What it’s about: Homegoing is an epic tale of a divided family that begins in 18th century Ghana. Effia is a young woman who marries a British officer, and goes to ‘the castle’ to live with him. Her half-sister (Esi, whom Effia has never met) is kidnapped, marked as a slave, and kept in the crowded dungeons of the castle while being prepared to be shipped across the ocean. Each subsequent chapter is narrated by the next generation of descendants from these two women, switching off between the children, grandchildren, great-great-grandchildren, etc. of Esi and Effia respectively. With this ingenious format, Gyasi is able to cover incredible amounts of Ghanaian, British, and American history in a mosaic of intimate, personal chapters. Settings range from the dope dens of Harlem and the post-slavery mines of Pratt City, Alabama to Ghana’s glittering coasts, and Gyasi paints a breathtaking response to the troubling history of American and British involvement in Ghana.
Why I liked it: Homegoing was amazing on multiple levels. First off, the writing was gorgeous, thoughtful and effortless–meaning that it assuredly took painstaking amounts of effort. What struck me the most about Homegoing was the way that it created such an overarching awareness for the role that colonial history has played in modern-day perceptions of Africa and African Americans. Specifically, I found myself with a deeply changed understanding of how the history of slavery in the United States still plays a formative role in institutional racism. And far from getting swept away in the grandeur of telling 300 years worth of stories, Homegoing‘s format of a single story per generation makes the characters personal and precise. There was sweetness, frustration, love, relief, sorrow, rage, joy, and helplessness. It was brilliant, and deserves to be read by everyone.
Audience: Teen+. This would be an awesome read for thoughtful teenagers looking to expand their understanding of world history, and is equally enjoyable for adults.
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The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead