The Importance of Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing

Another BookRiot read this week with a book that was already higher up on the TBR and then BookRiot made it happen.  There was never any doubt I was going to read this one.

That said, I was putting it off some, too.  It’s like the half marathon I have been training for all summer that’s at the end of September. I know it will be good for me and I will be glad I did it, but it might be a little intense in the middle.  It won’t be about white people problems, and it will be based on real atrocities.

A Book of Colonial or Post Colonial Literature:

homegoing.jpg

Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi

I’ll be honest right now that this book already looked appealing, but when Ta-Nehisi Coates endorsed it right on the cover, I knew I was going to read it. I knew that if he endorsed this story it would be real and not a whitewashed version of the story.  Not that I thought that the author, a Ghanaian-American woman (and in her twenties, no less), would whitewash the truth, but I get concerned about what happens when it goes through the publishing machine to make it more appealing to white people.

Looking over her bio to be sure I have her specs right for this blog I am also intrigued by what an immigrant black woman’s life is like in Alabama, but maybe she’s saving that up for something else of hers I will inevitably buy.

So, here’s the thing that makes this book special.  The slave narrative, in my opinion, has been done.  I haven’t read all the literature I even have on that, but like I said when I reviewed Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad, which I very much respect as a well written novel, I felt it had all been done before.  Homegoing includes more of what the black slavery/immigration/”liberation”/existence was like for the dark skinned in America and Africa in recent history.  There are stories of Africans on both sides of the slave ships, men serving as free mining labor due to trumped up prison charges, a woman kidnapped back into slavery, drugs and jazz in Harlem in the sixties.  There is more than the times they were enslaved, and beaten, and apprehended as part of their time as slaves.  When the Civil War changed the laws there was still a long way to go, especially as I have read Toni Morrison’s Beloved (and  some of the books I have read on literary critique I now feel I  missed about half of it somehow) and the immediate implications of a so called ‘freedom.’

The description on Amazon puts it perfectly: “the legacy of slavery is fully revealed in the light of the present day.”

It’s enough of our history to still be playing out today.

These narratives of families can get tangled and make bounds through time. I wasn’t always completely sure who the new character belonged to out of the women that were first introduced in the very beginning, but I could trace their more immediate families. It wraps through time the different experiences of hardship, and they are complicated ties.   But it almost doesn’t really matter who these people were tied to back in Africa, their stories are important and poignant.  And as I said before, there is conflict in Ghana with the British as well in the story, not just about the American experience.

I might need to make a post on what would be required reading in high school if I ran the ship.  I have a few in mind to help kids getting ready for the world to shake their ignorance just a little sooner.  This would absolutely be on the list.  I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe and while I enjoyed it, it was a piece of propaganda written for the time.  I think Homegoing is more immediate and relevant to people now than Uncle Tom’s Cabin, that relies on a context we no longer live in.  I can’t fault Gyasi for that, though, seeing as she was about nine years old when I was doing my reading for US History and Government.  If I had read this at 16-17 years old, I might have struggled with knowing how to feel about it, a situation that was terrible and past my control, but it would have been a start.

This is a shorter post today, as the other book I am writing about next is also intense and involved.

Comments/likes/shares!

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