Homegoing: A novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 7, 2016
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—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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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.
Top international reviews
Each chapter's like a short story about a different member of each generation of the same family, alternating between two sisters' (Esi's and Effia's) bloodlines. For example, the first chapter's about Esi, the second chapter's about Effia, the next two chapters are about their children, the two after that are about their grandchildren and so on. The family tree at the beginning of the book helps to visualise the context across eight different generations.
Each story's compelling in its own right and leaves you begging to know more about the character you're reading about and also what will happen to their progeny after them. I love that it tells so many different stories and yet at the same time, it's essentially one story about one family; one story about the Black Diaspora. I don't want to give anything away, because there are quite a few unexpected twists in the tale, but it alternates between stories about Ghanaian royalty, slavery and slavers across both sides of the Atlantic, the Ashanti-British war in Ghana, freed slaves and the South to North migration in America, missionaries in Ghana, even the coal mine/prison business after slavery ended in America. There are unique insights into commonly told stories such as life in 1960s Harlem and also lesser-known stories such as village life in Ghana.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves a great story. You'll also appreciate it if you're even slightly interested in historical novels or any aspect of the current/past Black Diaspora. I learned more about Ghanaian history, African-American history and possible motivations of different players in both over time. I also gained an insight into the idea of how the actions of each person in a bloodline can affect the generations of their family to come. I feel like I'm both better informed and a more empathetic person for having read this book.
I think this was a very bold debut. And Gyasi mostly rises up to the challenge. I definitely liked the first half of the book more than the second half, the second half did get weighed down by some clichés. I loved some of the characters and their strengths, like the ethics of Quay and the stoicism of Willie. Some relationships are beautiful, particularly that of “mad” Akua and Marjorie. However, some character arches had more potential for development, like that of Sam and Ness. The element of mystery and authenticity was preserved in the way that Marcus and Marjorie never found out that they were related to each other, and that is probably true of so many descendants whose ancestors were nameless slaves once upon a time. The novel will remain a testimonial of the fact that freedom comes at a price and it must be valued and preserved.
The book has the haunting backdrop of slavery, one of the most shameful realities of America and Great Britain. The baggage is a very heavy one to carry; the weight is often borne by generations; also by the tormentor and the sufferer alike. As the stories progress between generations, there is not always a characteristic happier ending, symbolic of the fact that while we may have come a long way; there is a much longer path that lies ahead. Ironically, I finished this book on the day a biracial woman, a descendant of the Southern slaves, walked down the aisle in Windsor Castle to be married into the Royal Family of Great Britain.
The book also reinforced how very recent all this is and the very small mention on the Nation of Islam - although it was I think put into perspective here, did give a flavour of how Imperialism has contributed to our present problems and issues and the book would almost have been incomplete had it not mentioned it.
The characterisation was perfect and the chapter on Yaw broke my heart - Yaa Gyasi has such a poetic way of writing, I loved her style - passages like “memories turning into butterflies and flying away” - gorgeous.
Another powerful concept was how names can often be the only thing left of a family and how calling someone by another name other than their own (common practice amongst white slavers) can, as well as being a personal assault be far wider reaching. It is a form of theft.
On page 244 Sonny explaining how the practice of segregation made him feel his separateness as inequality and that that is what mattered to him, put a slightly different perspective on integration for me.
All in all a brilliant book.
She is a very descriptive and emotional writer and I loved it. My 2017 book of the year!
Homegoing follows seven generations, fourteen perspectives in total. This is a lot of stories to hear. It all begins with two half sisters, Effia and Esi, who will never know each other. One's experiences lead her and her family to slavery in America, the other's family find themselves mostly in Ghana and we follow their descendants on their different journeys.
Each chapter is from the perspective of a new character; first Effia and Essi, and then six of their descendants, as the story tracks the cultural changes in both Ghana and America - through colonialism, racism, and attitudes to slavery. Through the characters, we experience life during the tribal wars of the 1700s, the horrors of the slave trade, the ways in which prominent leaders in Ghana aided British and American slavers, the fear created by the Fugitive Slave Act, and much more.
The chapters read a bit like short stories, we pick up new characters and follow their journey and then we leave them at the end of the chapter. But this book still feels like one story and the writing, characters and themes flows well. One of the things I enjoyed the most was when starting a new chapter, you were not sure who or where you were starting - then one of the characters would mention a member of their family that you had read about before and all the pieces fall into place. It felt like this book was actually a lot bigger than it was, it covers so much history and touches so many characters but I just flew through it.
As with this topic in general, there's a lot to be disgusted about in this book. True to history, it is full of blood, whippings, racist language, British superiority and other scenes that will turn your stomach. However, it is handled and presented well, with sensitivity and emotional awareness.
A great read for anyone that is interested in this subject, sagas over many generations and great writing. It’s hard to believe this is a debut book.
I thought it was a very good debut novel all round, but I was glad to have the paperback version as well as the kindle because of the extensive lineage of both sisters, which was set out at the beginning of book. I found the names and their connections hard to remember, and consulted the family tree many times as I read the book. This made me think that the book could have been a collection of short stories rather than a novel, and was the main reason I hesitated and gave it four stars rather than five.
At times it reminded me of ‘Beloved’ by Toni Morrison, with other nods towards ‘Half a Yellow Sun’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I look forward to reading her next book.
Home Going is such a great book, told by one member of each generation as their lives, although similar, are completely different. Their stories being told from their mouths. Not from others.
I can't really put in to words how great these stories are. All I can say, is that you read it and enjoy it for yourself.
My only criticism is the structure - two from each generation, one of each sister's lineage. It gets confusing without a written time line of events. The chapters are titled after the person whose story is being told. I would have liked a quick date and location, ancester link to remind me before I read.
There is a family tree at the beginning of this book which is useful to consult when moving down the generations, but as I am using my kindle to read this, it was difficult having to jump back and forth. A time line of events as well as the family tree would be useful too.
No other comments. Highly recommend this book. It has inspired me to write my own family's stories. Passing down generations and shaping who we are.