, and I am grateful to be entering a present in which a novel like this can be celebrated. I am thankful for Yaa Gyasi’s debut work, and I cannot wait for her next triumph.

Reviewed by Maya Gittelman on June 10, 2016

by Yaa Gyasi

  • Publication Date: May 2, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • ISBN-10: 1101971061
  • ISBN-13: 9781101971062