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Homegoing: A novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 7, 2016
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From School Library Journal
This sweeping family saga encompasses seven generations of descendants of a Fante and his captured Asante house slave. After giving birth to a daughter, Maame manages to escape, making her way alone back to her own village. She is taken in by an Asante warrior, becomes his third wife, and has a second daughter by him. The two sisters, Effia and Esi, will never meet, their lives will follow very different paths, but their descendants will share a legacy of warfare and slavery. Effia will marry an Englishman who oversees the British interest in the Gold Coast slave trade. Esi will be captured by Fante warriors, traded to the Englishmen, and shipped to America to be sold into slavery. Progressing through 300 years of Ghanaian and American history, the narrative unfolds in a series of concise portraits of each sister's progeny that capture pivotal moments in each individual's life. Every portrait reads like a short story unto itself, making this volume a good choice for harried teens, yet Gyasi imbues the work with a remarkably seamless feel. Through the combined historical perspectives of each descendant, the author reveals that racism is often rooted in tribalism, greed, and the lust for power. Many students will be surprised to discover that the enslavement of Africans was not just a white man's crime. VERDICT Well researched, beautifully told, and easy to read, this title is destined to become required, as well as enlightening, reading for teens.—Cary Frostick, formerly at Mary Riley Styles Public Library, Falls Church, VA
“Gyasi’s characters are so fully realized, so elegantly carved—very often I found myself longing to hear more. Craft is essential given the task Gyasi sets for herself—drawing not just a lineage of two sisters, but two related peoples. Gyasi is deeply concerned with the sin of selling humans on Africans, not Europeans. But she does not scold. She does not excuse. And she does not romanticize. The black Americans she follows are not overly virtuous victims. Sin comes in all forms, from selling people to abandoning children. 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.”
—Ta-Nehisi Coates, National Book Award-winning author of Between the World and Me
"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.”
—Phil Klay, National Book Award-winning author of Redeployment
“I could not put this book down”
“It is hard to overstate how much I LOVE this book”
"One of the most fantastic books I've read in a long time...you cry and you laugh as you're reading it...a beautiful story"
—Trevor Noah, The Daily Show
“The hypnotic debut novel by Yaa Gyasi, a stirringly gifted writer . . . magical . . . the great, aching gift of the novel is that it offers, in its own way, the very thing that enslavement denied its descendants: the possibility of imagining the connection between the broken threads of their origins.”
—Isabel Wilkerson, The New York Times Book Review
"It’s impossible not to admire the ambition and scope of “Homegoing,” and thanks to Ms. Gyasi’s instinctive storytelling gifts, the book leaves the reader with a visceral understanding of both the savage realities of slavery and the emotional damage that is handed down, over the centuries, from mothers to daughters, fathers to sons. At its best, the novel makes us experience the horrors of slavery on an intimate, personal level; by its conclusion, the characters’ tales of loss and resilience have acquired an inexorable and cumulative emotional weight."
—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"The brilliance of this structure, in which we know more than the characters do about the fate of their parents and children, pays homage to the vast scope of slavery without losing sight of its private devastation . . . . [Toni Morrison’s] influence is palpable in Gyasi’s historicity and lyricism; she shares Morrison’s uncanny ability to crystalize, in a single event, slavery’s moral and emotional fallout. What is uniquely Gyasi’s is her ability to connect it so explicitly to the present day: No novel has better illustrated the way in which racism became institutionalized in this country.”
—Megan O’Grady, Vogue
“Toni Morrison’s masterpiece, “Beloved,” seared into our imagination the grotesque distortions of antebellum life. And now, Yaa Gyasi’s rich debut novel, “Homegoing,” confronts us of the involvement of Africans in the enslavement of their own people . . . the speed with which Gyasi sweeps across the decades isn’t confusing so much as dazzling, creating a kind of time-elapsed photo of black lives in America and in the motherland . . . haunting . . . Gyasi has developed a style agile enough to reflect the remarkable range of her first novel. As she moves across the centuries, from old and new Ghana and to pre-Civil War Alabama and modern-day Palo Alto, her prose modulates subtly according to time and setting: The 18th-century chapters resonate with the tones of legend, while the contemporary chapters shine with clear-eyed realism. And somehow all this takes place in the miraculous efficiency of just 300 pages . . . truly captivating.”
