Reading About Race: “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi

As part of Third Church’s continuing anti-racism efforts, the Adult Spiritual Formation Committee will be sharing book reviews on books about race and/or by BIPOC authors. If you have read a book that has opened new perspectives to you, and that you would be willing to write a brief review of, please contact Becky D’Angelo-Veitch.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Reviewed by Karen Walker

Homegoing was published to great acclaim several years ago. It tells the story of two step-sisters born in Ghana during the late 1700’s. One of the sisters marries a white British officer and goes to live in relative luxury in the Cape Coast Castle. Her step-sister is captured, held in the dungeon below the castle, sold into slavery, and shipped to America.

The novel unfolds in a series of linked short stories following the descendants of the two women through seven generations—those living in Africa and those living in the United States. Their stories combine to present a harrowing and devastating picture of how systemic racism came to be enshrined in the United States. Yet it is not a novel without hope or beauty.  Gyasi’s writing is lyrical and brings each character to life. Dreams and conversations link one story to another.

Yaw, a descendent in the 20th century, becomes a history teacher. In discussing how to interpret history he tells his African students:

[This} is the problem of history. We cannot know that which we were not there to see and hear and experience for ourselves. We must rely upon the words of others. Those who were there in the olden days, they told stories to the children so that the children would know, so that the children could tell stories to their children. And so on, and so on. But now we come upon the problem of conflicting stories…Whose story do we believe?

 We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history, you must always ask yourself. Whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story, too. From there, you begin to get a clearer, yet still imperfect picture.

 Homegoing lifts the voices of those who have been suppressed so that we can hear them more clearly.