Homegoing (Gyasi novel)

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Homegoing (2016 cover).jpg
hardcover dustjacket (1st ed.)
Author Yaa Gyasi
Cover artist Peter Mendelsund
Country United States
Language English
Genre Historical fiction
Published 2016 (Penguin Random House)
Media type Print (hardback)
Pages 320 pp. (1st edition)
ISBN 978-1-10194-713-5

Homegoing is the debut historical fiction novel by Yaa Gyasi, published in 2016. Each chapter in the novel follows a different descendant of an Asante woman named Maame, starting with her two daughters, separated by circumstance: Effia marries James Collins, the British governor in charge of Cape Coast Castle, while her half-sister Esi is held captive in the dungeons below. Subsequent chapters follow their children and following generations.

The novel was selected in 2016 for the National Book Foundation's "5 under 35" award, the National Book Critics Circle's John Leonard Award for best first book, and was longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize in 2017. It received the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for 2017.


The novel opens with a fire set by Maame, an Asante woman enslaved by Cobbe of the Fante people; Maame set the fire to escape and return home, but in the chaos she left behind Effia, her newly born baby who was fathered by Cobbe. Effia grows up resented by Cobbe's wife Baaba, who plots to have Effia catch the eye of James Collins, the governor of Cape Coast Castle appointed by the British to run the slave trade. Collins marries Effia despite already being married with a family he left behind in England.

In the second chapter, after Maame returned home, she married the Big Man of the village and together they had a daughter, Esi. Esi was taken captive as a teenager following a Fante raid on her village, brought to the dungeon of the Castle, and subsequently sold into slavery.

Later chapters trace the stories of Effia's and Esi's descendants, alternating between the two branches of the family, with one chapter for one descendant in each generation. Effia's descendants largely stay around the Gold Coast in what is now Ghana, and Esi's descendants have settled in America.

Descendants of Maame[edit]

Major themes[edit]

The novel touches on several notable historical events, from the introduction of cacao as a crop in Ghana and the Anglo-Asante wars in Ghana to slavery and segregation in America.[1] Because of the novel's scope, which covers several hundred years of history and fourteen characters, it has been described as "a novel in short stories" where "each chapter is forced to stand on its own."[2]

Development history[edit]

In the summer of 2009, following her sophomore year at Stanford University, Gyasi took a trip to Ghana,[3] eventually taking a side trip to the Cape Coast Castle; the trip to Ghana was sponsored by a research grant.[4] Although Gyasi was born in Ghana, she moved to the United States as an infant, and this was her first trip back.[4] On a friend's prompting, they visited the Cape Coast Castle, where she found her inspiration in the contrast between the luxurious upper levels (for colonists and their local families) and the misery of the dungeons below, where slaves were kept.[4] She relates: "I just found it really interesting to think about how there were people walking around upstairs who were unaware of what was to become of the people living downstairs."[4]

Gyasi says the family tree came first, and each chapter, which follows one descendant, is tied to a significant historical event,[3] although she described the research as "wide but shallow."[4] The Door of No Return by William St. Clair helped to form the descriptions of life in and around the Castle in the first few chapters.[5][6] One of the final chapters, entitled "Marjorie", is inspired by Gyasi's experiences as part of an immigrant family living in Alabama.[4][3]

... I think I was kind of constantly interacting, I guess, with really what the legacy of slavery is. You know, coming from a country, Ghana, that had a role in slavery, and then ending up in a place where slavery is still so strongly felt institutionally, as racism is still so strongly felt. The irony of that wasn't lost on me. And I think, had I not grown up in Alabama, I don't know that I would have ever written this book.

— Yaa Gyasi, 2016 interview with Scott Simon[6]

Publication history[edit]


Before the official publication in June 2016, Time's Sarah Begley called it "one of the summer’s most-anticipated novels".[3]

Critics have reviewed Gyasi's first novel with almost universally high acclaim. The New York Times Book Review listed it as an Editor's Choice, writing, "This wonderful debut by a Ghanaian-American novelist follows the shifting fortunes of the progeny of two half sisters, unknown to each other, in West Africa and America."[7] Jennifer Maloney of The Wall Street Journal noted the author received an advance of more than US$1,000,000 and praised the plot as "flecked with magic, evoking folk tales passed down from parent to child", also noting the novel has "structural and thematic similarities to Alex Haley's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1976 book, Roots".[8] Christian Lorentzen of New York Magazine said, "Each chapter is tightly plotted, and there are suspenseful, even spectacular climaxes."[9] Anita Felicelli of the San Francisco Chronicle said Gyasi is "a young writer whose stellar instincts, sturdy craftsmanship and penetrating wisdom seem likely to continue apace — much to our good fortune as readers".[10]

Isabel Wilkerson of The New York Times described her as "a stirringly gifted young writer".[11] Wilkerson also commented on the difference between the lyrical language of the West African passages and the "coarser language and surface descriptions of life in America".[11] Wilkerson expressed some disappointment: "It is dispiriting to encounter such a worn-out cliché — that African-Americans are hostile to reading and education — in a work of such beauty."[11] Steph Cha, writing for the Los Angeles Times, notes "the characters are, by necessity, representatives for entire eras of African and black American history [which] means some of them embody a few shortcuts" in advancing the narrative and themes, but overall, "the sum of Homegoing's parts is remarkable, a panoramic portrait of the slave trade and its reverberations."[2] Laura Miller, writing for The New Yorker, said that while parts of Homegoing show "the unmistakable touch of a gifted writer, [the novel] is a specimen of what such a writer can do when she bites off more than she is ready to chew," noting the "form [of the novel] would daunt a far more practiced novelist" as the form, composed of short stories linked by ancestors and descendants, "[isn't] the ideal way to deliver the amount of exposition that historical fiction requires."[1]

