Review: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

At 26 years old, Yaa Gyasi debuted on the literary scene with one of the most impressive releases of 2016. Homegoing is a multi-generational epic that covers such a large scope in only 300 pages that you’re left wondering how anyone could accomplish this marvelous feat of storytelling so brilliantly and concisely. But Yaa Gyasi did accomplish this feat and was rewarded handsomely for it with a seven figure advance. I’m thrilled to meet Gyasi the writer at this point in her very promising career. You can be certain I will be watching everything she does, as I am already anticipating her next novel!

Homegoing starts in the 18th century with the stories of two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, born into Fante and Asante tribal territory that would eventually become Ghana. Effia is married off to a British officer and leads a life of luxury at the Cape Coast Castle compared to her family and especially her half-sister Esi, whom she doesn’t know exists. Esi is sold into slavery and initially imprisoned in the cells of the very same castle in which Effia lives. Eventually, Esi is shipped off to America and is forced to start a new life in a foreign and hostile environment.

All of this happens in the first two chapters, each devoted to one of the sisters. These chapters merely set the framework for the rest of the sprawling narrative because Homegoing is not their story, nor is it their descendants’ individual stories. Rather, it is an ambitious account of how the legacy of slavery and colonialism can profoundly affect the course of one family’s history.

In every subsequent chapter we meet a descendant of Effia and Esi. We follow them through the generations, through major political and historical events, all the way to the turn of the 21st century. Each descendant gets about 20 pages to tell his or her part of this grand family saga. Initially, I held concerns that such brief sneak peaks into their lives would not allow me to care for and connect with these characters, but those fears were unfounded. Gyasi managed to make me care about every single one of these remarkable people during the short time I got to know them.

Homegoing by Yaa GyasiFor the first few generations, it’s easy as a reader to connect with Effia and Esi’s children and grandchildren (who each get their own chapters), because the link to the sisters is solid and unbreakable. However, as the years, decades, and generations pass, family bonds loosen and eventually become nebulous. For Esi’s descendants in particular, their lives in America are so far removed from Esi’s experiences growing up in her village that their connection to Esi and their homeland is almost nonexistent. To me, this makes a lot of sense because many black Americans do not feel a strong and personal connection to Africa. 

Following Esi’s descendants was especially rewarding because I never read a novel that covers such a large scope and tracks the legacy of slavery so explicitly. Starting with Esi being sold into slavery, we then follow her daughter, Ness, in colonial America, and subsequently her own son Kojo, and so forth with future descendants until we see an ambitious and intricately woven tapestry of  slavery’s legacy. This kind of scope is necessary for all people to comprehend, especially for young people, because often we think that we are so far removed from those times that we forget how the past still influences the present.

Learning about how black men were arrested for practically nothing (this was after slavery ended) in order to be forced to work in coal mines to pay off their unjust sentence was infuriating. Slavery may have ended “officially” in 1865, but black Americans were not wholly free for another century. Homegoing makes this clear in the most honest and brutal way. This message is the one that most resonated with me, but there is so much more to like about Gyasi’s stunning novel. I’ll leave the rest for you to discover. 

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I’m hosting a giveaway because I bought Homegoing the week of release and then was sent another copy by My Lit Box. Oops! I have since learned to buy new releases a month late to avoid any double dipping. Also, please consider subscribing to My Lit Box, you won’t regret it. Support small businesses and writers of color!

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Yaa Gyasi’s signature on an Alfred A. Knopf bookplate


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59 thoughts on “Review: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

  1. This is such a great review! I’m definitely adding this to my TBR even though I might not get around to it until 2017. But I’ve really been wanting to understand the impact that slavery has on people even today, so this is a must-read. Thanks for the great review & thanks for the giveaway!

  2. I missed the backstory of her contract: wow, I bet it’ll be hard to settle into a follow-up work. So much pressure to repeat the magic! This one is solidly on my TBR. I’m glad to hear you felt it was worthwhile.

    1. She’s going to feel so much pressure to write her second book. I hope she doesn’t let it get to her. But I have faith in Gyasi. She’s so young and has much potential to grow and improve an already stellar writing style. I wish her the best!

  3. I’ve commented on your blog (and/or Twitter?) at least once, expressing my excitement over this book, so at the risk of sounding redundant: I’m really excited about Homegoing! 🙂 I’m trying to read more diverse books, and this one sounds amazing.

    Serena | poetree {blog}

  4. I’ve been hearing such great things about this book, and then I (funnily enough) missed the My Lit Box for it by a week. D’oh! It’s currently on my TBRAAOWA list (To Be Read Above All Others When Acquired…. I may need a shorter acronym), which is, sadly, growing longer by the day itself. XD

    1. And you will continue to hear great things about this book because it deserves all the praise!
      Love the acronym, but surely there’s a more concise way to express the same idea.
      We can create as many categories and acronyms as we like, but as book lovers (and book bloggers specifically), we will find ways to make each of them infinitely long. >.<

  5. Great review. I can see that you were really engrossed in the read. I was primarily interested because it was a family saga and reviews compared it to 100 years of solitude which I have loved. Later on I came to know of the topics handled in the novel. I am waiting for the prices to go down a bit to purchase a copy

    1. Homegoing is definitely in my top 5 family saga books of all time!
      Yeah, this book is still very expensive…I paid for it twice! D: But it was worth it and now I am spreading the love. 🙂
      I’m sure there will be a paperback edition next year because it has been very successful already.

  6. Brilliant review as per usual Naz! I had no idea that Yaa Gyasi was only 26 years old! Most 26 year olds I know are still getting acclimated to adult life, not writing a multi generational book that spans the legacy of slavery… I am extremely impressed! I cannot wait to read this book!