—Ron Charles, Washington Post
“Gyasi echoes [James] Baldwin’s understanding of a common culture marked by both yearning and pain, in which black people can confront each other across differences and reach a political understanding about what unites them. What distinguishes Gyasi’s presentation of this idea is its scope: She does not present us with a single moment, but rather delivers a multigenerational saga in which two branches of a family, separated by slavery and time, emerge from the murk of history in a romantic embrace . . . . . HOMEGOING is a reminder of the tenacity of fathers and mothers who struggle to keep their kin alive. The novel succeeds when it retrieves individual lives from the oblivion mandated by racism and spins the story of the family’s struggle to survive.”
—Amitava Kumar, Bookforum
“Rich, epic . . . . Each chapter is tightly plotted, and there are suspenseful, even spectacular climaxes.”
—Christian Lorentzen, New York Magazine
—Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal
“A memorable epic of changing families and changing nations.”
—Rebecca Steinitz, Boston Globe
“The arrival of a major new voice in American literature”
—Poets & Writers
"Tremendous...spectacular...[HOMEGOING is] essential reading from a young writer whose stellar instincts, sturdy craftsmanship and penetrating wisdom seem likely to continue apace — much to our good fortune as readers."
“A blazing success . . . . The sum of Homegoing’s parts is remarkable, a panoramic portrait of the slave trade and its reverberations, told through the travails of one family that carries the scars of that legacy . . . . Gyasi’s characters may be fictional, but their stories are representative of a range of experience that is all too real and difficult to uncover. Terrible things happen to them; they’re constantly cleaved apart, and in the process, cut off from their own stories. In her ambitious and sweeping novel, Gyasi has made these lost stories a little more visible.”
—Steph Cha, Los Angeles Times
“The most powerful debut novel of 2016 . . . . Carrying on in the tradition of her foremothers—like Toni Morrison, Edwidge Danticat, Assia Djebar and Bessie Head—Gyasi has created a marvelous work of fiction that both embraces and re-writes history.”
— Shannon M. Houston, Paste Magazine
“Heart-wrenching . . . . Gyasi’s unsentimental prose, her vibrant characters and her rich settings keep the pages turning no matter how mournful the plot . . . . The horror of being present at the wrong place and the wrong time, whether black or white, is handled poignantly . . . . The chapters change narrators effortlessly and smoothly transition between time periods . . . . I kept expecting a Henry Louis Gates ‘Find Your Roots’ TV show . . . . Yaa Gyasi’s assured Homegoing is a panorama of splendid faces.”
—Soniah Kamal, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“A remarkable achievement, marking the arrival of a powerful new voice in fiction.”
—Kelsey Ronan, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"Gyasi's lyrical, devastating debut more than deserves to be held in its own light.... Gyasi traces black history from the Middle Passage to the Great Migration and beyond, bringing every Asante village, cotton plantation, and coal mine into vivid focus. The rhythm of her streamlined sentences is clipped and clean, with brilliant bursts of primary color...the luminous beauty of Gyasi’s unforgettable telling. A–"
--Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly
“Gyasi is a deeply empathetic writer, and each of the novel’s 14 chapters is a savvy character portrait that reveals the impact of racism from multiple perspectives . . . . A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.”
—Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2016
“Homegoing is an epic novel in every sense of the word — spanning three centuries, Homegoing is a sweeping account of two half-sisters in 18th-century Ghana and the lives of their many generations of descendants in America. A stunning, unforgettable account of family, history, and racism, Homegoing is an ambitious work that lives up to the hype.”
—Jarry Lee, Buzzfeed
“Stunning . . . . [HOMEGOING] may just be one of the richest, most rewarding reads of 2016.”
—Meredith Turits, ELLE Magazine’s “19 Summer Books That Everyone Will Be Talking About”
"Rarely does a grand, sweeping epic plumb interior lives so thoroughly. Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing is a marvel."
—Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness
“Gyasi gives voice, and an empathetic ear, to the ensuing seven generations of flawed and deeply human descendants, creating a patchwork mastery of historical fiction.”
—Cotton Codinha, Elle Magazine
“[A] commanding debut . . . will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading. When people talk about all the things fiction can teach its readers, they’re talking about books like this.”
—Steph Opitz, Marie Claire
"Stunning, unforgettable... Homegoing is an ambitious work that lives up to the hype."
"Striking... With racial inequality at the forefront of America’s consciousness, Homegoing is a reminder of slavery’s rippling repercussions, not only in America, Gyasi points out, but around the world."
"HOMEGOING is sprawling, epic.”
—Hope Wabuke, The Root
“An important, riveting page-turner filled with beautiful prose, Homegoing shoots for the moon and lands right on it.”
—Isaac Fitzgerald, Buzzfeed
"Each chapter is filled with so much emotion and depth and tackles so many different topics.... I didn't want to put it down."
"Lyric and versatile . . . [Yaa Gyasi] writes with authority about history and pulls her readers deep into her characters' lives through the force of her empathetic imagination . . . striking . . . [a] strong debut novel."
—Maureen Corrigan, NPR's Fresh Air
"Stunning...vivid and poignant"
"Courageous . . . [Yaa Gyasi] approaches tough topics with unflinching honesty."
—The Washington Independent Review of Books
"[HOMEGOING] lives up to the hype."
—New York Magazine Approval Matrix
“Epic . . . The destinies of Effia Otcher and Esi Asare in Yaa Gyasi’s spellbinding Homegoing recall those of sisters Celie and Nettie in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, switched-at-birth infants Saleem and Shiva in Salman Rushdie’s Midnight's Children and compatriot clones Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Gyasi’s debut novel effortlessly earns its spot alongside these distinguished classics . . . . The author’s penetrating prose draws intimate and deeply cultivated connections between rival tribes, languages lost and found, real love and a hardness of spirit. And in the process, Gyasi has written a nuanced, scintillating investigation into the myriad intricacies and institutions that shape a family.”
— Anjali Enjeti, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Impressive . . . intricate in plot and scope . . . . Homegoing serves as a modern-day reconstruction of lost and untold narratives — and a desire to move forward.”
—Dana De Greff, Miami Herald
“No debate at all: Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing is impressive, impassioned, and utterly original . . . a story so personalized, so urgent and timely, especially for today’s readers and the many who do not seem to understand why African Americans are so conflicted.”
—Charles R. Larson, Counterpunch
“Epic . . . a timely, riveting portrayal of the global African Diaspora—and the aftereffects that linger on to this day.”
—Hope Wabuke, The Root
“One of the most anticipated books of this summer is from debut novelist Yaa Gyasi, and all it will take to convince you the hype is worth it is reading some of these powerful Homegoing quotes about family, identity, and history. An emotional, beautiful, and remarkable book, Homegoing should definitely be on your summer reading list . . . . With characters you won't be able to forget, and stories that will haunt you long after you turn the last page, Homegoing is stunning — a truly heartbreaking work of literary genius. It honestly and elegantly tries to unravel the complicated history of not only a family through the generations, but a nation through the years of outside conflict, inner turmoil, and one of the darker pieces of the past.”
—Sadie L. Trombetta, Bustle
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Top Customer Reviews
Effia is sold to a white British lord, living in Africa to negotiate the slave trade, and she spurs a line of descendants who grapple with the impact of the slave trade within Africa. The story of how slavery began in Africa is not one I knew well, and it was heartbreaking and jarring, to learn how the different tribes stalked and captured each other, selling rival sons and daughters and wives to the British, fueling the trade.
Esi is herself captured, and kept in the dungeon of the Castle where her sister lives as the "wench" wife of a British trader, until she is sent through the Middle Passage to America, into slavery. The story of Esi's life in the dungeon, waiting to be shipped she knows not where, like every bit of the book, is so detailed and rich and true that it is astonishing to realize the author is only 26 years old. This book could easily be a lifetime achievement, and instead it is just the beginning of what I imagine will be an amazing body of work.
Homegoing has many, many, many strengths, and perhaps just one weakness. The strengths are found in the story, and in the writing. It is a glory of riches. From the wars between the Asante and Esperante tribes in Africa in the 1700s to the Middle Passage to the slave plantations to life as a freeman in the North to the villages of Africa in the 1800s, to Harlem, through to the impact of the prison culture and drug culture of modern day America, the scope of this book is astonishing. And it is only 300 pages long.
My one wish with the book is that it started to feel a little bit that I was getting a glimpse of a life, when I wanted more. In some ways, the book is a series of interlocking short stories: every chapter is the story of one character, representing that generation There are 14 chapters, I think; seven generations, and Esi, Effia and each of their descendants get one story per generation. So we see Esi in the Dungeon, and on the Middle Passage, but then we do not see her again. We hear from her daughter, Ness, that Esi in America was known as "Frownie" because she never smiled, and that when Ness was born, there was a strange sound heard, which some suspect was the sound of Esi laughing because it was never heard before or since. I cared for Esi, and wished we had heard more of her story after she reached America. Similarly, Ness herself represents the story of slavery, but we only have about 20 pages with her. Those pages are wisely used - I fell in love with her and with Sam, her proud African husband - but again, it is gone so quickly. It was hard not to feel some frustration; these characters and stories started to feel almost wasted, so much richness that we just didn't get a chance to explore.
I came to understand that Ms. Gyasi is telling the story not of one person, or even one family, but instead, tracing a much larger theme, and arc, of the cost of cruelty, and the redeeming power of sacrificial love. The story begins with a slave escaping (an African slave escaping from an African village), and ends hundreds of years later, as two of that slave's descendants return to the village, and to the ocean. It is a promise of healing through the most horrible crimes, for which the most horrible price is paid. On some level, it is so much more powerful than yet another story about a family. And yet - I cared so much for these people, I wish I had known them a bit more. But maybe that is the point as well.
The writing is at once evocative and natural. Clearly very deeply researched, and vividly imagined. Yes, it does move through the generations quickly, chapter by chapter, so the story isn't as linear as some novels (which seems to bother some readers in their reviews). And it's true that the structure exists as more of a pastiche. But the narrative as a whole is unified by its subject (the two branches of one family), and by its themes (what does it mean to be a part of a tribe? How is a person's--or a people's--identity shaped by the things that have happened not just to them, but to their ancestors?). Each chapter feels like taking a swim on different beaches of the same ocean. Each is distinct and could exist as an independent short story, yet somehow moves and pulses as an inextricable part of the whole. It feels epic, not disjointed at all.
It asks deep, broad questions without expecting easy answers. It teaches without ever being preachy. It is a gorgeous, liberating, and frequently painful meditation on what it means to be black, and what it means to be black in America.
Yaa Gyasi has an amazing gift, and I can't wait for her next book.
Covering the Asante and Fante tribes from 18th Century to the present, Homegoing follows two different families, two half sisters, Effia and Esi and their offspring. The sisters grow up knowing nothing of the other. Both are given a black stone necklace, to be passed down to the next generation. Both sisters are born in Ghana, spend their early years in Ghana, Esi is shipped to America as a slave. Effia stays in Ghana and marries a British soldier who works in the slave trade, living in the Castle above the caves, where Esi is first taken before beginning shipped to America. His other wife and family live in England. Effia’s lineage stays in Ghana, enduring their own terrible conditions, bearing their own sorrows, until one leaves for a life in America.
There is a plethora of heartache and tragedy, despicable conditions. There is little reason for joy, but there is love, enough love to keep going, to keep hope alive.
For me, it spanned so much time compressed down, some parts, as a result, felt a little rushed to me.
There were so many characters, spread through so many generations that I wanted to know more about. Throughout, the story is undeniably gripping, the writing superb, even through the deeply dark stories of some of the lives. This debut novel is simply stunning.
Reading this was an intense experience, Gyasi’s passion for this story will grab your heart and leave you thinking, and feeling for a long time.