[Blackstudies-l] Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi review – the wounds inflicted by slavery

Maria Lima lima at geneseo.edu
Sat Jan 21 11:14:04 EST 2017


lisaparavisini posted: " An unflinching portrayal of the slave trade
explores its impact down the generations, from 18th-century west Africa to
the modern-day US--A review by Diana Evans for London's Guardian. Slavery
is an open wound: it will never heal. As such it has provid"
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New post on *Repeating Islands*
<http://repeatingislands.com/author/lisaparavisini/> Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
review – the wounds inflicted by slavery
<http://repeatingislands.com/2017/01/17/homegoing-by-yaa-gyasi-review-the-wounds-inflicted-by-slavery/>
by
lisaparavisini <http://repeatingislands.com/author/lisaparavisini/>

[image: Screen Shot 2017-01-17 at 11.42.20 PM.png]

An unflinching portrayal of the slave trade explores its impact down the
generations, from 18th-century west Africa to the modern-day US--A review
by Diana Evans for London's *Guardian*.

Slavery is an open wound: it will never heal. As such it has provided an
endless reserve of material for storytellers, a bottomless well of tragic
arcs, epic betrayals, unexpected dimensions and uncharted secrets. What of
the black slave owners of Virginia, asked Edward P Jones in *The Known
World* <https://www.theguardian.com/books/2004/jul/31/history.pulitzerprize>.
What of the slaves who killed their children in order to set them free,
asked Toni Morrison
<https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/apr/13/toni-morrison-home-son-love>
in *Beloved*. What if, say, blacks had enslaved whites, asked Bernardine
Evaristo in *Blonde Roots*. It is into the murky waters of this same well
that first-time Ghanaian-American novelist Yaa Gyasi delved for the
creation of *Homegoing*, a hugely empathic, unflinching portrayal of west
Africa’s role in the transatlantic slave trade.

The tale begins in the late 18th century in an Asante village, part of the
Gold Coast which eventually became Ghana. A young girl, Effia Otcher, is
sold by her father to a British slavetrader named James – as a bride, not
as a slave – and taken to live with him in Cape Coast Castle, a fort
overlooking the sea. The slaves are in dungeons underneath the castle,
awaiting transit to the Americas and the Caribbean via the Middle Passage.
Among them are ex-house servants, overflow prisoners of tribal and regional
wars and unlucky captives sold to the Europeans for money and goods, such
as 15-year-old Esi Asare, Effia’s half-sister. Esi was seized during a raid
on her own village and brought to the castle by “bomboys”, local boys who
worked for the British transporting cargo. In a series of subsequent
interconnected stories, the bloodlines of these two women are followed
through seven generations covering the associated histories of the US and
Ghana up to the turn of the 21st century.

It is an enormous feat for a new writer, but Gyasi rises to the challenge.
At the centre of each well-crafted, well-researched narrative episode there
is a clearly defined and complex protagonist who we come to care deeply
about, largely because of the extent of their suffering. As the generations
unfold, each is powerless in the face of their history. Esi’s experience of
the castle is harrowing: “There was no sunlight. Darkness was day and night
and everything in between. Sometimes there were so many bodies stacked into
the women’s dungeon that they all had to lie, stomach down, so that women
could be stacked on top of them.”

Then there is Quey, Effia and James’s mixed-race son, unwilling to partake
in the cruel family business of trading slaves and faced with the resulting
loss of wealth, home and identity. Esi’s child, Ness, is born into slavery
in the American south. She withstands the full atrocity of a life in which
whippings were rife and random, and a five-minute break every three hours
when picking cotton was a sign of “a good master”, and where attempts to
escape were harshly punished, as Ness’s Yoruba husband, Sam, discovers.

As the generations unfold, each is powerless in the face of their history

Love is the glue that binds these life stories together, the chapters a
series of couplings and begettings making way for the next in line. Gyasi’s
portrayal of physical love between men and women makes for some of the
novel’s most powerful scenes. This is Sam and Ness one night in their hut
after they are married: “He runs his hands along her scabby back, and she
does the same along his, and as they work together, clutching each other,
some scars reopen. They are both bleeding now, both bride and bridegroom,
in this unholy holy union. Breath leaves his mouth and enters hers, and
they lie together until the roosters crow, until it’s time to return to the
fields.” Later, Ness and Sam’s son Kojo, a “free black” in 1850s Baltimore,
finds his own true love, Anna, by following “the sway of her butt”, and
Gyasi bigheartedly describes his glee at grabbing on to it during
lovemaking. What a gift it is to him, despite the injustice of the world
around them, where even their freedom is still not sure of itself, “to fill
his hands with the weight of her flesh”.

If there must be a purpose to the creation of yet another slave narrative
other than to show how cruel, unfair, debased and horrific slavery was, it
should be to convey the impact of it on modern life. *Homegoing* loses some
of its urgency in the later segments, perhaps because there are fewer
rapes, no bleeding love scenes, no sudden thefts of freedom. There is also
too vast an array of lives and emotional interiors to take in; the book
becomes overloaded, lacking a central thread, and we begin to forget. But
this idea also seems significant, one thread of the intricate lace of the
book. We may forget, or may want to forget, yet we cannot, because – as
with Marcus and Marjorie, the novel’s contemporary, closing characters –
slavery is a source of our confusion and discomfort, regardless of which
side of the colour divide we descend from. So here is a book to help us
remember. It is well worth its weight.

*Homegoing*
<https://bookshop.theguardian.com/homegoing.html?utm_source=editoriallink&utm_medium=merch&utm_campaign=article>
is published by Penguin. To order a copy for £9.99 (RRP £12.99) go to
bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10,
online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.
*lisaparavisini <http://repeatingislands.com/author/lisaparavisini/>* |
January 17, 2017 at 11:48 pm | Categories: News
<http://repeatingislands.com/category/news/> | URL: http://wp.me/psnTa-t86

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