Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

  • THE BOOK
    • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
    • Published June 7, 2016
    • Debut novel of the author

  • THE PREMISE
    • The story begins in the late 1700s in Ghana, Africa. Two half-sisters (they share a mother) are born in different villages.
      • Ghana became an independent country in 1957, after centuries of colonialism.
    • The older sister, Effia, is given in marriage to an English man who is involved in the slave trade on the coast, living at the Cape Coast Castle which has dungeons beneath it to hold slaves on their way to the Americas.
    • Her half-sister Esi is sold into slavery and is imprisoned in the Castle even as Effia lives there with her husband. The sisters never meet each other or even know of the other's existence.
    • Effia's progeny remain in Africa and are active in the slave trade, working with the colonial population and the birth of Ghana as a nation.
    • Esi and her progeny are destined to be slaves in the United States for several generations. Then the family needs to adjust to post-slavery and the racism that continues for several more generations before the story comes to the present day.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • "Homegoing" is a term for an African-American funeral tradition, where the deceased is presumed to have returned to God. Thus the title has multiple meanings.
    • Years ago I read Roots by Arthur Haley and was disappointed that some characters disappeared from the narrative and you didn't know what happened to them as the story moved on to the next generations.
      • Then I realized that that might be precisely the point: the people sold into slavery never knew what happened back in Africa (and vice versa). Their family members could be sold and forcibly separated and would have lost their children or spouses at the owners' whims. They NEVER KNEW what happened to their children or other family members once they were gone. 
    • I loved this book. The characters were well drawn and you feel for them as they endure circumstances that no human being should have ever had to go through.
      • Even the African side of the family suffered and needed to make hard choices. Some were involved with the slave trade, acquiring the bodies needed to keep that industry going via internecine warfare. No one was safe from the specter of being sold into slavery if their village ended up on the wrong side of a battle.
      • One  doesn't often get a perspective from the African side of the slave trade.
    • One interesting thing I learn about the Akan people of Ghana is their use of "day names" for their children.
      • Boys (general meaning in parentheses)
        • Sunday: Kwasi (universe)
        • Monday: Kwadwo (or Cudjoe or Kojo) (peace)
        • Tuesday: Kwabena (ocean)
        • Wednesday: Kwaku (spider, the form of the god of all stories)
        • Thursday: Yaw (earth)
        • Friday: Kofi (fertility)
        • Saturday: Kwame (god)
      • Girls
        • Sunday: Akosua (universe)
        • Monday: Adwoa (peace)
        • Tuesday: Aabenaa (ocean)
        • Wednesday: Wukuo (spider, the form of the god of all stories)
        • Thursday: Yaa (earth)
        • Friday: Afua (fertility)
        • Saturday: Amma (god)
      • There are variations of these names too, such as Cudjoe for Kwadwo. 
        • Esi is a variant of Akosua.
        • Effia is a variant of Afua.
      • The author of the book, Yaa, has the name for a girl born on Thursday.
      • There are also names for birth order or children born under special circumstances (e.g. premature or during war)
      • Check out this Wikipedia article if you want to learn more about the naming conventions of the Akan people. 
    • I am always stunned at how such a thing as slavery existed. It's such a brutal thing to have occurred and it carries over into the present day as many people of African descent in America still face repercussions via racism, both overt and not.
    • Recommended for those who enjoy family sagas and historical fiction, or those interested in stories of Africa and/or slavery in America.

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