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Book Reviews With Oumissa 12: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Generational stories take more time and dedication. It is harder to tie together and make the dates, historical events and flow add up. When an author achieves this, the time spent is worth it because you don’t have to be doing the mental gymnastics.

Two sisters start life out on vastly different paths. One gets married to a slavemaster, the other is captured.And in this way, two genealogical lines are formed. This heartrending account follows the lives of their descendants across different eras and locations, tracking their journey. Each lifetime had a tumultuous event that drastically redirected their path in life in a major way.

No one forgets that they were once captive, even if they are now free. But still, Yaw, you have to let yourself be free.

They all remain connected not just by blood but by an indecipherable spiritual bond. So powerful is it that centuries after the forerunners , their descendants meet in a most unexpected of places.

The work of historical fiction begins in the Gold Coast when the intraAfrican and then transatlantic slave trades were in full swing. As it unfolds, positions change, fortunes dwindle, and expectations get shattered into splinters.

The branch that remains at home experience abolition, colonialism, a budding democracy and then migration to America. The other lives through the horrors of the dreaded voyage across the Atlantic, slavery and the variety of indignities people of colour faced.

Yaa adeptly describes the ugly moments and how slaves fought to hold on to the few moments of normalcy and happiness in all that bleakness. Abolition, the harsh conditions of the coal mines, racism, economic disenfranchisement give way to the drug era and finally an educated generation that is do close to getting equal rights as whites.

Through it all, we see love in its purest form survive the most arduous circumstances. Aku is that member of the family that’s the link between the past and the future. She binds everyone together and feels the experiences of the lost relatives she has never met. She has gripping visions of the dark past, holds tight to her customs and beliefs, lives to see the Gold Coast become Ghana and is so attached to Marjorie, her granddaughter helping her to recognize her past.

In America, the worst thing you could be was a black man. Worse than dead, you were a dead man walking.

There is a pervading sense of the supernatural throughout the book and many passages will raise the hair at the back of your neck. It is also beautiful to see how each character tries to pass down the family history to the next generation.

It was a gripping and fast-paced read.so graphic were the descriptions that you could feel how tight the slave decks were in the ship, could feel the claustrophobia in H’s coal mine, feel the self hatred Richard had towards his wife and child and feel that electric spark when Marjorie falls in love with her many times removed cousin. It is a splendid work in narration, vivid in its capturing. While the continuity isn’t great as one person’s story often ends abruptly leaving you wondering what happened to them, it is in all, a brilliant work that paints so well what black people still experience today.