Homegoing, a novel

Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi, Reviewed by Ali Abdullah

Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi, A Review,
by Ali Abdallah, Coordinator, Student Technology Mentors Program

The most recent undertaking by the CTL’s Coordinators’ Reading Collective, in Fall I and II 2022, was Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi’s breathtaking debut novel about the atrocities of enslavement and colonization as experienced by half-sisters, Effia and Esi, and three generations of their descendants that span Africa’s Gold Coast, the Middle Passage, and the New World’s plantations and cities. Without consent, Effia is given in marriage to a colonizer and Esi is raped by a colonizer; their stories, told chronologically in alternating chapters set in Ghana, the South, Harlem, and California, confront the reader with the horrors of history and the consequences of enslavement. In fact, so fast-paced is the novel that one is tempted to read all the odd chapters together, then all the even chapters, just to keep track of the characters’ relationships and afflictions on the African and American sides of the Atlantic. In this way, Gyasi’s Homegoing charts the deepest misery of the human heart and the hope for reconciliation, the word “homegoing” itself referring to an African-American belief that, after death, the spirit of the enslaved will travel back to Africa.

Homegoing begins with wars raging between the Ashante and Fante tribes, both of which supplied British colonizers with the enslaved labor that ensured the expansion of production during the Industrial Revolution. Eventually, these relations brought colonization to the entire continent. Gyasi symbolizes colonization and slavery as a fire traumatizing generations of Africans stripped of their culture, language, and traditions. To tell the story of this suffering, Gyasi employs additional symbols, one of which is the black stone given by their mother to Effia and Esi. Passed down through seven devastated generations, the stones embody enslavement, loss of heritage, and familial connection to the motherland. At the end of the novel, the black stone reflects the kinship between Marjorie and Marcus, African-American descendants of Effia and Esi, and students who meet at Stanford. Together they travel to Ghana, a homegoing that offers hope for reconciliation with their histories and reclamation of stolen identities.

What I liked about Homegoing was Gyasi’s engrossing style of writing; in addition to being reminded of the painful, outrageous reality of enslavement, I learned many historical facts about the Gold Coast and American plantations. Enslaved human beings were treated like mechanical elements in the industrial machine, given the minimum amount of human care just to keep them productive. Like fuel: you keep it clean, so it doesn’t clog the machine. Has this concept changed very much? To answer this question, we should read novels like Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing.