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Book Review: HOMEGOING by Yaa Gyasi

Wow. What an ambitious accomplishment for a debut author (any author, really) – a story following the lives of one family over 300 years, and written in only 320 pages.

I don’t think many readers are familiar with the origins of American slavery – how slaves got to the U.S., who was complicit in the capture and transport of slaves, and even the unfortunate truth of slavery as some kind of perverse ‘commonality’ throughout all cultures over time – even in Africa. I only learned much of what Gyasi covers, historically, in my own research over the past few years.

Homegoing by Yaa GyasiFor the illumination of history alone, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is worth a read. But add to it the incredible way the author was able to tie so many characters together, while weaving in so many subtle yet important themes regarding race and heritage and ‘home,’ and it’s a rather spectacular read.

For me, this wasn’t the kind of book I walked away from feeling I’d inhabited the skin of the characters – because, how could I, with a cast of more than 20 characters in so few pages? But it is a book that will haunt me nonetheless, in its coverage of the African and African-American experience, and the pain and plight of so many people.

With race at the forefront of so many of today’s headlines, I wish a book like this would be required reading in all high schools – or even colleges. The discussion questions at the end of the book are such a good ‘starting point’ for open dialogue and better understanding of cultural differences. I do believe people can feel connections to their past/to their heritage, even if they “never lived” where their ancestors hailed from.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is a story about storytelling, the one-sidedness of history, imperialism, colonialism, freedom, culture, beliefs, prejudice, spiritualism, the call of ‘home,’ fitting in, the role of women, the journey of the African people… and so much more. So much to think about!

As an aside: this is a novel better read in hardcopy so you can flip back to the family tree – on the Kindle this was not as easy, and I found myself often trying to remember, in my own mind, who was connected to whom.

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(A version of this review was published by Melissa Crytzer Fry at GoodReads on March 2, 2017.  It is reposted here with the permission of the author.)

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