by Yaa Gyasi

Reviewed by Margaret Tomlinson

Homegoing traces two branches of a fictional family lineage from the 1770s to the present. Like many another "family saga," it's full of tragedies that plant the seeds of further heartbreak for the generations that follow. Unlike the typical saga, broken links in the generational chains cause family members to permanently lose track of each other, so later generations cannot connect their legacy of psychological pain to specific events in their family's past. For this is the story of an African family blighted by the slave trade and its disruption of generational continuity.

Effia is the daughter of a Fante tribesman and a mother who disappears during a fire. Esi is the daughter of an Asante tribesman and his third wife. The girls are half-sisters, though neither knows the other exists. The warring Fante and Asante tribes attack each other and make slaves of their captives. Here is the original sin, amplified by the even more brutal process of selling captives to the British for the American slave trade. One girl becomes the wife of a British slave trader. The other is taken to the "Castle" on the Cape Coast, where she is loaded onto a ship as human cargo.

Chapters alternate between Ghana and America and down the generations. Deft, emotionally compelling portraits of sympathetic characters pull readers into their stories. Each life contains a tragedy leaving enough unresolved to drive the story forward. Over time, raw physical brutalities evolve into wrenching social and economic pressures. The fictional characters move within authentic historical periods, without artificially forced connections to real historical people, maintaining a close emotional bond between reader and story. The novel's greatest flaw is an ending that, while reaching for reconciliation and redemption, falls far short of the rest of the story's power. If the ending disappoints, though, the novel as a whole has a strength that easily rises above its weak conclusion. Readers will find themselves thinking about Homegoing long after they turn the last page. (2016, 300 pages)

More about Homegoing at Powell's Books or The Book Depository

Other novels about slavery:

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (2016), about a runaway slave's travels north on a route literally imagined as a railroad existing underground. See review or more info at Powell's Books

Middle Passage by Charles Johnson (1990), about a freed slave who becomes a member of the crew on a slave ship. See review or more info at Powell's Books

Ama by Manu Herbstein (2001), about a young African woman forced into slavery in Ghana in the late eighteenth century and her travels through Africa to her ultimate fate on a Brazil sugar plantation. More info

Nonfiction about the slave trade:

The Door of No Return: The History of Cape Coast Castle and the Atlantic Slave Trade by William St. Clair (2007). More info

Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route by Saidiya Hartman (2007). More info

Daughters of the Trade: Atlantic Slavers and Interracial Marriage on the Gold Coast by Pernille Ipsen (2015). More info


Ghana's Slave Castles at the Culture Trip website.

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