I have a lot of feelings about Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing.
I have a lot of words for it too, but none of them seem to completely encompass how I feel about it. Beautiful and poetic, unflinching and cruel, real and magical are all phrases which can be used to describe Homegoing, but the truth of this novel is that it’s bigger than that.
Focusing in on small vignettes about the lives of an extended family, Homegoing reads like a collection of short stories, both able to stand on their own and to be woven into the tapestry of the lives that came before whichever story you may be reading at the time. It gets to the heart of a life, able to capture the essence of a person and distill it into a shorter story. Homegoing is a novel that takes an long, hard look at slavery and the ways that both sides helped to prolong the practice. It juxtaposes more than the lives of people in different countries, but also the multitudes of ways a person can be enslaved from the literal to the metaphorical.
Not since reading One Hundred Years of Solitude have I been simultaneously entranced and repulsed by a novel quite like this. There is a beauty inherent in every chapter, whether it’s from the small ways that a slave can take their future into their own hands or peace a woman finally achieves when she gives in to the fire spirit of her dreams. Hand in hand with the beauty comes the ugliness both of the world and the things that we, as humans, do to one another. Gyasi doesn’t shy away from either.
Beyond that, Homegoing deals with a culture and a struggle that is not mine, one that is glossed over in history textbooks or used to glorify our own moral stances by showing how people helped the escaped slaves or fought wars to free them. While I empathized with the characters in Homegoing, I caught myself feeling guilty about the part that I may have played in them if I stepped onto the pages. I could hope that I would be kind, that I wouldn’t be swayed by the societal feelings of the day, but there’s no guarantee of that.
And as much as it’s important for me and people like me to evaluate and reflect how we treat minorities and, perhaps more importantly, how society treats minorities, to focus in on my thoughts and feelings may be missing the point.
Homegoing isn’t my story and it’s not mine to alter or add to. Homegoing is a novel that should be required reading because it doesn’t shy away from aspects of life that we find distasteful or pretty them up. It’s not my story, but it doesn’t have to be and perhaps the reason I’m struggling with this review is that my opinion on it holds no weight. As a novel, Homegoing is both divorced from modern day racism by the passage of time and also intrinsically tied to it.
It takes historical truths that had become nothing more than stories or talking points and breathes new life into them through its characters and prose.
So read Homegoing>. Enjoy it. Despair with the characters in it.
And if you’re at all like me, take a good hard look at yourself when you put Homegoing down and think about not just what happened in the past, but what you can do to be more than just a good person, but a good ally.