The night Effia Otcher was born into the musky heat of Fanteland, a fire raged through the woods just outside her father’s compound. It moved quickly, tearing a path for days. It lived off the air; it slept in caves and hid in trees; it burned, up and through, unconcerned with what wreckage it left behind, until it reached an Asante village. There, it disappeared, becoming one with the night. (…)
The villagers began to say that the baby was born of the fire, that this was the reason Baaba had no milk. Effia was nursed by Cobbe’s second wife, who had just given birth to a son three months before. (…) “
In modern-day Ghana, in Fanteland, in the seventeenth century, Effia and Esi are born of the same father, but will have completely opposed destinies. One becomes a slave during the slave trade, the other- the wife of a slave trader. For the next three centuries, on each side of the Atlantic their descendants will struggle to make their own way into the everchanging New World where their ancestors were brought and forced to fit. From mine-working to jazz-playing, from slavery to academia, African- Americans become despite themselves a part of a foreign land and their stories are mostly about how to fit and become what they are meant to be.
Like an enchanted tale told by a griot, the story begins with fire taking over the Fanteland, the story of Effia and Esi’s descent mixes traditional Fante and Ashanti folk stories and the American history of slavery in a wonderfully mastered prose. Between Africa and North America, the characters are first torn, then resentful, then accepting their cultural heritage.
Yaa Gyasi excels in entagling the private stories of the characters with the bigger History which both lifts and suffocates the characters; story and History, slave trade and family dramas, the characters of the novel embody how fragile individuals are in the face of history, but also how time helps them go back to their origins. Time cannot heal the wounds of past abuses, but it can offer the chance to the youngest descendents of the old Ashanti-Fante families to make peace with their bruised lives and start over.
Once you understand and accept who you are, you can return home.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
978-0241242735 / Viking / 2016
Review by Ioana Danaila
Ioana Danaila was born in Romania. She graduated from University Lyon 2 Lumière with a Masters in Postcolonial Literature and a First degree in French for Non-Francophone people. She has published short stories and translated books from French to Romanian. She speaks Romanian, French, English, and Spanish and teaches English to high school students in France.