“The family is like the forest: if you are outside it is dense; if you are inside you see that each tree has its own position.”
With the aforementioned Akan proverb, Yaa Gyasi welcomes the readers to her novel, “Homegoing”, where dark history unravels itself, reminding the readers of the slave trade that has carved its marks on history's shoulders.
The story begins with a scene of fire raging through a forest in an eighteenth century Ghana, which is a total fate changer for one of the many characters, Effia. She and her half-sister Esi, are born into different families. Divided by the forces of circumstance, while Effia is married off to a slave trader Englishman, living in the historic Cape Coast Castle, Esi is imprisoned beneath the castle, known for slave transits. The story sinks its tentacles deep into the seven generations that Effia and Esi's circumstances have spun across three continents. The novel reaches the finish line as the family tree comes to life throughout the time span of 300 years of Ghanaian and American history, and each chapter sprawls with a new protagonist and circumstances. Every chapter seems like a short story unfolding the progressions from the perspectives of a diverse set of characters, and it was traceable as to how the characters were related to their ancestors.
While there were Englishmen who didn't respect the African civilians owing to the deeply sunk hierarchy, there was also an equality favouring character Quey, who was half English and half African. Despite hailing from a royal English class, unlike his father, he stood out from the rest. And that's where we see a little streak of positivity in a time when taboos and hierarchies had societies under their clutches. This is an important contrast to the elite mindsets that the author was able to set.
She was further able to effectively pen down the brutal accounts of sexual assaults, abductions, tortures, and killings. As ruthless as the incidents are, they only help the readers get a clearer look into the then decayed conditions of people. Stories of hardship and happiness together flow through the book as the readers are taken from the tropical villages and hideous white castle of West Africa to the slave ships in Europe to the sweltering coal mines and cotton harvesting gardens in America.
Considering this was the author's debut work, this novel has delivered more than I had expected, and it is an amalgamation of so many historic events and teachings that are still applicable to this century. Her writing emphasises on how history, time, and various instances shape us all. Through the eyes of every character clawed by the aftermath of slave trade, lust for power, and taboos, Yaa Gyasi becomes successful in stitching the fact that racism is mostly rooted in tribalism and greed.
With the various narratives being the winding branches of a tree and the forces of slave trading history being its roots, Homegoing is a literary gift worth digging into.