Homegoing

Homegoing

4.8 5
by Yaa Gyasi
     
 

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Homegoing is an inspiration.” —Ta-Nehisi Coates 

The unforgettable New York Times best seller begins with the story of two half-sisters, separated by forces beyond their control: one sold into slavery, the other married to a British slaver. Written with tremendous sweep and power, Homegoing traces the

Overview


Homegoing is an inspiration.” —Ta-Nehisi Coates 

The unforgettable New York Times best seller begins with the story of two half-sisters, separated by forces beyond their control: one sold into slavery, the other married to a British slaver. Written with tremendous sweep and power, Homegoing traces the generations of family who follow, as their destinies lead them through two continents and three hundred years of history, each life indeliably drawn, as the legacy of slavery is fully revealed in light of the present day.
           
Effia and Esi are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.

Editorial Reviews

B&N Reads
5/31/2016
Gyasi's radiant debut spans two countries and seven generations, telling parallel histories of America and Ghana through the lives and descendants of two half-sisters who never meet. Effia is forced into marriage with a British colonizer, while Esi is captured by European slavers. Through the years, their family fortunes rise and fall, love is found and lost, and each descendant of the original sisters has their story told in miniature, through brief narratives that capture larger truths about history and humanity. An epic and inspirational must-read. Read More
The New York Times Book Review - Isabel Wilkerson
The unhealed ruptures of slavery…course through Homegoing, the hypnotic debut novel by Yaa Gyasi, a stirringly gifted young writer, that contemplates the consequences of human trafficking on both sides of the Atlantic…The West African chapters are the heart of the book, a deep channeling of multilayered humanity. Gyasi evokes what was lost to those who were sold away—the sense of individual and collective identity, a wealth of rituals and customs they'd be whipped for trying to retain in America…In the first, magical half of the novel, Gyasi walks assuredly through the terrain of Alex Haley, Solomon Northup and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her intimate rendering of the human heart battered by the forces of conquest and history…the great, aching gift of [Homecoming] is that it offers, in its own way, the very thing that enslavement denied its descendants: the possibility of imagining the connection between the broken threads of their origins.
The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani
It's impossible not to admire the ambition and scope of Homegoing, and thanks to Ms. Gyasi's instinctive storytelling gifts, the book leaves the reader with a visceral understanding of both the savage realities of slavery and the emotional damage that is handed down, over the centuries, from mothers to daughters, fathers to sons. At its best, the novel makes us experience the horrors of slavery on an intimate, personal level; by its conclusion, the characters' tales of loss and resilience have acquired an inexorable and cumulative emotional weight.
Publishers Weekly
★ 02/01/2016
Gyasi’s amazing debut offers an unforgettable, page-turning look at the histories of Ghana and America, as the author traces a single bloodline across seven generations, beginning with Ghanaian half-sisters Effia, who is married off to a British colonizer in the 1760s, and Esi, who is captured into the British slave-trading system around the same time. These women never meet, never know of each other’s existence, yet in alternating narratives we see their respective families swell through the eyes of slaves, wanderers, union leaders, teachers, heroin addicts, and more—these often feel like linked short stories, with each descendent receiving his or her own chapter. Esi’s descendants find themselves on the other side of the Atlantic, toiling on plantations in the American South before escaping to the North for freedom, while Effia’s offspring become intertwined in the Gold Coast slave trade, until her grandson breaks away and disappears to live a simple existence with his true love. In both America and Ghana, prosperity rises and falls from parent to child, love comes and goes, and the characters’ trust of white men wavers. These story elements purposely echo like ghosts—as history often repeats itself—yet Gyasi writes each narrative with remarkable freshness and subtlety. A marvelous novel. Agent: Eric Simonoff, WME Entertainment. (June)
From the Publisher
“Gyasi’s characters are so fully realized, so elegantly carved—very often I found myself longing to hear more. Craft is essential given the task Gyasi sets for herself—drawing not just a lineage of two sisters, but two related peoples. Gyasi is deeply concerned with the sin of selling humans on Africans, not Europeans. But she does not scold. She does not excuse. And she does not romanticize. The black Americans she follows are not overly virtuous victims.  Sin comes in all forms, from selling people to abandoning children.  I think I needed to read a book like this to remember what is possible.  I think I needed to remember what happens when you pair a gifted literary mind to an epic task. Homegoing is an inspiration.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates, National Book Award-winning author of Between the World and Me

"Homegoing is a remarkable feat—a novel at once epic and intimate, capturing the moral weight of history as it bears down on individual struggles, hopes, and fears. A tremendous debut.” 

Phil Klay, National Book Award-winning author of Redeployment

“I could not put this book down”

Roxane Gay
 
 
“It is hard to overstate how much I LOVE this book”
 
Michele Norris 

"One of the most fantastic books I've read in a long time...you cry and you laugh as you're reading it...a beautiful story"

Trevor Noah, The Daily Show

“The hypnotic debut novel by Yaa Gyasi, a stirringly gifted writer . . . magical . . . the great, aching gift of the novel is that it offers, in its own way, the very thing that enslavement denied its descendants: the possibility of imagining the connection between the broken threads of their origins.”

—Isabel Wilkerson, The New York Times Book Review

"It’s impossible not to admire the ambition and scope of “Homegoing,” and thanks to Ms. Gyasi’s instinctive storytelling gifts, the book leaves the reader with a visceral understanding of both the savage realities of slavery and the emotional damage that is handed down, over the centuries, from mothers to daughters, fathers to sons. At its best, the novel makes us experience the horrors of slavery on an intimate, personal level; by its conclusion, the characters’ tales of loss and resilience have acquired an inexorable and cumulative emotional weight."

—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"The brilliance of this structure, in which we know more than the characters do about the fate of their parents and children, pays homage to the vast scope of slavery without losing sight of its private devastation . . . . [Toni Morrison’s] influence is palpable in Gyasi’s historicity and lyricism; she shares Morrison’s uncanny ability to crystalize, in a single event, slavery’s moral and emotional fallout. What is uniquely Gyasi’s is her ability to connect it so explicitly to the present day: No novel has better illustrated the way in which racism became institutionalized in this country.”

Megan O’Grady, Vogue

“Toni Morrison’s masterpiece, “Beloved,” seared into our imagination the grotesque distortions of antebellum life. And now, Yaa Gyasi’s rich debut novel, “Homegoing,” confronts us of the involvement of Africans in the enslavement of their own people . . . the speed with which Gyasi sweeps across the decades isn’t confusing so much as dazzling, creating a kind of time-elapsed photo of black lives in America and in the motherland . . . haunting . . . Gyasi has developed a style agile enough to reflect the remarkable range of her first novel. As she moves across the centuries, from old and new Ghana and to pre-Civil War Alabama and modern-day Palo Alto, her prose modulates subtly according to time and setting: The 18th-century chapters resonate with the tones of legend, while the contemporary chapters shine with clear-eyed realism. And somehow all this takes place in the miraculous efficiency of just 300 pages . . . truly captivating.”

—Ron Charles, Washington Post
 

“Gyasi echoes [James] Baldwin’s understanding of a common culture marked by both yearning and pain, in which black people can confront each other across differences and reach a political understanding about what unites them. What distinguishes Gyasi’s presentation of this idea is its scope: She does not present us with a single moment, but rather delivers a multigenerational saga in which two branches of a family, separated by slavery and time, emerge from the murk of history in a romantic embrace . . . . . HOMEGOING is a reminder of the tenacity of fathers and mothers who struggle to keep their kin alive. The novel succeeds when it retrieves individual lives from the oblivion mandated by racism and spins the story of the family’s struggle to survive.”

—Amitava Kumar, Bookforum

“Rich, epic . . . . Each chapter is tightly plotted, and there are suspenseful, even spectacular climaxes.”

—Christian Lorentzen, New York Magazine

“Gripping.”

Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

“A memorable epic of changing families and changing nations.”

—Chicago Tribune

"Remarkable...compelling...powerful."

Rebecca Steinitz, Boston Globe

"Epic...astonishing...page-turning."

—Entertainment Weekly

“The arrival of a major new voice in American literature”

—Poets & Writers

"Tremendous...spectacular...[HOMEGOING is] essential reading from a young writer whose stellar instincts, sturdy craftsmanship and penetrating wisdom seem likely to continue apace — much to our good fortune as readers."

—SF Chronicle

“A blazing success . . . . The sum of Homegoing’s parts is remarkable, a panoramic portrait of the slave trade and its reverberations, told through the travails of one family that carries the scars of that legacy . . . . Gyasi’s characters may be fictional, but their stories are representative of a range of experience that is all too real and difficult to uncover. Terrible things happen to them; they’re constantly cleaved apart, and in the process, cut off from their own stories. In her ambitious and sweeping novel, Gyasi has made these lost stories a little more visible.”

Steph Cha, Los Angeles Times
 

“The most powerful debut novel of 2016 . . . . Carrying on in the tradition of her foremothers—like Toni Morrison, Edwidge Danticat, Assia Djebar and Bessie Head—Gyasi has created a marvelous work of fiction that both embraces and re-writes history.”

Shannon M. Houston, Paste Magazine


“Heart-wrenching . . . . Gyasi’s unsentimental prose, her vibrant characters and her rich settings keep the pages turning no matter how mournful the plot . . . . The horror of being present at the wrong place and the wrong time, whether black or white, is handled poignantly . . . . The chapters change narrators effortlessly and smoothly transition between time periods . . . . I kept expecting a Henry Louis Gates ‘Find Your Roots’ TV show . . . . Yaa Gyasi’s assured Homegoing is a panorama of splendid faces.”

—Soniah Kamal, Atlanta Journal-Constitution


“A remarkable achievement, marking the arrival of a powerful new voice in fiction.”

—Kelsey Ronan, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"Gyasi's lyrical, devastating debut more than deserves to be held in its own light.... Gyasi traces black history from the Middle Passage to the Great Migration and beyond, bringing every Asante village, cotton plantation, and coal mine into vivid focus. The rhythm of her streamlined sentences is clipped and clean, with brilliant bursts of primary color...the luminous beauty of Gyasi’s unforgettable telling. A–"

--Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly

“Gyasi is a deeply empathetic writer, and each of the novel’s 14 chapters is a savvy character portrait that reveals the impact of racism from multiple perspectives . . . . A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.”

Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2016

Homegoing is an epic novel in every sense of the word — spanning three centuries, Homegoing is a sweeping account of two half-sisters in 18th-century Ghana and the lives of their many generations of descendants in America. A stunning, unforgettable account of family, history, and racism, Homegoing is an ambitious work that lives up to the hype.”

—Jarry Lee, Buzzfeed

“Stunning . . . . [HOMEGOING] may just be one of the richest, most rewarding reads of 2016.”

—Meredith Turits, ELLE Magazine’s “19 Summer Books That Everyone Will Be Talking About”

"Rarely does a grand, sweeping epic plumb interior lives so thoroughly. Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing is a marvel."

—Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

“Gyasi gives voice, and an empathetic ear, to the ensuing seven generations of flawed and deeply human descendants, creating a patchwork mastery of historical fiction.”

—Cotton Codinha, Elle Magazine

“[A] commanding debut . . . will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading. When people talk about all the things fiction can teach its readers, they’re talking about books like this.”

—Steph Opitz, Marie Claire

"Stunning, unforgettable... Homegoing is an ambitious work that lives up to the hype."

