It seems almost ironic to frame a retelling of a slave story as a love story but there is no other way to describe the full circle healing that comes from reading this book. I had the privilege earlier this year, to sit in an audience and hear the author, Yaa Gyasi, speak to a bunch of decently educated folks about language, representation, and the research process in writing the book. I wanted to ask about her imagination and her soul because surely no amount of research could concoct such feelings. Perhaps she too had her own intergenerational memory, a vessel somewhat of the story of her people. But I didn’t ask because again, it was about language, representation, and the research process.
Indeed, Homegoing is more than a slave story. It is a multi-generational novel that weaves through time and space to explain those things that the body can’t. To communicate the inter-generational trauma inherited through DNA that comes from suffering and that shows, even with time, the body does not forget. It takes a prismatic look at a family that stays and that which leaves. No. More like, that which is evicted or perhaps, ruptured. Two sisters, two different fates and the intergenerational scars that remain to tell the tale.
I choose to speak of love because it is only the courage to love that enables both the Afriqan and the Afriqan-in-America to survive. I have been feeling greater need for it in today’s activism because without it, I don’t know how long we can push through before the fire burns out. It is love that enabled Esi to save Quey. It is love that enabled Quey to live and it is love that enabled Marcus to come back home.
If we wanted to
People of color.
burn this world down.
—-how stunningly beautiful that our sacred respect for the earth. for life. Is deeper than our rage.
My favorite part in the book is a conversation between Akosua, a peasant Asante girl and James who is of royal blood (A Meghan and Harry type of situation if you get what I mean). Not surprisingly, she was the character who I most identified with, most likely due to her apolitical and complex approach to the morality of slavery. At the end of the day, we do not remember slavery because of its theories or capitalism or racism. We remember it because it was about human beings who were dehumanized, dissocialized, desexualized and decivilized. It was about human beings who were broken and those that had to rebuild. This alone is why I remember and please History teacher (no shade Prof. T) don’t tell me about the sacrifices of modernization! Anyway, where was I? Yes, my favorite part! This is part of the conversation that follows Akosua and James’ encounter:
“everyone is a part of this. Asante, Fante, Ga. British. Dutch and American. And you are not wrong to think like this. It is how we are all taught to think. But I do not want to think this way. When my brothers and the other people were taken, my village mourned them as we redoubled our military efforts. And what does that say? We avenge lost lives by taking more? It doesn’t make sense to me.”
“I love my people, James…I am proud to be Asante, as I am sure you are proud to be Fante, but after I lost my brothers, I decided that as for me, Akosua, I will be my own nation.”
This particular review has been quite spiral. But ultimately, there is no linear way of doing a review of this book, just as it there is no linear way of tracing Africa’s lineage and atrocities faced by their ascendants throughout the globe. It is circular, it is spiral, it is messy. It is back and forth. It is up and down. It is North America. It is the Caribbean. It is France. It is Netherlands. It is Fees Must Fall. It is Black Lives Matter. It is Garifuna. Such is decolonization.
Homegoing is a homecoming. The book you didn’t know you needed to read until you opened it. It is us reconciling with what is ours. And yes, it is painful but it’s also not just a bucket full of gloom. There is a wholeness somewhere in the book that comes from the restoration of one to one’s home. In the end, the book doesn’t erase slavery, but it shows that there is a way to live with the answers whose questions have not been asked.
Thank you, Yaa Gyasi, for healing the parts we didn’t know were hurting.