Over 400 hundred years ago, black people were stolen from their homes in the continent of Africa and transported to the Americas. Their transportation conditions were heinous, inhumane, and revolting. Upon their arrival, black people were tormented, deprived of basic needs, and forced to live in fear and without true connection. Why continue to address slavery, many people ask, when it was in the distant past? Well, because it was depraved, and it led to white supremacy, Jim Crow, redlining, white flight, and today’s prevalent structural racism. This institution caused black people to lose their ancestral ties and knowledge of their lineage. If you are ignorant of your heritage, how can you be completely informed about yourself? So, tell me – exactly how can you erase these acts of wrongdoing? Expunging this blemish from American’s history is impossible.
Reading books about slavery dampens my mood and diminishes my resoluteness. It was no different reading Homegoing, the debut novel by Yaa Gysai.
The story starts with two half-sisters, from two different tribes in 18th century Ghana, who are unaware of each other. One sister marries an Englishman that is a slave trader and lives in the Gold Coast castle, which is above the slave dungeon – while the other is sold as a slave in America. The book follows each sisters’ descendants for seven generations, beautifully to the 21st century – with each chapter narrated by a new descendant, alternating between each family. Each narration is gripping, and you are itching for more.
My favorite passage in the book is: “And if he started talking about the war on drugs, he’d be talking about how nearly half of the black men he grew up with were on the their way either into or out of what has become the harshest prison system in the world. And if he talked about why his friends from his hood were doing five-year bids for possession of marijuana when nearly all the white people he’d gone to college with smoked it openly every day, he’d get so angry that he’d slam the research book on the table of the beautiful but deadly silent Lane Reading Room of Green Library of Stanford University. And if he slammed the book down, then everyone in the room would stare and all they would see would be his skin and his anger, and they’d think they knew something about him, and it would be the same something that had justified putting his great-grandpa H in prison, only it would be different too, less obvious than it once was”.
This passage is an excellent illustration of discrimination experienced based on one’s skin color and nothing else. If you are black and possess drugs, you are automatically discarded to jail, but this is not necessarily true for your white counterpart. This one unjust act not only destroys your life but countless others as well. Even though this unfair act is far from slavery, but is it any different? This example of prejudice is pretty overt, but the real killer is silent racism – when a black person gets angry, they are instantly portrayed as the “angry black person.” I have always despised that term! What exactly does that mean? Can we not express our feelings authentically in a safe place? Can we live?
Gyasi created a masterpiece. This book was engaging and well-researched. She does a brilliant job cleverly crafting a novel with multiple narrators without losing focus. I love books that hook me in at the start and also educate me. This book does both.
I highly recommend this book to everyone. You will learn so much about both America and Ghana’s history. Please pick it up ASAP!
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