I love a sweeping family saga. I love a novelized depiction of history and seeing how one generation shapes the next. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is probably one of my favorites. It tells the story of two half sisters Ghana in the 18th Century. Effia is married to a wealthy white slave trader and Esi and captured and imprisoned in the same castle in which her sister lives (unbeknownst to both of them) and sold across the Atlantic into slavery. Effia’s family lives with the effects of colonization and internal warfare and Esi family survives slavery, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement. Homegoing feels much longer than it is, not because it is dull or tedious but because the subject matter is vast and sweeping.
What makes Homegoing different from many Eurocentric family sagas is that many of the descendants know little to nothing of the generation before them. This is not the often lamented “generation gap” but the nature of American chattel slavery which cruelly separated parents from children before the latter could even form concrete memories. Still we feel the weight of those that came before on their children and grandchildren. Even those that do know their parents don’t understand them.
It is impossible to write an authentic narrative of slavery and warfare and not include trauma. It is a necessary part of the story. But in later chapters we see that is is possible to heal and even grow stronger. Homegoing is long overdue addition to the American family saga.