    1. I’m still getting acclimated to adult life too. :s Gyasi is such an inspiration to me.
      Also, Pierece Brown is already a millionaire author and he’s still in his twenties!!
      You already have Homegoing, right? I think I saw that you ordered the My Lit Box for it, so yay! Hope you enjoy. 🙂

  7. Ha, you always manage to add to my TBR! I love history, so this is definitely one that I’ll wanna read.

    I didn’t know that black prisoners were forced into mining! I’m from somewhere that had a history, up until the 1840s, of child labour in the pits, as well as it being the employment of most of the local workforce well into the 20th century. It’s central to our history to learn about the horrendous conditions and dangers of mining in the period – which was one of the reasons for the rise of socialism and worker’s rights here; too many coffins, not enough responsibility. To be *forced* into mining and not paid or permitted to try to find another job should they want to????? The only words for that are unrepeatable.

    1. That chapter was infuriating. It reveals that men were imprisoned for looking at white women, allegedly looking at white women, being accused of robbery, and basically any minor infraction. White men were also imprisoned and forced to work in coal mines…but they were arrested for crimes like murder…

      Yes, many black men were forced into mining. It was basically another form of enslavement. It also shortened their lives because imagine working under deplorable conditions breathing that toxic air for 10 years. Sigh.

  8. Great review! I’ve heard so many praises for Gyasi’s book, the most popular being that she covers a lot of time in a few pages because the book isn’t a tome. I look forward to reading it though I know I’ll be uncomfortable while doing so. Reading about slavery always puts me on edge.

  9. This was a great review, thank you so much for sharing this 🙂 I’m always afraid, with so many different characters, that I wouldn’t get attached, or have enough time to actually care about all of their fates, I’m really glad to hear this wasn’t the case here 🙂

  10. This was close to my #1 most excited for in 2016 and through your review I can see that it may in fact be #1. This sounds like a huge literary feat and layered story that will require multiple reads. I look forward to the honesty, the brutality, and I cannot wait to start it myself. Thank you for a great review and leaving me SO EXCITED to pick it up… love the teaser ending… “I’ll leave the rest for you to discover.” 🙂

    1. This book should be on everyone’s TBR! It’s one of the best, most polished debuts I’ve read in a while and to come from someone so young. It’s incredible. I don’t often reread books, but I definitely want to reread this one.

  11. Such an impressive debut. It honestly blows me away that this is Gyasi’s first novel, because it felt so assured, and the writing was so gorgeous. I can’t imagine what she’s going to write as a follow-up to this (I know! It’s so greedy to talk about a follow-up when this one JUST CAME OUT), but I’m going to be very eager to read it.

    1. Hah, I’m anticipating her new book already too. I hope she doesn’t feel crippling pressure for her sophomore effort. I can’t imagine how anxiety-inducing it must be for new authors to work on new projects for the first several years of their career. But she’s so smart and level-headed, so I have faith in her.

  12. I’ve been catching up on blog posts, so I finally got a chance to comment. I bought this book and haven’t yet made time to read it. Your review really makes me want to move it up to the top of then queue. I think it’s so important for people to have a way of experiencing (vicariously) the aftereffects of slavery, to see how slavery’s legacy is still in play today. Some people want to dismiss it – like, how could something that happened so long ago possibly matter in real life today? I hope that some of those people somehow find a way to read this book.

    1. Catching up on blog posts is ALWAYS a thing I’m doing, Laila 🙁 So I understand.
      I’m glad you’ve already bought the book. It’s powerful reading experience. Hope you get to it in the next few weeks!
      You’re right. It’s so important for people to understand that the legacy of slavery lingers even today. I will be sure to recommend push this book unto anyone who thinks slavery’s legacy is irrelevant in the modern world.

  13. S glad to hear you loved it, Naz! But, then again, who wouldn’t?! 😉
    That part about the men being arrested for nothing struck a chord with me, too. It *was* infuriating!! I wasn’t surprised by it, but it’s still so hard to read about. Unfortunately, it still happens… But that’s too depressing.

    1. That was one of my favorite chapters because it just reminded me that even today, black men are still being imprisoned at far higher rates than any other group. You’re right, it’s so depressing to think about but we can’t ignore it’s not happening.

  14. Wonderful review, Naz! I so want to read this book, but am still torn between waiting for the paperback and listening to the audio. I know I’ll want my own copy of this one! Since I’m now older than the author I’m even more impressed she write something like this at such an age! And being a concise writer, that is very high praise in my mind, so few writers can really pull it off! Hope she’ll write more, though it must be hard to live up to this one.
    Also, hope the slavery-> forced labor development shown in the book will help some readers connect this method of forcing Black people while things are illegal/outlawed (e.g. slavery, discriminatory pracitices) with today’s ongoing violence! It still horrifies me that so many people do not understand this.

    1. The chapter that had the man who was forced into labor after being imprisoned for nothing SHOULD resonate as relevant to anyone has been paying attention to social issues the last few years. The parallel is quite clear, at least for me…I’m afraid the kind of person who would benefit most from learning this is not likely to be interested in the book.

      You should wait for the paperpaback or get the audiobook when it’s discounted. It’s narrated by Dominic Hoffman. I don’t know who he is because I don’t keep up with narrators and voice actors, but I’m sure he does a great job.

  15. Great review as always Naz! Your review makes it clear why this book is such an important read and why everyone has been raving about it! You are so right in saying that history is not something that is gone and done with. It does affect us each and every day. Injustice takes on new forms with every generation 🙁

  16. Why do I want to read this book? Ahhhh. Because it sounds amazing and I always appreciate literature that makes me think about spaces within and without us and the world and its peoples in different ways.

  17. I read mine in September and just blogged about it today! I’m glad you love the book too. It’s a mind blowing debut! I’m in awe of Gyasi! I need to go check out My Lit Box lol.

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