Homegoing

Homegoing

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is a spellbinding novel that spans nine generations across two continents. It alternates between the two side of one family, coming down generation by generation, a family who have been torn apart by the slave trade and who pass on the pain and suffering it causes from one generation to another.

Homegoing starts in Ghana and soon finds itself at Cape Coast Castle, where half-sisters Effia and Essi are within metres of each other but are worlds apart. Effia is the mistress of an English slaver (his wife except that he already has a wife back in England) and she lives a life of luxury with her white husband in the castle, whilst her half-sister Essi is imprisoned in the women’s dungeon below, waiting to be shipped across the Atlantic as a slave. The dungeon is a horrifying place, hauntingly described. Bodies are piled on top of one another, some alive, some dead and all covered in excrement and starving. Each is a woman with a family and a story, fighting for her survival. This sent a chill through me and brought back my visit to a slave dungeon in Zanzibar, which was so tiny you could not imagine how the it was possible that so many people had been held there. This is clearly how.

The coastal Fante side of the family are involved in the slave trade through the generations until abolition, whilst the inland Asante side are frequently at war with the British and the Fantes and Asantes are also often at war with each other. This gives many of the characters in the novel in Ghana impossible choices to make, as they decide whether to live with their inheritance or whether to reject it and start again with nothing. Over in the US, glimpses of freedom usually end in horror for the former slaves of the family fighting for their freedom. The occasional well-meaning white friend cannot prevent the ongoing murders and kidnappings.

By the ninth generation we have reached the present and both descendants of Effia and Essi are in the States, one a recent arrival and one born of generations of slaves in the American south, each striving to learn to live with their pasts and their histories.

This is an incredible book that should be required reading for anyone in Britain and America, to build the understanding of the legacy of slavery and the impact that it still has today.

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