August 5, 2016
“What I know now, my son: Evil begets evil. It grows. It transmutes, so that sometimes you cannot see that the evil in the world began as the evil in your own home.”
4 1/2 stars. Homegoing is an incredible and horrific look at history, colonialism and slavery in Ghana and America, across 250 years. How the author managed to create such rich characters, cover so much history, and tell such a complex, but compelling story in only 300 pages, I do not know.
I recently said in my review of East of Eden that I love family sagas. Those epic tales spanning generations and pulling you into the lives of so many interesting characters... yeah, they are some of my favourite kind of stories. Spending so long with the same family, watching them grow through the years and seeing their children face their own problems - it just feels so personal. I feel like I've grown with them.
This book, however, is possibly the most ambitious family saga I have ever read. Most books like this feature three generations. Homegoing follows seven generations, fourteen perspectives in total. It all begins with two half sisters - Effia and Esi - who will never know each other. One's experiences lead her and her family to slavery in America, the other's family find themselves mostly in Ghana.
Each chapter is from the perspective of a new character; first Effia and Essi, and then six of their descendants, as the story tracks the cultural changes in both Ghana and America - through colonialism, racism, and attitudes to slavery. Through the characters, we experience life during the tribal wars of the 1700s, the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade, the ways in which prominent leaders in Ghana aided British and American slavers, the fear created by the Fugitive Slave Act, and much more.
I can't quite reconcile the knowledge that I've read only 300 pages with the amount of history and rich characterization I've just experienced. Considering that I usually grumble when a book has more than two perspectives, it's quite something that none of these fourteen perspectives felt lacking. Gyasi is just a great storyteller; she takes important subjects like slavery and colonialism, and peppers them with perfect little conversations and insights into human nature.
“All people on the black continent must give up their heathenism and turn to God. Be thankful that the British are here to show you how to live a good and moral life.”
Also, the British really sucked back then. Thank god we got over that, pulled our heads out of our arses, and started embracing other cultures.
As is to be expected, there's a lot to be disgusted about in this book. True to history, it is full of blood, whippings, racist language, British superiority and other scenes that will turn your stomach. However, Gyasi handles it with sensitivity for her subject, ensuring that the violence is a honest portrayal of history, not gratuitous.
A gritty, detailed story about the long-standing effects of the colonization of Africa and the slave trade. A real accomplishment to cover so much history in so few pages without feeling rushed.
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