Homegoing , a Novel by Yaa Gyasi
Vintage; Reprint edition (May 2, 2017)
As we were making the arrangements here at ELI for a university group going to Ghana, the director of their program mentioned this book to me. It was required reading for the students. Given the very positive reviews that I found online, I decided to take the plunge. I was coming at it from the point of view of someone interested in Ghana, but it could equally be read for its depiction of the forced emigration of Africans from their homeland to the United States, and the resulting issues that continue to this day.
The novel starts in 18th century Ghana. It is a collection of stories covering the descendants of one women, Maame, giving the novel a matrilinear origin. Each story confines itself to a pivotal moment in the life of a character. We see the importance of those moments through each succeeding story, though in most cases many years have passed. All the early stories take place in Ghana, but then, when one character is sold into slavery and ends up in the States, the stories alternate between the two countries.
Here on our website, I try to stick to the elements that relate to travel. So just let me say that as a book, it weaves an intricate web that keeps the reader interested in spite of the 3 centuries on two continents that it covers in just 300 pages. Don't demand closure if you choose to read the book. There are many stories that you will be sad to leave as you move on to the next generation.
As for the novel's interest to us as travelers, almost everyone who has travelled to Ghana or has planned a trip there must surely have heard of Cape Coast, the British fort/prison where slaves were kept while awaiting boats for the journey to America. The image of it haunts the novel, even in the final, current day stories, but only a few stories actually take place there. It is a must if you travel to Ghana. You'll find a lot of photos of it if you do an image search.
The book makes a point of not only blaming the British slave traders or the Americans for the atrocities of slavery. The truth is not so simple. Slavery existed before the arrival of the British, and continued after their departure (Modern Day Slavery). Slaves were a spoil of war in tribal skirmishes. The novel shows this in several key scenes. The author also goes into some of the major tribes, their relationship to the British and the differing roles they played in the slave trade. We get a glimpse of the cultural complexity of Ghana and of Africa in general. Although this is a limited portrait of the rich history of Ghana, it serves as an introduction, and will give you a leg up when you land there. A little familiarity goes a long way!
The author, Yaa Gyasi, was born in Ghana and immigrated to Huntsville, Alabama with her parents when she was young, a story paralleled by Marjorie, a character in the final chapters of the book. It’s not surprising that this is also where the author seems most comfortable and the storytelling most natural.
Join us in Ghana!