Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi, author; Dominic Hoffman, narrator

homegoingAcross countries and centuries, land and sea, time and distance, families were separated and torn asunder by the slave trade. Yaa Gyasi takes the reader through the history of black life from the 1700’s until the present time, employing vignettes about each character throughout the book in order to convey their stories, rather than by writing an in-depth narrative about the black plight, in general.
Concentrating on the arc of the lives of two half-sisters born in Africa, Effia and Esi, two branches of a family tree that traveled totally opposite paths, she continues their story for about three centuries, beginning with the English/African slave trade in Ghana and ultimately ending up back in Africa in the present time, with the two character’s ancestors connecting to each other’s past through the stones that had been given, one to each half-sister by their common mother, centuries before. Only Effia’s stone had survived through all the years, while the other was lost after being buried in the ground of the slave quarters which were under the feet of Effia, in the castle where she lived quite well, married to an Englishman, even though she was known as his wench. Unbeknownst to her, her unknown half-sister Esi, now a captured slave, was in the castle dungeon where she had buried her own stone for safe keeping and was unable to retrieve it before being forcibly carried away.
One sister had been traumatized by the fire set by her mother the night she had run away and abandoned her after her birth, and the other, who was born later, was traumatized by the water her mother had crossed when imprisoned on a slave ship that ultimately carried her to a life of captivity and hardship in America. Both fears, birthed early in the history of the family, are happily erased in the future when the story journeys full circle, with the two characters rejoicing in Ghana, without really knowing they are joined by a common heritage, but the trading of the stone, when passed from Marjorie to Marcus, is the symbol that unites them.
The narrative is almost hypnotic, holding the reader so fast that the desire is to read straight through without stopping. Unable to even take notes for fear of losing the thread, I kept on listening to a marvelous narrator who captured the import and tone of the story and the attributes of the characters flawlessly. From slavery to quasi freedom and ultimately an imperfect equality, the many characters traveled from continent to continent, from Africa to America and back again, from slavery to freedom, from villages to cities, from community to anonymity, from character to character and ancestor to ancestor, from infamy in some cases to glory in others, as the novel marched on impersonating reality so well that it was hard to remember that it was fiction, it was so close to the actual experience in its telling.
This book is destined to be used in schools to instruct students about the horror and hardship suffered by a people captured and used because they were perceived by others to be less than they themselves were worth. It will point out the shared guilt and shame. It was not just the color of the skin that was an issue, since they were preyed upon by those in opposing tribes and of varying shades and colors who sold them to the white man like chattel, kidnapped and abused them for personal gain, but was also because they had a value in trade, as merchandise. They were viewed not as humans but as product.
From their primitive lifestyle in mud huts, in some cases, most were described as gentle and happy, apart and aside from their personal domestic problems caused by some of their more ancient customs, i.e., multiple wives, few rights for women and a lack of any advanced technology. However, women were ultimately thrust either into marriages not of their own choosing, becoming paramours of white men and kept as property, even if loved, or else transported to slave havens where they were used like animals, beaten and tortured in some cases, along with men. Even when treated decently, still they were slaves unable to leave or better themselves, unable to educate themselves, unable to progress in a world that held them down. Does it matter that they would not have learned to read in Africa in their huts, in most cases, does it matter that they were happier there with far less creature comforts, does it matter that they were treated like possessions that had no feelings or minds, like inanimate objects, yes, it does matter.
Beginning with “crazy woman” who birthed both Efia and Esia in Ghana and ending ultimately with the legend of the now called “old woman”, and Marcus and Marjorie, the descendants who returned to Cape Coast, Ghana, this is a must read.
The lifestyle of the characters is explored from slavery to the civil rights movement, from Cape Coast to Harlem, captivity to liberty, from innocence to worldliness, from gentleness to violence, from exploitation to development, illiteracy to scholarship, morality to criminality, from jazz to drugs, the life of the black individual is outlined and explored, completely expressing the nature of their experience and the reasons for their anger, hostility, resentment and difficulty in attaining success. Preyed upon by external and internal forces, the author believes the responsibility for the failures and successes must be shared and not placed only on the shoulders of the white man. The book feels like it ends on an upward note of hopefulness for future success and accomplishment, joy and love, back in Africa where it all began and back in America where they may well return.
The number and nature of the characters will be confusing without the genealogical tree printed in the book. It would have been better had years been added to it so the arc of time could have been followed with the arc of life. I was often confused by the place and time and only the narrator’s voice and accent clarified it for me so that I could isolate a particular family and character thread. In the print copy, it might be easier to follow.
Although I listened to the audio, I immediately went out and bought a print copy to reconfirm some parts of the story and to have one to keep! It is a book I wish to have in my personal library as well as the public library.

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About omasvoice

Who am I? I am you. I am everyone out there who loves to read and discuss and voice an opinion!
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