Ghana: A Family Saga Split into Two

The sad thing about African literature and me is, that if I understand it the author has lived or is living in a Western country, otherwise the books are extremely traditional, and with a mixture of fantasy, beliefs, religion, which makes them hard for me to follow at times. This is why I found Yaa Guyasi’s Homegoing to be a refreshing piece of literature. Guyasi is not a well-known artist or athlete, but an ordinary woman who happen to be born in Ghana, and later on moved to the States.

Half-sisters Effia and Esi are leading quite different lives in eighteenth century Ghana. Effia is married to an Englishman, and lives comfortably in a castle. Esi finds herself imprisoned underneath the castle, and is shipped off to slavery in the USA. One half of the book follows Effia’s and her offspring’s lives in war thorn Ghana, and the other half follows Esi’s and her offspring’s lives in the U.S., from life on the plantations in the deep South to modern day New York.

The book is written in an interesting way, a bit differently from the traditional family saga, because it is not jumping between different characters, nor is it a book of hundreds of pages from one person’s point of view, but it goes through life stories quite quickly, staring from Effia and Esi – who never knew each other, by the way – and then six generations of both of their descendants, all telling their own story for one chapter. A lot of life, misfortune, and changes happen during the 250 years in the book.

The idea is great, and I would like to read more books like this, but for me it was a bit too ambitious to try to get everything into just 300 pages. Guyasi is a gifted writer for sure, but I did not find this book to be as fantastic as some people find it. The book did not give me the chance to grow with the story and the characters, because it lacked the continuity and closeness to the characters, since they all only got a short chapter. Maybe I would have felt different if the book was 600 pages long.

I definitely needed a bit more from every character. The chapters also left me with the feeling I wanted to get some sort of an ending or explanation right then and there. Not that it’s directly related to this book, but I have found myself unsatisfied with some types of literature lately, the books that leave so much unsaid. Sometimes when I afterwards read about what actually happened in the book, I have often wondered if I’ve read the same book. It is however true when it’s said that no two people ever read the same book, but still… What would happen if all murder mysteries ended up without revealing whodunit and whydunnit? A lot of so called classics belong to this category. In most cases I do not believe things were supposed to be left to the reader’s imagination.

Homecoming is definitely a book worth reading, especially for people who avoid massive family sagas, because this is a fast and easy read. The characters are well-developed even though they all have been given a short time slot. The book has however not, in my opinion, earned all the hype and praise. I have read many books about the subject of slavery, so maybe I simply expect more nowadays.


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