History and Familial Lineage Take Center Stage in Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing begins in eighteenth-century Ghana and spans several centuries (eight generations!) to follow the generational line of Maame, an Asante woman.

Maame has two daughters.

She gives birth to Effia while she is enslaved by the Fante and gives birth to Esi after she escapes to Asanteland.

Effia marries an English slave trader while Esi is sold into slavery. These half-sisters never meet, but their stories are deeply connected.

Homegoing captures Effia and Esi’s individual paths and that of their descendants.

The history of Black and African people in the U.S. is often told through the perspective of White conquerors. These narratives are generally devoid of individual truths and collective human experiences. Yaa Gyasi weaves together personal and historical events to give voice and power to all of her characters.

Each chapter centers around key historical periods, including the transatlantic slave trade, post-Civil War slavery (the coal mines), the Jim Crow era, Harlem Jazz Renaissance, the crack epidemic, present-day racism in the U.S., and the immigration of Africans to the U.S.

Homegoing also explores a lesser known fact: slavery had (and continues to have) grotesque effects on Africans who remained in Africa.

The power of history and familial lineage is resounding in Homegoing.

History is Storytelling.

Yaw, one of Effia’s descendants, proclaims this truth during a lesson with his students. Indeed, who gets to tell the story matters. To tell a complete story, all accounts must be recounted.

Homegoing provides a powerful way to learn about and claim experiences that were once stripped of truth, existence, and completeness.

Thank you Yaa for taking on the herculean task of unraveling a complex history.

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Do You Return Home If Your Dreams Do Not Pan out Like You Envisioned?

The novel Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue links the lives of two families in distinct spheres of American society. The Jongas, a Cameroonian immigrant family, live in Harlem, and the Edwards, an upper-class family, enjoy a privileged life characterized by vacations to the Hamptons.

The author focuses on immigration and aspects of the immigrant experience in the U.S. and uses the backdrop of the Great Recession of the late 2000s to tell a captivating story. The writing is tender and honest, and each character’s experience is treated with honor and grace. The closeness we feel for the Jonga family does not limit our sympathy for the Edwards.

Though we have different life experiences, at our core, we are all human.

A theme that stands out is that of return migration. The author does not write about immigration in this way, but Jende Jonga’s decision certainly provides evidence that migration is not a one-way experience for many immigrants. Some immigrants choose to return to their country of origin for many reasons, including a new realization of what life in America might mean for them and their family.

I am pleased that the author told this story. A story of choosing to return home—wherever that is for you—when your dreams do not pan out the way you envisioned.

It is indeed possible to dream bold dreams, have them deferred, and then dream again.

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