Young author retraces painful legacy of slavery in debut novel

Dizzyingly surreal are the words that come to mind while reading Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, and even then, they are inadequate in doing justice to this captivating tale.

The book is set in pre-colonial Ghana where conflicts were rife among the tribes, and the captured, sold as slaves to the Dutch, British and Americans by collaborators seeking to get rich.

Homegoing tells the story of two sisters who did not meet but knew of each other’s existence, bonded by blood, each with a neckpiece of stone and gold, the only family heirloom passed along the six generations spread across Ghana and the United States of America.

The fissures that characterised their relationships with those around them taste like salt water on a wound.

Ms Gyasi tells the individual stories, like drops of water in an ocean, merging into a comprehensive multigenerational context of life, love, hope, loss, race, slavery, guilt and superstition in the 305 pages.

Grew up in America

Originally from Ghana, born to immigrant parents, a professor father and nurse mother, Ms Gyasi, 26, grew up in America. You can feel the impact of the merging of the two worlds in her young soul.

She eases seamlessly between life in the cotton belt of America and that of Africans in their homeland, the small dungeons that held the slaves before walking through the gate of no return to ships where a man’s life was worth nothing, and sometimes left to litter the ocean’s floor with their bones (perhaps the reason why blacks do not love to swim), to the harsh life that awaited them where the next patch of land began.

Homegoing considers the morality of slave trade and its impact on those who sold fellow Africans for an extra coin.

Effia is a child of rape. She ends up married to a British man who trades in humans. All the while, her sister Esi is in the dungeon beneath the church she is married in, to a man she barely knows, in a language she does not understand.

Effia’s son Quey embodies the conflict of those two worlds, unable to carry on with slave trade and unsure of how to deal with the privilege it has afforded him, he leaves it all behind to live as a subsistence farmer in a small village.

The book is not about putting down blacks who worked with whites in the slave trade, nor is it about glorifying historical injustices. The entire chapters devoted to individual characters shape the narrative of different histories of our world, a reflection of sorts.

From slavery and colonialism of Africa to jazz and junkies of America, Homegoing is a book transcending seasons and worth having in your collection.