You may not know this, but LQ Janna and I are real-life BFFs. Even though I live in Iceland, we’re in constant contact via messages, snaps, and — you guessed it — books! Books are a great way to stay connected.
I was home in MN last week hanging with Janna, who highly recommended Homegoing. We’ve now both read it, and thought a joint Q-and-A-style review would be fun. Spoiler alert: we love this book.
But first, we want to tell you a little about it. Homegoing is Yaa Gyasi’s brilliant debut novel, telling the story of two half sisters from what is now Ghana. Esi is sold in the slave trade and sent to America, while Effia is forced to marry a slave trader and remains on the Gold Coast. Spanning three centuries, the book jumps between Esi and Effia’s descendants, showing how connected we remain to those who come before us.
Q: What did you like most about this book?
A: The individual stories and generational connections. It’s not often we can picture ancestry in a visual way like this and actually hear some of each person’s story. I also liked how the American side showed the transition from slavery to modern day, highlighting significant periods in each generation’s lives.
J: I enjoyed the way the book was structured. It almost felt like a collection of short stories as each chapter was dedicated to a different descendant of Esi or Effia. I didn’t connect to all the characters, but that was fine since I got to see someone else’s story in the next chapter.
Q: Did you read or listen to the book?
J: I got the book through the library on my Kindle, but I would have preferred a real copy. I kept referencing the genealogy tree at the front and having a print copy would have made that much more seamless.
A: Listened. I really liked the audiobook because of the pronunciations, though I did not have the family tree or know it existed — luckily, Janna sent it to me or I would have been very confused!
Q: Which character or story resonated the most?
A: Kojo and his son, H. Though born free, H’s mother was kidnapped into slavery. H never knew his parents, siblings, or family history. Later, he was a victim of prison labor exploitation as a leased convict.
J: Aubrey is stealing all my answers! H’s story really resonated with me as well, but one of the most heartbreaking stories was Willie’s, H’s daughter.
Q: Did this book leave an impression on you?
A: Yes, definitely. The issues the characters faced didn’t disappear with each generation; they simply changed form. For example, this happened recently. In his response, James said: “No matter how much money you have, no matter how famous you are, no matter how many people admire you, you know being black in America is tough.” And that resonates.
J: Oof. I agree with Aubrey. The stories put into perspective how far-reaching slavery was and still is today. Homegoing shows how racism is systemic by giving examples of real people. I’ve read articles, I know the statistics, I live in a city, but I don’t know people’s individual stories. This book definitely made me step back and examine the privileged bubble I live in.
Q: Is there anything you didn’t like about the book?
J: As the book progressed, the characters felt more like stock characters with details and less like full realized people. And the actual ending felt forced in contrast to the first half of the book.
A: I agree; the ending was so-so, though it didn’t change how I felt about the book overall.
Q: Any final thoughts?
A: Make sure to get your hands on the family tree for this one, which is pretty easy to find on the internet if you choose to listen to the audiobook. And also Gyasi is our age! I’m so impressed.
J: I can’t believe this is her first novel. I will be reading whatever she puts out next.
A: Me too!
Q: Would you recommend this book to others?
J & A: Yes. Overall, we both quite liked the book. Actually, like is probably an understatement. Homegoing is beautifully written, the structure of the chapters works for the stories being told, and it made us think outside our own lives and experiences. 5 out of 5 stars.