Wednesday, January 10, 2018

HOMEGOING by Yaa Gyasi

Again, we have a story that deserves to be told, but I did not care for the manner in which it was told.  This novel is multi-generational in the extreme, and each character gets basically one chapter of coverage.  The cascade of characters all descend from two half-sisters, but I found it very hard to keep track of them all, although each successive generation’s story provides some followup on the lives of his or her mother and/or father.  The book begins with one of the sisters, an African woman, becoming the second wife (unbeknownst to the first wife) of a white slavetrader.  Her progeny stay in Africa until the 20th century, but her half-sister is sold into slavery and sent to the U.S.  Each chapter jumps at least a decade, so that we follow slaves being held in a dungeon in western Africa, slaves in the American South, escaped slaves, freed slaves, post-Civil War migration to the North, Harlem during the Jazz Age, black junkies in the Civil Rights era, and ultimately life in the 21st century.  Interleaved with these stories, many of which are brutally tragic, are the chapters about the lives of the first sister’s offspring in Africa.  I found the format to be choppy and confusing.  I especially found it difficult to bond with characters that I knew I would be leaving at the end of the chapter.  The author had a lot of ground to cover, and I can see how this format allowed her to hurtle through history, but I didn’t look forward to picking this book up to resume reading when I knew that the characters I had just gotten acquainted with were no longer going to receive any attention.

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