Book Review: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

book cover
Homegoing, a Novel by Yaa Gyasi, ©2016, Vintage Books.

My local bookstore recommended this book because I like novels about family legacies. I admit, this book flung me out of my comfort zone. I did not read this book because of what happened to George Floyd and the resulting riots. I had started it long before. It’s a difficult read, especially the chapters on the slave experience, so I read it slowly. It turned out to be a very timely read as it takes readers into the lives of several families and their hardships. For some the struggle was slavery, but for others it was something else. Some struggled against the elements as they eked out a livelihood from the land. Others try to overcome mental issues and the resulting shunning by their community. Some suffer physical abuse. The characters lead tough lives as they cope with the memories of their ancestors. We follow the descendants as some come to America and then struggle because of the color of their skin. This book was published in 2016. What it describes is certainly not new.

“The news made it sound like the fault lay with the blacks of Harlem. The violent, the crazy, the monstrous black people who had the gull to demand that their children not be gunned down in the streets. Sonny clutched his mother’s money tight as he walked back that day, hoping he wouldn’t run into any white people looking to prove a point, because he knew in his body, even if he hadn’t yet put it together in his mind, that in America the worst thing you could be was a black man. Worse than dead, you were a dead man walking.”

p. 260

It’s an emotional story that made me uncomfortable, but taught me a lot about the African-American experience.

Warning: there are some sex scenes and f-bombs. They are brief, but if you’re sensitive to that you should be aware.

The best part of this book, I think, is the ending. All the stories come together as two descendants meet and go together to Ghana. One has been before visiting her grandmother. The other has not. But both feel a connection as they face an inherent fear (one is afraid of water and the other afraid of fire, and by the end you understand why.) The characters express the idea that so much has been overcome by those who came before them that now they can be set free.

I think so much of what we know about history has been written by the white man. It’s refreshing to read another point of view, and certainly educational. If that interests you, read this book and be prepared to be changed.

“How many hours could he spend marching? How many bruises could he collect from the police? How many letters to the mayor, governor, president could he send? How many more days would it take to get something to change? And when it changed, would it change? Would America be any different, or would it be mostly the same?”

p.244

Cindy Thomson

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