Author: Yaa Gyasi

Finished on: 22 October 2017

Where did I get this book: Bought for me by friends, from Hatchards in St Pancras station

Sometimes the right book finds you at just the right time.

I felt like I was seeing the striking orange cover to this book everywhere. But of course I am on a book-buying ban (!) so despite it calling to me, I couldn’t purchase it. Then my friends and I hatched a cunning plan (possibly after wine). They would buy me this, and I would buy them each a copy of We Have Always Lived In The Castle. Book-buying ban successfully circumnavigated.

And I finished it six days before my fortieth birthday. I’m not entirely sure why that was significant, but it felt enormously moving as I closed the last page, crying a lot. This is a book that performs a magic trick: it told me stories of people separated from me by centuries, race and continents, and then in the final chapters Gyasi makes it about all of us: each individual person and our ancestry, unique and separate from the grand narratives of ‘history’. This is a book that prompts you to consider you own forefathers, and mothers, who you are and how you came to be (even if that is far from straightforward).

Gyasi starts her story in Fante and Asante, in what is now Ghana, in the eighteenth century. She traces eight generations forward from two branches of the same family; we meet the descendants of two half-sisters whose lives take very different paths as one is sold into slavery and the other sold to be a wife to a white slave trader. We follow the complex politics of slavery over centuries: the different ways the Fante and Asante peoples are involved and affected by it. And its lasting legacy for people in the both the US and Africa.

Homegoing is essentially a book of short stories, as we are given just a snapshot of the life of one person in each generation of the two branches, before moving on to the next. Books like this can be frustrating, as just as you’re getting used to your anchor in the story, you move on to a new one. But Gyasi has a knack of finding enough to pull us in quickly to each new focus.

There are some big historical events described: the Fugitive Slave Act, the Jim Crow segregation laws, the civil rights movement. But Gyasi is more interested in the experiences of individuals, and the subjective nature of history. “History is storytelling,” says Yaw, a teacher in Ghana in the penultimate generation of the book.

“Kojo Nyarko says that when the warriors came to his village their coats were red, but Kwame Adu says that they were blue. Whose story do we believe then?”

If it’s true that “history is written by the victors,” then fiction not only has an important role to play in retelling history from marginalised perspectives, but also in bringing it home that there are as many ‘truths’ about what happened as there were people alive at the time experiencing the events. And this is what Gyasi achieves, with bells on.

As I closed the back cover of the book, I wiped the snot and tears off my face, and texted my mum.


We are all the product of what has come before; the people and events that shaped the life we’re born into. We leave Homegoing not only with the beautiful image of people swimming in the Ghanaian sea and making peace with their heritage, but also with a renewed appreciation for the importance of the stories in our own history.



  1. Way to work around the book buying ban!

    I loved this book and can see why it moved you. I learned so much from this book – I was, I’m embarrassed to say, totally ignorant of the Jim Crow era story about how black men were forcibly made to work to get out of made-up jail sentences.

    Liked by 1 person

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