Buzzfeed

"Striking... With racial inequality at the forefront of America’s consciousness, Homegoing  is a reminder of slavery’s rippling repercussions, not only in America, Gyasi points out, but around the world."

Departures Magazine

"HOMEGOING is sprawling, epic.”

—Hope Wabuke, The Root

“An important, riveting page-turner filled with beautiful prose, Homegoing shoots for the moon and lands right on it.”

—Isaac Fitzgerald, Buzzfeed

"Each chapter is filled with so much emotion and depth and tackles so many different topics.... I didn't want to put it down."

—BookRiot

"Dazzling."

Mother Jones

"Lyric and versatile . . .  [Yaa Gyasi] writes with authority about history and pulls her readers deep into her characters' lives through the force of her empathetic imagination . . . striking . . . [a] strong debut novel."

Maureen Corrigan, NPR's Fresh Air

"Stunning...vivid and poignant"

WBUR

“Bewitching, eye-opening”

—Goodreads

"Courageous . . . [Yaa Gyasi] approaches tough topics with unflinching honesty."

The Washington Independent Review of Books

"[HOMEGOING] lives up to the hype."

—New York Magazine Approval Matrix

“Epic . . . The destinies of Effia Otcher and Esi Asare in Yaa Gyasi’s spellbinding Homegoing recall those of sisters Celie and Nettie in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, switched-at-birth infants Saleem and Shiva in Salman Rushdie’s Midnight's Children and compatriot clones Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Gyasi’s debut novel effortlessly earns its spot alongside these distinguished classics . . . . The author’s penetrating prose draws intimate and deeply cultivated connections between rival tribes, languages lost and found, real love and a hardness of spirit. And in the process, Gyasi has written a nuanced, scintillating investigation into the myriad intricacies and institutions that shape a family.”

— Anjali Enjeti, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
 

“Impressive . . . intricate in plot and scope . . . . Homegoing serves as a modern-day reconstruction of lost and untold narratives — and a desire to move forward.”

—Dana De Greff, Miami Herald
 

“No debate at all: Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing is impressive, impassioned, and utterly original . . . a story so personalized, so urgent and timely, especially for today’s readers and the many who do not seem to understand why African Americans are so conflicted.”

—Charles R. Larson, Counterpunch

“Epic . . . a timely, riveting portrayal of the global African Diaspora—and the aftereffects that linger on to this day.”

—Hope Wabuke, The Root

“One of the most anticipated books of this summer is from debut novelist Yaa Gyasi, and all it will take to convince you the hype is worth it is reading some of these powerful Homegoing quotes about family, identity, and history. An emotional, beautiful, and remarkable book, Homegoing should definitely be on your summer reading list . . . . With characters you won't be able to forget, and stories that will haunt you long after you turn the last page, Homegoing is stunning — a truly heartbreaking work of literary genius. It honestly and elegantly tries to unravel the complicated history of not only a family through the generations, but a nation through the years of outside conflict, inner turmoil, and one of the darker pieces of the past.”

