Overall rating: 4.5/5
Homegoing was recommended to me by a friend when I shared with her my love for Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko, one of my favorite books from earlier this year. It has remained on my TBR list for months, but the critical acclaim that follows Yaa Gyasi’s stellar debut novel made me worry that it would fall short of my perhaps unfairly high expectations. Spoiler alert: it did not. Homegoing follows two half-sisters in Ghana who embark on significantly different paths, the consequences of which are felt in a ripple effect across the multiple generations that follow. Yaa Gyasi paints an epic-style narrative that is profoundly aware of the intersection of class and race and the systemic structures that enable oppression within well-researched historical contexts, weaving together a tale of family, loss, and trauma that reads as a love story to history itself.
This book is reminiscent of a montage; each chapter is devoted to a different generation of the family, alternating between the parallel lineages of the sisters with whom we begin the journey. Given this structure, readers rarely get to delve into the complete stories of any character, instead receiving snapshots into specific moments that fundamentally shape their lives. Despite the narrow insight into each arc, Gyasi’s characters are just as well-developed as their plot lines, many of which explore various nuanced aspects around colonialism, slavery, the prison industrial complex, and other forms of systemic structures that have shackled Black lives. Beyond Gyasi’s meticulous research that allowed for such expansive, detailed storytelling, this structure also offers a unique insight into how the past molds the present, with the repercussions of the actions of an individual felt so acutely within the life of a descendent. History is a character in and of itself in this story, with its fickle and dynamic nature as the core driving force connecting these stories over time. Perhaps most simply stated, Gyasi effectively explores the concept of intergenerational trauma in how familial pain is transferred due to fundamental shifts in perception of oppression and its consequences, perspectives that become deep-rooted within one’s identity and transcend time.
I would recommend Homegoing to anyone interested in historical fiction – if you read and loved books like Pachinko or The Vanishing Half, then this book is definitely a must-read. While I will be on the lookout for lighter reads to round out this year, I already have Transcendent Kingdom lined up on my kindle for early 2021. Have you read either Homegoing or Transcendent Kingdom? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!