Quickie Review: Homegoing

Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing was published to breathless excitement and rave reviews, and I was excited to read it. Truth is, it’s just alright. Her idea for the novel is great – following the generations of a set of sisters who were separated in the mid-18th century when one was imprisoned and sold into American slavery while the other lived out her life in the Gold Coast of Africa until two of their descendants meet 250 years later – but she doesn’t quite pull it off. On the one hand, it’s not quite a novel. The stories of the individual lives are presented as near-stand-alone narratives. There is enough reference back to previous characters to indicate that you are reading a story of descendants, but there’s not enough to really pull those people’s stories together in a meaningful way. In this manner, it feels more like a collection of short stories.

On the other hand, it’s not a collection of short stories, either. The chapters aren’t complete enough on their own to constitute a full story rather than a segment of one. The overall effect of this leaves the reader a bit confused (wait, whose daughter is this, now?) and a bit fatigued (how many generations is this? Which person is this character related to?). What I’ve realized is that this book requires advance information. I like to pick up books without so much as reading the dust jacket and being surprised by what’s inside. That tactic doesn’t work here; unless you already know the framework on which Gyasi is intending to build her characters, you’ll have a difficult time understanding how things are supposed to be organized. I consider that a flaw, but it only emerges for me because I am a weirdo. Outside of that, I think it’s probably pretty good.

Rating: some stars, I guess?

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