Book Review

Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi

“When someone does wrong… it is like a fisherman casting a net into water. He keeps only the one or two fish that he needs to feed himself and puts the rest in the water, thinking that their lives will go back to normal. No one forgets that they were once captive, even if they are free now.” (pg. 242)

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Guilt does strange things to a person. From my upbringing in the South to the Black Lives Matter movement, I’ve heard so much deflection. Bring up the phrase ‘systematic racism’ to a white American and you’ll hear a variety of opinions, most of them being excuses.

Here’s some gems I’ve heard:

‘Slavery was sooooo long ago.’

‘That ended with the Civil Rights movement.’

‘Well their own people shipped them over, so it’s unfair to put all the blame on white people.’

‘The system isn’t rigged, they’re just lazy.’

‘Well, I think Black Lives Matters is racist, shouldn’t it be #AllLivesMatter?’

Ugggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhh….. *sigh*

Other than ignorance, I think shame and guilt has a lot to do with these half-baked excuses, especially if one’s heritage is in the American South. How do you handle knowing that your ancestors owned slaves? Or that just fifty years ago in America most white people treated black people as second class citizens?

Right now, America needs Homegoing. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book so timely in my life.

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This epic spans over two hundred years of history, starting with half-sisters Effia and Esi in Ghana. Effia remains in present day Ghana as her descendants battle colonialism and then deal with their part in the slave trade.

Esi is captured and sent over to America, where her descendants have to live through and then deal with the shadow of slavery. Each generation has to face a fresh new horror.

Each chapter is a new protagonist, as the reader switches back and forth between Effia and Esi’s family tree. The book could have easily felt uneven or disjointed, but because Gyasi does such a great job with the overall arch of the story, I never felt like I was reading separate stories, but a continuation. Even with the last two stories, I was still mindful of how it all started, and everything that lead to the last scene.

I was also surprised by how moved I was by some of the characters and their stories, even though the reader spends only twenty to thirty pages with each descendant. Homegoing is a masterful epic, but also deeply personal.

I don’t know what prompted Gyasi to write Homegoing, but all the statements I listed above were addressed.

Two hundred years of treating another race as separate and undeserving leaves a mark, and pretending that the aftereffects aren’t still present only continues to suppress the voice of a community.

So to my white peeps: Saying Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean that I don’t think all lives matter (of course they do), but that Black Lives Matter TOO. Acknowledging that is a good place to start, but it shouldn’t end there.

Score: Fucking buy it.

***Bonus recommendation: Buy/rent an actual hardback or paperback copy (paperback is out May 2nd), because there is a family tree at the beginning of the novel. So helpful!

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