Thursday, October 27, 2016

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

This book got a lot of hype, and while I enjoyed it, I didn't like it as much as many of its reviewers.  The premise was interesting - the story followed 7 or 8 generations in two branches of an African family (originating on the Gold Coast in what is present day Ghana).  Two half sisters had vastly different lives - one, Effia, started out with an unhappy relationship with her mother, only to discover the woman she thought was her mother was not.  In fact, her father had a relationship with a housemaid who started a fire in their home on the day of Effia's birth abandoning her in the care of her father and step mother; leaving only a stone necklace.  The second, Esi, is later born to Effia's mother with her husband and has a very happy childhood.

The girls' paths then take very different turns.  Effia is married off to the British governor at the time and lives life in a castle.  Esi is stolen from her home and sold into slavery; passing through the castle's dungeon on her way to America.

Subsequent chapters alternate in telling the stories of Effia and Esi's descendants.  Effia's descendants live in Africa for the most part where they live through the impacts of tribal warfare, colonization and ultimately revolution and independence.  It is only her great, great, great grandson who eventually emigrates to America; of course as a free man.  Esi's descendants live in slavery, escape from slavery only to be imprisoned in the south (it seems for the "crime" of being black), and then live in poverty in Harlem.  It is only the last generation who escapes the cycle of poverty with a university education.  Of course the final generations ultimately meet up without knowing the connections (which was very predictable so I'm not giving anything away).

There were a couple of problems I had with the book.  First, to me it read more like a collection of interconnected short stories.  I would have liked to see better development of the relationships between the different generations.  And while I understood why the author alternated chapters between the two different branches of the family in order to tell both stories chronologically, I found myself often forgetting what happened in the previous generation by the time I got to the next instalment on that branch.  I had to rely heavily on the family tree at the front of the book, but even that left me with questions that could only be answered by rereading.  The chapters somehow needed to better tie in the previous ones.  Also, I couldn't help but feel this type of story had been done before, for example in The Book of Negroes.  While the author clearly did a lot of research and had an interesting premise, it just didn't feel that original to me.

All in all, I'm not sorry I read the book, but I was a bit disappointed after the hype it received.

No comments:

Post a Comment