—Sadie L. Trombetta, Bustle


Library Journal
★ 06/01/2016
Fiction can do what straightforward historical narrative cannot: compress 300 years of African American experience into a story that is at once cohesive and compelling. The saga begins in West Africa in the 18th century, when Effia, a beautiful girl in the Asante tribe, is married off to a British officer who oversees slave trafficking at a fortress on the Gold Coast. Thus starts an African family line that bears the curse of complicity in slavery. At the same time, Effia's half sister Esi is captured, endures the Middle Passage, and lands in America as a slave on a Southern plantation. Individual chapters take readers chronologically through pivotal historical moments and up to the present: living in Baltimore after the 1857 Dred Scott decision, Harlem during the Great Migration, a ghetto in the 1960s, and postcolonial Africa. Gyasi's characters are vividly drawn, sympathetic yet not simplistically heroic. It's wrenching to leave them behind, but readers will be quickly enthralled by the next generation's story. VERDICT This is an amazing first novel, remarkable in its epic vision. [See Prepub Alert, 1/4/16.]—Reba Leiding, emeritus, James Madison Univ. Lib., Harrisonburg, VA
Kirkus Reviews
2016-03-02
A novel of sharply drawn character studies immersed in more than 250 hard, transformative years in the African-American diaspora. Gyasi's debut novel opens in the mid-1700s in what is now Ghana, as tribal rivalries are exploited by British and Dutch colonists and slave traders. The daughter of one tribal leader marries a British man for financial expediency, then learns that the "castle" he governs is a holding dungeon for slaves. (When she asks what's held there, she's told "cargo.") The narrative soon alternates chapters between the Ghanans and their American descendants up through the present day. On either side of the Atlantic, the tale is often one of racism, degradation, and loss: a slave on an Alabama plantation is whipped "until the blood on the ground is high enough to bathe a baby"; a freedman in Baltimore fears being sent back South with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act; a Ghanan woman is driven mad from the abuse of a missionary and her husband's injury in a tribal war; a woman in Harlem is increasingly distanced from (and then humiliated by) her husband, who passes as white. Gyasi is a deeply empathetic writer, and each of the novel's 14 chapters is a savvy character portrait that reveals the impact of racism from multiple perspectives. It lacks the sweep that its premise implies, though: while the characters share a bloodline, and a gold-flecked stone appears throughout the book as a symbolic connector, the novel is more a well-made linked story collection than a complex epic. Yet Gyasi plainly has the talent to pull that off: "I will be my own nation," one woman tells a British suitor early on, and the author understands both the necessity of that defiance and how hard it is to follow through on it. A promising debut that's awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101947135
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
06/07/2016
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
4,429
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 9.90(h) x 1.40(d)
Lexile:
910L (what's this?)

Read an Excerpt

Effia

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.

Effia’s father, Cobbe Otcher, left his first wife, Baaba, with the new baby so that he might survey the damage to his yams, that most precious crop known far and wide to sustain families. Cobbe had lost seven yams, and he felt each loss as a blow to his own family. He knew then that the memory of the fire that burned, then fled, would haunt him, his children, and his children’s children for as long as the line continued. When he came back into Baaba’s hut to find Effia, the child of the night’s fire, shrieking into the air, he looked at his wife and said, “We will never again speak of what happened today.”

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. Effia would not latch on, and when she did, her sharp gums would tear at the flesh around the woman’s nipples until she became afraid to feed the baby. Because of this, Effia grew thinner, skin on small birdlike bones, with a large black hole of a mouth that expelled a hungry cry which could be heard throughout the village, even on the days Baaba did her best to smother it, covering the baby’s lips with the rough palm of her left hand.

“Love her,” Cobbe commanded, as though love were as simple an act as lifting food up from an iron plate and past one’s lips. At night, Baaba dreamed of leaving the baby in the dark forest so that the god Nyame could do with her as he pleased.

Effia grew older. The summer after her third birthday, Baaba had her first son. The boy’s name was Fiifi, and he was so fat that sometimes, when Baaba wasn’t looking, Effia would roll him along the ground like a ball. The first day that Baaba let Effia hold him, she accidentally dropped him. The baby bounced on his buttocks, landed on his stomach, and looked up at everyone in the room, confused as to whether or not he should cry. He decided against it, but Baaba, who had been stirring banku, lifted her stirring stick and beat Effia across her bare back. Each time the stick lifted off the girl’s body, it would leave behind hot, sticky pieces of banku that burned into her flesh. By the time Baaba had finished, Effia was covered with sores, screaming and crying. From the floor, rolling this way and that on his belly, Fiifi looked at Effia with his saucer eyes but made no noise.

