Book Review – Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Review by Julie Peake. Her rating – 7.

This epic historical fiction scans nearly three hundred years of history moving from the Gold Coast in Ghana to the American South and spanning eight generations.

It follows the lives of Maame’s two daughters and their descendants. One daughter, Effia marries a white slave trader and the other, Efi, is sold into slavery. Hence their descendants have vastly different lives.

Each generation is affected and shaped by historical forces of the time.

The story swings from one continent to the other and each chapter depicts a new time, new place and new people with very little overlap or reference to previous chapters. Somehow I felt that I was just getting to know a character when I was suddenly thrown forward across the world to a new generation.

My biggest criticism was this lack of flow. Fortunately my daughter recommended that I copied the family tree at the beginning of the book to refer to at the start of each chapter and this certainly saved me having to keep referring back.

This is basically a series of love stories between mothers and daughters, fathers and sons and lovers but is also a tragedy of the effects of war and particularly the terrible slave trade and its continuing effect for generations that followed.

It was eye-opening to read of the involvement of the British with the African tribes in the 18th  century and the brutal disregard that they had for their captives and the greed of some tribal elders and the cotton growers of Mississippi also.

Overall I enjoyed reading this book and I feel that I have more understanding of the sentiments of the American Negros that still exists today.

This book was a mammoth task for a first novel and Yaa Gyasi did an amazing job.

Review by Steve Reilly. His rating – 4.

Most books have, on the opening page, a quote or a line from a poem and I must confess to reading these with a fair degree of disinterest. However, this time, the opening Akan Proverb made me sit up and take notice. I read it three times.

The family is like the forest; if you are outside it is dense; if you are inside you see that each tree has its own position.  Akan Proverb

Then the opening paragraph of the book was my first tag:

The night Effia Otcher was born …  Excellent writing.

However, the proverb came back to haunt me. I was on the outside and it was dense. I think there are too many characters in this book and even with the aid of the family tree at the beginning I lost track of who was who and when they lived. The book was more like a genealogy report. I was pleased to get to the end of it. Okay, sentence by sentence it was well written but it just didn’t seem to arrive anywhere meaningful, anywhere satisfying to the reader.

And, here we are reading yet another horrific and miserable litany of man’s inhumanity to man. After the misery of “A Fine Balance” I was hoping for something more like “Major Pettigrew” or “Mr Rosenblum’s List”.