Maureen Corrigan, reviewing for National Public Radio noted the plot was "pretty formulaic" and it "would have been a stronger novel if it had ended sooner," but "the feel of her novel is mostly sophisticated," and she concluded that "so many moments earlier on in this strong debut novel linger."[12] Michiko Kakutani noted in her New York Times review the novel "often feels deliberate and earthbound: The reader is aware, especially in the American chapters, that significant historical events and issues ... have been shoehorned into the narrative, and that characters have been made to trudge through experiences ... meant, in some way, to be representative," but it also "makes us experience the horrors of slavery on an intimate, personal level; by its conclusion, the characters' tales of loss and resilience have acquired an inexorable and cumulative emotional weight."[13] Other reviewers were not as critical of the novel's structure. Jean Zimmerman, also writing for National Public Radio, praised the novel as "a remarkable achievement," saying the "narrative [...] is earnest, well-crafted yet not overly self-conscious, marvelous without being precious."[14]

Leilani Clark at KQED Arts wrote: "Until every American embarks on a major soul-searching about the venal, sordid racial history of the United States, and their own position in relation to it, the bloodshed, tears, and anger will keep on. Let Homegoing be an inspiration to begin that process."[15]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Ta-Nehisi Coates selected Homegoing for the National Book Foundation's 2016 "5 under 35" award, announced in September 2016.[16][17] Homegoing was shortlisted for the 2016 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize,[18] which eventually went to The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter by Kia Corthron.

The novel was subsequently awarded the John Leonard Prize for publishing year 2016 by the National Book Critics Circle for outstanding debut novel in January 2017.[19][20] In February 2017, Swansea University announced Homegoing had made the longlist for the 2017 Dylan Thomas Prize for the best published literary work in the English language written by an author aged 39 or younger.[21]


  1. ^ a b Miller, Laura (30 May 2016). "Descendants: A sprawling tale of a family split between Africa and America". The New Yorker. Retrieved 1 March 2017.
  2. ^ a b Cha, Steph (10 June 2016). "The blazing success of Yaa Gyasi's 'Homegoing,' a panoramic portrait of the slave trade's legacy". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 1 March 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d Begley, Sarah (5 June 2016). "A 26-Year-old Looks to the Past for Her Literary Debut". Time. Retrieved 1 March 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Wolfe, Eli (28 June 2016). "How Yaa Gyasi found her story in slavers' outpost". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 1 March 2017.
  5. ^ Yaa Gyasi (June 2016). "I Was Thinking About Blackness in America" (Interview). Interviewed by Isaac Chotiner. Slate. Retrieved 1 March 2017.
  6. ^ a b Yaa Gyasi (4 June 2016). "Slavery Scars A Trans-Atlantic Family Tree In 'Homegoing'" (Interview). Interviewed by Scott Simon. National Public Radio. Retrieved 2 March 2017.
  7. ^ "Editors' Choice". The New York Times Book Review. 2016-06-17. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-12-03.
  8. ^ Maloney, Jennifer (26 May 2016). "'Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, Born in Ghana and Raised in the U.S." The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 1 March 2017.(subscription required)
  9. ^ Lorentzen, Christian (2016-06-14). "Homegoing: Yaa Gyasi's Rich, Epic Slave-Trade Debut". Vulture. Retrieved 2016-12-03.
  10. ^ Felicelli, Anita (3 June 2016). "Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2016-12-02.
  11. ^ a b c Wilkerson, Isabel (6 June 2016). "Isabel Wilkerson Reviews Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2 December 2016.
  12. ^ Corrigan, Maureen (7 June 2016). "In 'Homegoing,' A Saga Of A Family United By Blood, Separated By Slavery". National Public Radio. Retrieved 1 March 2017.
  13. ^ Kakutani, Michiko (13 June 2016). "Review: In 'Homegoing,' What Slavery Costs One Family". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 March 2017.
  14. ^ Zimmerman, Jean (7 June 2016). "'Homegoing' Is A Sprawling Epic, Brimming With Compassion". National Public Radio. Retrieved 1 March 2017.
  15. ^ Clark, Leilani (2016-07-17). "Book Review: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi". KQED Arts. Retrieved 2016-12-03.
  16. ^ "Yaa Gyasi, author of Homegoing, 5 Under 35, 2016, National Book Foundation". www.nationalbook.org. Retrieved 2016-12-02.
  17. ^ Schaub, Michael (29 September 2016). "Meet the National Book Foundation's 5 Under 35". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 3 March 2016.
  18. ^ "Announcing the Short List for the 2016 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize". The Center for Fiction. September 2016. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
  19. ^ "National Book Critics Circle Announces Finalists for 2016 Awards" (Press release). National Book Critics Circle. 17 January 2017. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
  20. ^ Alter, Alexandra Alter (January 17, 2017). "Zadie Smith and Michael Chabon Among National Book Critics Circle Finalists". New York Times. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
  21. ^ "Longlist announced for the 2017 International Dylan Thomas Prize" (Press release). Research Institute for Arts and Humanities, Swansea University. 9 February 2017. Retrieved 2 March 2017.

External links[edit]

  • Official website: "Homegoing". Penguin Random House. 2016. Retrieved 1 March 2017.