Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Early reviews have compared this much-hyped debut from 26-year-old Yaa Gyasi to Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and it’s easy to see why. Like Morrison, Gyasi sets out to reveal the truth through fiction, instead of fact, and she’s deeply inventive in her approach. Homegoing is my favourite kind of novel: wildly ambitious in premise and elegant in execution.
The novel is laid out like a collection of linked stories (think Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, or Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad). Two sisters are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana; the first is married off to an English slave trader, the second is forced into slavery. Each subsequent chapter is narrated from the perspective of a descendant of either sister, alternating through the generations all the way up to the present day. As the narrative unfolds, the characters’ lives also trace the evolution of the slave trade and its domino effect on future generations. This format allows Gyasi to construct a panoramic view of history by tackling multiple aspects of slavery, including Africa’s complicity within it.
This distinctive structure is not without risk. Every chapter introduces a new character with additional context – all of which must be conveyed to the reader in a few pages without sounding laboured or cursory. Happily, Gyasi is up to the challenge and Homegoing is a remarkably confident first work. The prose is compelling and charged with a ferocious emotional intensity. Gyasi has a gift for unusual, striking visual images: ‘In the Big Boat, Esi said, they were stacked ten high, and when a man died on top of you, his weight would press the pile down like cooks pressing garlic.’ This novel thrillingly reminds me why I ever fell in love with books in the first place.
Bronte Coates is the digital content coordinator. She is also the prize manager of the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction.