In Homegoing Yaa Gyasi deals with slavery and its long-term consequences on the lives of many people. She starts her novel in the 17th century in the Gold Coast of Africa. Not with the original start of slavery, she would have had to go back a long time I’m afraid since Fante and Asante both possessed slaves. She starts with the large-scale exploitation of slaves resulting from Europeans creating demand. Both Fante and Asante see possibilities to increase power and wealth and co-operate with British, Portuguese and Dutch. The situation creates winners and losers: families contribute by taking captive and trading slaves, they become victims of the trade themselves. It is a trade and all parties involved cross lines. Homegoing starts with the history of Effia and Esi, one sold in marriage to a British officer, the other caught and sold into the Americas. Gyasi has chosen to divide her novel into chapters describing events in one person’s life in one chapter. How they get on in life is made clear in the chapters describing their children or grandchildren. This makes for a structured novel which provides a precise picture of racism and discrimination. It also makes for a novel in which those people do not gain depth, they remain clichés. They are meant to show the life of slaves, of the struggling free African-Americans, of the ones slowly gaining rights. Sometimes the time given them is just too short. Some of the characters would have deserved a novel of their own. In the former Gold Coast, present Ghana, Gyasi chooses to concentrate on the magical. One of Effia’s descendants has visions that show her that something bad has happened in the history of her family. She is seen as the mad woman and is shunned by her village, her son is taken away from her. He takes on a teaching job in the States after he has been reunited with his mother. As a result present day Ghana is merely the place the final descendants Marjorie and Marcus visit after they have become an item. Time appears to have stood still there, which is certainly not the case.
Homegoing is a well-written novel that shows where things have gone very wrong in the past. I hope Gyasi in a next novel confirms her quality as a writer by providing her characters with more depth.