If you’re even remotely tuned in to the book world (and maybe even if you’re not), you could not open a magazine, newspaper, blog or social media platform this summer without hearing about ‘Homegoing’ by Yaa Gyasi. It was on the front shelves of all the bookstores. It was in everyone’s hands on the subway. It was everywhere. And after reading it I can say with confidence that it absolutely deserves all of the attention it got, and more.
More often than not with ubiquitous books like this I tend to be disappointed. I liked The Girl on the Train. It was a page-turner and a good story. But after seeing it LITERALLY everywhere I went for over a year, I was expecting my mind to be blown to an unreasonably degree, and it was not. Don’t even get me started on Fifty Shades. But I think Homegoing experienced a different kind of popularity – it didn’t blow up the scene like other trendy titles we’ve seen in the past, because it’s not the kind of book that appeals to a commercial audience with a big twist or a trendy hook. This is one of those rare and wonderful books that built its success almost exclusively on the power of the writing. Critics loved it. Celebrities loved it. And it got everyone talking.
The story begins with Effia, who is born in a village in eighteenth-century Ghana. She is married off to an Englishman and sent to live in comfort at Cape Coast Castle. As a reader I found myself getting very attached to Effia’s story – her desires and frustrations and fears were very real and relatable, and I became invested in what would happen to her very quickly. And then the story abandons her. When I realized at the start of the next chapter that the narrative wouldn’t be following Effia I was upset at first, but then I started to understand Esi, another young girl in Ghana, who is revealed to be Effia’s unknown half-sister, imprisoned in the same castle and sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s slave trade and shipped off to America. With each new chapter, the reader is introduced to a new protagonist as we move down through generations of Esi and Effia’s descendants, through plantations to coal mines to jazz clubs, right up until present day, building a complex web of family members whose lives are separate, but interconnected.
This reading experience was completely new and unique for me – in some ways I was continually frustrated by the too-brief snapshots of each of the characters, who are introduced just long enough for me to connect with them and get invested in their stories before the chapter ends and the book moves on to someone new. But then the someone new becomes just as compelling and the cycle starts again. It would be infuriating if the writing wasn’t so perfectly immersive. I never had too much time to dwell on how much I missed the last character before I became fascinated with the next one. It’s the classic ‘always leave the reader wanting more’ mentality, but applied to a story with impressive depth and an important message about humanity’s terrible history and the bravery of the people who survived it.
I would definitely recommend this book to all of my fellow readers – this is an incredibly talented debut author who has accomplished something unbelievably impressive, and she deserves every bit of buzz she’s been getting: