"This is the problem of history. We cannot know that which we were not there to see and hear and experience for ourselves. We must rely upon the words of others. [...] So when you study history, you must always ask yourselves, whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth?"
Gyasi's debut novel, Homegoing is the story of two sisters separated at birth and the subsequent effect on their descents, tracing the two families lives through their ups and downs. Following a different descendant of an Asante woman named Maame in each chapter, the novel begins with her two daughters, who are half sisters, 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. A heartbreakingly beautiful portrayal of lives and families effected by the slave trade, Homegoing is, as Diana Evans in the Guardian argues, 'a hugely empathic, unflinching portrayal of west Africa’s role in the transatlantic slave trade'.
Homegoing begins in the late 18th century in an Asante village on the Gold Coast which eventually became Ghana. 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 held in dungeons underneath the castle awaiting transit to the Americas and the Caribbean. Among them is Esi Asare, Effia’s half-sister, who was captured as a prisoner of tribal warfare. 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 right up until the 21st century when the history of slavery is still being felt.
What distinguishes Homegoing is Gyasi's ability to create well-rounded and empathetic characters almost immediately. Given the novel's structure this is crucial to sustaining the reader's attention. Simultaneously heartbreaking and inspiring, Homegoing emphasises the importance of re-reading history and suggests promising things to come from its author.