Cobbe came home to find his other wives attending to Effia’s wounds and understood immediately what had happened. He and Baaba fought well into the night. Effia could hear them through the thin walls of the hut where she lay on the floor, drifting in and out of a feverish sleep. In her dream, Cobbe was a lion and Baaba was a tree. The lion plucked the tree from the ground where it stood and slammed it back down. The tree stretched its branches in protest, and the lion ripped them off, one by one. The tree, horizontal, began to cry red ants that traveled down the thin cracks between its bark. The ants pooled on the soft earth around the top of the tree trunk.

And so the cycle began. Baaba beat Effia. Cobbe beat Baaba. By the time Effia had reached age ten, she could recite a history of the scars on her body. The summer of 1764, when Baaba broke yams across her back. The spring of 1767, when Baaba bashed her left foot with a rock, breaking her big toe so that it now always pointed away from the other toes. For each scar on Effia’s body, there was a companion scar on Baaba’s, but that didn’t stop mother from beating daughter, father from beating mother.

Matters were only made worse by Effia’s blossoming beauty. When she was twelve, her breasts arrived, two lumps that sprung from her chest, as soft as mango flesh. The men of the village knew that first blood would soon follow, and they waited for the chance to ask Baaba and Cobbe for her hand. The gifts started. One man tapped palm wine better than anyone else in the village, but another’s fishing nets were never empty. Cobbe’s family feasted off Effia’s burgeoning womanhood. Their bellies, their hands, were never empty.

In 1775, Adwoa Aidoo became the first girl of the village to be proposed to by one of the British soldiers. She was light-skinned and sharp-tongued. In the mornings, after she had bathed, she rubbed shea butter all over her body, underneath her breasts and between her legs. Effia didn’t know her well, but she had seen her naked one day when Baaba sent her to carry palm oil to the girl’s hut. Her skin was slick and shiny, her hair regal.

The first time the white man came, Adwoa’s mother asked Effia’s parents to show him around the village while Adwoa prepared herself for him.

“Can I come?” Effia asked, running after her parents as they walked. She heard Baaba’s “no” in one ear and Cobbe’s “yes” in the other. Her father’s ear won, and soon Effia was standing before the first white man she had ever seen.

“He is happy to meet you,” the translator said as the white man held his hand out to Effia. She didn’t accept it. Instead, she hid behind her father’s leg and watched him.

He wore a coat that had shiny gold buttons down the middle; it strained against his paunch. His face was red, as though his neck were a stump on fire. He was fat all over and sweating huge droplets from his forehead and above his bare lips. Effia started to think of him as a rain cloud: sallow and wet and shapeless.

“Please, he would like to see the village,” the translator said, and they all began to walk.

They stopped first by Effia’s own compound. “This is where we live,” Effia told the white man, and he smiled at her dumbly, his green eyes hidden in fog.

He didn’t understand. Even after his translator spoke to him, he didn’t understand.

Cobbe held Effia’s hand as he and Baaba led the white man through the compound. “Here, in this village,” Cobbe said, “each wife has her own hut. This is the hut she shares with her children. When it is her husband’s night to be with her, he goes to her in her hut.”

The white man’s eyes grew clearer as the translation was given, and suddenly Effia realized that he was seeing through new eyes. The mud of her hut’s walls, the straw of the roof, he could finally see them.

They continued on through the village, showing the white man the town square, the small fishing boats formed from hollowed-out tree trunks that the men carried with them when they walked the few miles down to the coast. Effia forced herself to see things through new eyes, too. She smelled the sea-salt wind as it touched the hairs in her nose, felt the bark of a palm tree as sharp as a scratch, saw the deep, deep red of the clay that was all around them.

“Baaba,” Effia asked once the men had walked farther ahead of them, “why will Adwoa marry this man?”

“Because her mother says so.”

A few weeks later, the white man came back to pay respects to Adwoa’s mother, and Effia and all of the other villagers gathered around to see what he would offer. There was the bride price of fifteen pounds. There were goods he’d brought with him from the Castle, carried on the backs of Asantes. Cobbe made Effia stand behind him as they watched the servants come in with fabric, millet, gold, and iron.

When they walked back to their compound, Cobbe pulled Effia aside, letting his wives and other children walk in front of them.

“Do you understand what just happened?” he asked her. In the distance, Baaba slipped her hand into Fiifi’s. Effia’s brother had just turned eleven, but he could already climb up the trunk of a palm tree using nothing but his bare hands and feet for support.

“The white man came to take Adwoa away,” Effia said.

Her father nodded. “The white men live in the Cape Coast Castle. There, they trade goods with our people.”

“Like iron and millet?”

Her father put his hand on her shoulder and kissed the top of her forehead, but when he pulled away the look in his eyes was troubled and distant. “Yes, we get iron and millet, but we must give them things in return. That man came from Cape Coast to marry Adwoa, and there will be more like him who will come and take our daughters away. But you, my own, I have bigger plans for you than to live as a white man’s wife. You will marry a man of our village.”

Baaba turned around just then, and Effia caught her eyes. Baaba scowled. Effia looked at her father to see if he had noticed, but Cobbe did not say a word.

Effia knew who her choice for husband would be, and she dearly hoped her parents would choose the same man. Abeeku Badu was next in line to be the village chief. He was tall, with skin like the pit of an avocado and large hands with long, slender fingers that he waved around like lightning bolts every time he spoke. He had visited their compound four times in the last month, and later that week, he and Effia were to share a meal together.

Abeeku brought a goat. His servants carried yams and fish and palm wine. Baaba and the other wives stoked their fires and heated the oil. The air smelled rich.

That morning, Baaba had plaited Effia’s hair. Two long braids on either side of her center part. They made her look like a ram, strong, willful. Effia had oiled her naked body and put gold in her ears. She sat across from Abeeku as they ate, pleased as he stole appreciative glances.

“Were you at Adwoa’s ceremony?” Baaba asked once all of the men had been served and the women finally began to eat.

“Yes, I was there, but only briefly. It is a shame Adwoa will be leaving the village. She would have made a good wife.”

“Will you work for the British when you become chief?” Effia asked. Cobbe and Baaba sent her sharp looks, and she lowered her head, but she lifted it to find Abeeku smiling.

“We work with the British, Effia, not for them. That is the meaning of trade. When I am chief, we will continue as we have, facilitating trade with the Asantes and the British.”

Effia nodded. She wasn’t exactly sure what this meant, but she could tell from her parents’ looks that it was best to keep her mouth shut. Abeeku Badu was the first man they had brought to meet her. Effia wanted desperately for him to want her, but she did not yet know what kind of man he was, what kind of woman he required. In her hut, Effia could ask her father and Fiifi anything she wanted. It was Baaba who practiced silence and preferred the same from Effia, Baaba who had slapped her for asking why she did not take her to be blessed as all the other mothers did for their daughters. It was only when Effia didn’t speak or question, when she made herself small, that she could feel Baaba’s love, or something like it. Maybe this was what Abeeku wanted too.

Abeeku finished eating. He shook hands with everyone in the family, and stopped by Effia’s mother. “You will let me know when she is ready,” he said.

Baaba clutched a hand to her chest and nodded soberly. Cobbe and the other men saw Abeeku off as the rest of the family waved.

That night, Baaba woke Effia up while she was sleeping on the floor of their hut. Effia felt the warmth of her mother’s breath against her ear as she spoke. “When your blood comes, Effia, you must hide it. You must tell me and no one else,” she said. “Do you understand?” She handed Effia palm fronds that she had turned into soft, rolled sheets. “Place these inside of you, and check them every day. When they turn red, you must tell me.”

