In the 1700s, two half-sisters, unknown to each other, are born in the west coast of Africa, in what is now Ghana. The first Effia, is given to marriage to the British colonist governor of Cape Coast Castle, one of the slave castles built on the Gold Coast of West Africa. She lives in luxury while in the dungeons of the castle, in a dark room packed with more than a thousand slaves and littered with human waste, her half-sister Esi, who was sold into slavery by a rival African tribe waits, starved, beaten and raped, to be stacked on a ship that would transfer her to the Southern States of America.
By following the two lines of the family, Yaa Gyasi explores how slavery is hunting each generation across continents and across time. Each subsequent chapter of the Homegoing is told from the point of view of their descendants, for seven generations, switching from the African side to the American side of the family unfolding down to the family tree to the present day.
One of the tragedies of the slavery trade is that it cut off the connection with their home countries and families. The history of many African American became unrestorable, they cannot trace back their history, they don’t know the country they are coming from, they lost their routes. Yaa Gyasi plays with feelings and sensations, and several other things, such as the fire, the water and the castle, in order to make her characters connected or rather hunted by traumatic experiences that happened in the past. Feelings and sensations seem to be imprinted in each character as we move along time.
Homegoing is a huge undertaking of a book with significant challenges to overcome. Characters come and pass never to appear again, each chapter starts with a different character in a different place and a different timeframe. It is an interesting and unusual structure; it holds so much time in such a little space. But despite the multi-perceptiveness of the story, it is beautiful and light, and it manages to arrest the reader’s attention as it reads as a continuous narrative.
There is a lot of cruelty and violence in the story but Yaa Gyasi has done an amazing job in managing it by making it feel as real as possible without distancing the reader. Homegoing is rough and intense, deeply political and emotional.