The greatest and most powerful novel yet written about Africa (Africa both as a multi-national continent, and as a monolithic concept to the Western eye) is still Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart.” There is no more stark assessment of white misapprehension than the chilling final lines to that masterpiece.
Yaa Giasi’s “Homegoing” is a very, very sprightly offspring.
Two half sisters from Ghana, Effia and Essi, are separated by life (half the family will suffer through the American experience, half will deal with colonial abuse.) We follow their descendants through six generations, divided in two continents (make that 14 perspectives) and in a series of short stories we go through all of the horrors that American slavery and European colonialism have wracked on Africa over the last three centuries while also making clear the native complicity. The language is precise and taut and perfectly evokes the settings for each little punch-to-the-gut scene, so much so that I was left wanting a lot more. We start with a rich world worth exploring, but the book becomes increasingly bent on moving on to the next characters just as we are becoming attached to the ones in each chapter, and the American side of things is much more cartoonish than the African side of things, which at least will engage lovers of history. The effect is not novelistic: there is no real accumulation of feeling. This feels like a collection of shorts stories threaded together into the more marketable shape of a “novel.” At times “Homegoing” almost runs the risk of turning into what Achebe warned against: African (and African-American) lives turned into briefly glimpsed vignettes. It is a testament to Gyasi’s nascent talents that I was left unsatisfied, wishing that I was given a James Michener whale of a tale. I really look forward to her next effort.
RATING: COOL! but I wanted MORE.