Homegoing... A Novel, Review
My love affair with diaspora literature began after an astonished perusal of the famed Americanah by the respected Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Then, to support my fixation of African authors (specifically first-time novelists), I held my nose to the bindings of Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi, Happiness, Like Water by Chinelo Okparanta, and We Need New Names by Noviolet Bulawayo.
Those four novels are the type of books (if you're like me) that'll have you so engrossed during transportation, that you'll forget just how little space you have on that crusty A train back up to Washington Heights after a hot and sticky summer day; or have you bumping into strangers while you flip through pages as you jaywalk with the confidence of a street rat; those books will have you forgetting your Netflix password because you've spent so much time with offline media. At least that's what they did for me at the time. I think what I loved about those novels the most was the essence of the authors that they held. I have this theory that a writer's first novel holds their concentrated core - all their insecurities and delights come across with the vernacular they choose and the characters they portray. While reading each of these books, I felt like I was making a new friend. What I did get tired of, though, was the storyline depicting the African experience while on the continent and the immigrant experience/struggle after having migrated to America or the UK. That idea isn't going anywhere because those stories are the truth for zillions of people (my people included). Either way, I found I would have liked to see the subject matter attacked from a different angle. What story/ies haven't been told? What's missing? Here's where Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi came into my life.
Ever see those movies in which different people's lives are shown, and unbeknownst to viewers, the characters and storylines are all intertwined? Homegoing is sorta, kinda like that. In my view, each chapter acts as a short story that holds the same underlying theme as the other chapters in the novel. We watch as Gyasi elegantly flips the grand story back and forth from the happenings on the continent through the years to what's taking place in America - all while highlighting intricate character nuances and tying in the critical ancestral thread that holds the novel together. Without giving too much away (because I think this book is a must-read for anyone interested in reading, lol), I'll speak on a few things that came to mind during this astonished perusal of African diaspora literature.
Darkness carried through generations
Homegoing illustrates just how deeply rooted familial issues can be, and how they can flow through the veins of generations. Centuries down the line from a fixed point (maybe the beginning of slavery? *shruggs*) darkness can surround a person while they'd have no idea where it came from. That's what we see in this novel. And though we, as readers, understand just what factors played into the consequences of each action, the characters' feelings are all-too-relatable for many people in contemporary America and West Africa.
One artist's depiction of history
I'm sure tons of research went into the creation of this piece, but I think it's important to remember that Yaa Gyasi is an author and an artist giving her spectators a taste of her interpretation. While reading, I sensed a perspective that reflects the concepts I hear from my peers on present social issues. True, the social issues we're facing today are not too different than those we faced in the 18 or 1900s; and true, it could be that the perspectives Gyasi showcases are identical to those that existed centuries ago - but today we don't know what that was. So, just as important as it is to drink a novel up wholly and fully as a piece of artwork, as readers we should remember that it is open to interpretation and should not always be taken literally.
My place in history
If there was ever a catalyst to make me think about my family's history and my place in it, Homegoing was one. I have an elaborate family tree in itself, and between personal research and trips to Nigeria, I have come to know some of my history - but what I'm missing are the stories. Names on paper are just indications of how large your clan is. When you hear the stories of survival, rebellion, angst, tragedy, triumph, and accomplishment, you really begin to feel more full. At least I do. There's a feeling of connectedness I gain when I learn something intimate about a nuclear family member or an ancestor. I wonder if I'm the only one. This novel made me think about my place on my ornate family tree. Will the metaphysical legacy carried through me be passed on to my future kin, or will it stop with me. In other words, will I live to be remembered, having helped the future generation, or will I simply be a name on the family tree?
Give Homegoing a read - I would love to hear your perspective. What are some other pieces of African diaspora literature I should have in my library?