Homegoing follows the generations of two half-sisters, separated by forces out of their control. One sister is sold into slavery, and the other is married off to a powerful British slaver, but each sister’s story lasts for only one chapter. The book follows their children, and their children’s children at various points in time, following their bloodline from Ghana to Alabama to Boston and New York.
Homegoing is not an easy book to read, despite being a short one. It’s not meant to be a comfortable book; it doesn’t exist for leisure, with the intention of making the reader lose herself in the story, or to find comfort in the characters like so much other fiction does. Homegoing is harsh and brutal; its punches land true to their mark, forcing you to look in the past and the present and analyze what’s happening around you. It’s honest, it’s dark, it’s bleak, and it’s infinitely important with its unflinching portrayal of history and the persistence of human cruelty. It holds nothing back, and in a time where minorities in the US – especially African Americans – are expected to maintain idle niceties in the face of severe oppression and persecution, Homegoing is a resonating voice. If I could be in charge of school reading, this would be a book that I would make required reading because it’s so much more than ink on paper. It’s a living, breathing narrative that exists just as much to convey stories as it does to show you the mirror.
It’s a book that covers so much ground – warring villages in Africa, honor, power and culture starting from eighteenth century Ghana, while also tackling race relations in the United States, from slavery to the Civil War to segregation to the struggles faced by the black community in modern day. It shows you that unlike what you may believe, persecution and oppression did not end when slavery did, or segregation did, but its ugliness continues to thrive like a slower, lethal poison.
Homegoing is so many stories within one, with each chapter following a different character. The book spans 300 pages in the hardcover edition, and each character gets 20 pages, give or take a couple, meaning that it follows 15 different characters. Fifteen characters, each at a different point in time, each with a different story – it sometimes reads like a short story collection, but also not really, because somehow Gyasi makes all the different stories connect. Whether it’s through the mention of another character halfway through the chapter, or a flashback to something that happened a couple chapters ago, the stories – despite being different – all flow together. That, in itself, is a triumph.
But what makes this novel so technically striking, apart from its narrative flow, is how well fleshed-out each and every character is. I’ve never been one for generational stories – granted, I haven’t read too many, but the few that I have suffer from one major flaw: the characters’ development is always sacrificed, never fully appreciated and explored. But Homegoing, somehow, manages to rectify that flaw, because each character has a distinct voice, a personality and a being. With each chapter-end, you feel a profound sense of loss because you know that chances are that you’re not seeing this character again in the story. But with that sense of loss comes the more powerful sense of hope with the knowledge that Gyasi’s going to surprise you more, and sweep you in with the tale of another character, a promise of another friend.
Perhaps the only flaw that the book has falls towards the end, which I felt was rushed – perhaps even unnecessary. I won’t say more at the risk of spoilers, but I felt that the very last chapter perhaps should’ve been longer than the others, to give the entire story the closure that it needed. The book spans two centuries, and I would’ve liked to see a longer end than just twenty pages, if you know what I’m saying.
But apart from that very minor flaw, Homegoing truly is an incredibly important read with characters that feel real, a writing style that keeps you captivated and above all, thinking, and stories that will stick with you for a long, long time. It doesn’t matter what your preferred genre is – be it young adult or fantasy or romance – you need to read this book. It’s a powerful debut, a force to be reckoned with, and will be remembered and revered as such for a long, long time – I’m sure of it.