Homegoing: A Novel opens in an African village with Maame, an Asante woman who is captured and enslaved by the neighboring Fante tribe. She escapes by burning her captor’s village to the ground, but not before birthing daughter Esi, whom she leaves behind to grow up as a Fante. Maame returns to her Asante village, where she marries and bears another daughter, Effia.
From here, the novel slips into the structure that it maintains for the duration: Each chapter focuses on only one character, beginning with Effia and Esi and then alternating between their descendants. The reader sees Effia marry the white British governor of Cape Coast Castle who oversees the African slave trade. The following chapter shows Esi captured by this same British operation and enduring the Middle Passage to begin her new life as a slave in America.
The story then jumps to the next generation where Effia’s son, Quey, struggles to reconcile his privileged upbringing and English schooling with life in his mother’s African tribal village, and Esi’s daughter, Ness, suffers as a slave on various plantations in Alabama. The novel continues in this way, bouncing between Effia’s descendants in America and Esi’s descendants in Ghana. By the end of the book, the reader has witnessed 300 years of African-American and Ghanaian history unfold over the span of seven generations.
Each chapter reads as a beautifully written short story, often leaving the reader wishing for more time with the characters before the story jumps to the subsequent generation. The format is incredibly powerful, though, in the way that it exposes cause and effect relationships across generations. Parents’ (and grandparents’ and great grandparents’) circumstances and choices shape the lives of their offspring in profound ways.
The scope of the narrative is ambitious and well executed. Gyasi creates dynamic, richly drawn characters and weaves them into emotionally charged situations. Even though the reader only spends one chapter with each character, their stories are powerful enough to stay with the reader long after moving on to the next generation, making this is a brilliant, sweeping novel that is hard to put down.
Book Review by Maggie Culyba