Effia looked at the palm fronds, held in Baaba’s outstretched hands. She didn’t take them at first, but when she looked up again there was something like desperation in her mother’s eyes. And because the look had softened Baaba’s face somehow, and because Effia also knew desperation, that fruit of longing, she did as she was told. Every day, Effia checked for red, but the palm fronds came out greenish-white as always. In the spring, the chief of the village grew ill, and everyone watched Abeeku carefully to see if he was ready for the task. He married two women in those months, Arekua the Wise, and Millicent, the half-caste daughter of a Fante woman and a British soldier. The soldier had died from fever, leaving his wife and two children much wealth to do with as they pleased. Effia prayed for the day all of the villagers would call her Effia the Beauty, as Abeeku called her on the rare occasions when he was permitted to speak to her.

Millicent’s mother had been given a new name by her white husband. She was a plump, fleshy woman with teeth that twinkled against the dark night of her skin. She had decided to move out of the Castle and into the village once her husband died. Because the white men could not leave money in their wills to their Fante wives and children, they left it to other soldiers and friends, and those friends paid the wives. Millicent’s mother had been given enough money for a new start and a piece of land. She and Millicent would often come visit Effia and Baaba, for, as she said, they would soon be a part of the same family.

Millicent was the lightest-skinned woman Effia had ever seen. Her black hair reached down to the middle of her back and her eyes were tinged with green. She rarely smiled, and she spoke with a husky voice and a strange Fante accent.

“What was it like in the Castle?” Baaba asked Millicent’s mother one day while the four women were sitting to a snack of groundnuts and bananas.

“It was fine, fine. They take care of you, oh, these men! It is like they have never been with a woman before. I don’t know what their British wives were doing. I tell you, my husband looked at me like I was water and he was fire, and every night he had to be put out.”
 
The women laughed. Millicent slipped Effia a smile, and Effia wanted to ask her what it was like with Abeeku, but she did not dare.
 
Baaba leaned in close to Millicent’s mother, but still Effia could hear, “And they pay a good bride price, eh?”
 
“Enh, I tell you, my husband paid my mother ten pounds, and that was fifteen years ago! To be sure, my sister, the money is good, but I for one am glad my daughter has married a Fante. Even if a soldier offered to pay twenty pounds, she would not get to be the wife of a chief. And what’s worse, she would have to live in the Castle, far from me. No, no, it is better to marry a man of the village so that your daughters can stay close to you.”
 
Baaba nodded and turned toward Effia, who quickly looked away. That night, just two days after her fifteenth birthday, the blood came. It was not the powerful rush of the ocean waves that Effia had expected it to be, but rather a simple trickle, rain dripping, drop by drop, from the same spot of a hut’s roof. She cleaned herself off and waited for her father to leave Baaba so that she could tell her.
 
“Baaba,” she said, showing her the palm fronds painted red.
 
“I have gotten my blood.”
 
Baaba placed a hand over her lips.
 
“Who else knows?”
 
“No one,” Effia said.
 
“You will keep it that way. Do you understand? When anyone asks you if you have become a woman yet, you will answer no.”
 
Effia nodded. She turned to leave, but a question was burning hot coals in the pit of her stomach.
 
“Why?” she finally asked.
 
Baaba reached into Effia’s mouth and pulled out her tongue, pinching the tip with her sharp fingernails.
 
“Who are you that you think you can question me, enh? If you do not do as I say, I will make sure you never speak again.” She released Effia’s tongue, and for the rest of the night, Effia tasted her own blood.

Meet the Author

YAA GYASI was born in Ghana and raised in Huntsville, Alabama. She holds a BA in English from Stanford University and an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she held a Dean’s Graduate Research Fellowship. She lives in Berkeley, California.  

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Homegoing 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous 4 months ago
A great read
Anonymous 3 months ago
This is one of the best books I have read in ages. Gripping, absorbing, thought provoking.
Anonymous 9 months ago
Anonymous 28 days ago
This is one of the most captivating books I've ever read. I could not put it down. It was so thoughtfully written and has forced me to think about my own family's origins and how we came to be. Truly a beautiful novel and I would highly recommend it.
Anonymous 4 months ago