by Yaa Gyasi
published by Penguin
So when you study history, you must always ask yourself, whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there, you begin to get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture. Yaa Gyasi
Effia and Esi are two sisters who have never met. Beginning in ‘the musky heat of Fanteland’ on the Gold coast of Africa (present day Ghana) both sisters set off on diverging paths, one to slavery, one to marry a slave-owner.
In what is amazingly her debut novel, Yaa Gyasi evokes the horrors of human trafficking initiated by the West, but isn’t afraid to underline the complicity of African people in the slave trade. Her focus is unflinching as she follows the history of each successive branching of the sisters’ family tree, through seven generations, up to the present day. She offers us fourteen interlinked portraits of African and African-American people, struggling against the odds stacked against them, from one generation to the next.
Gyasi makes clear the roots of current power struggles in the African continent, as well as the lasting legacy of racism in contemporary USA. Through vivid characterisation, deft storytelling and convincing settings, this is a history lesson on the iniquities and repercussions of slavery that is more powerful and long-lasting than any history text.
This authoritative novel has stayed with me, and is one that I can’t recommend highly enough. It should be a set text on every A level literature syllabus.
Born in Ghana, Yaa Gyasi moved to the USA as a child and settled with her family in Alabama. She published her debut novel Homegoing at the age of 26 in summer 2016.
A homegoing service is an African-American Christian funeral tradition marking the going home of the deceased to the Lord or to heaven. It is a celebration that has become a vibrant part of African American history and culture. It can be traced back to the arrival of African slaves in America. Early during the slave trade, slaves believed death meant their soul would return home to their native Africa. They were not allowed to congregate to perform any kind of ritual for burying the dead because slave owners were fearful the slaves would conspire to create an uprising during any such gathering. Later, in an effort to control the slave population, slave owners introduced slaves to white Christianity to placate and subdue them. (Wikipedia)