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by Yaa Gyasi
In summary, Homegoing is the sprawling tale of two families split between America and Africa. At the beginning of the book we learn how two sisters are born, but never meet. The book tells the story of each generation that follows from both sides of the family over many years. Through slavery, one family is based in America whilst the other remains in Africa. The title of the book origin’s derive from an old African-American belief that death allowed an enslaved person’s spirit to travel back to Africa.
My Quick Review
First of all, I know one is not meant to judge a book by its cover, BUT I really wanted to mention how gorgeous the cover is for Homegoing and you’ll like this seamless connection: it’s almost as gorgeous as the book itself. Thank you.
But let us move on to more profound thoughts on this book. In short, the enormity of the importance of this book cannot be overstated. It is one of those books that people should be forced to read as it gives the reader a greater understanding of the world and the fabrics of its society (I think there’s a post brewing which lists all the books that I think people should be made to read. One day, I’ll get round to it).
I thought I knew a fair bit about the history of slavery, but after reading this book I realised I knew not nearly enough. Through reading this I learnt so much about African culture too. I absolutely adore books that I can learn from and this book is no exception.
This book at times made me feel ashamed to be British (I’m referring to our disgusting slavery history) and I can imagine the same would be said for an American reading the book. The book so often made me angry and the deplorable injustices that were suffered by slaves and the generations that followed them (my heart will forever break for H and Kojo).
Whilst, this book was consistently shocking and disturbing, the writer somehow managed to write in such a beautiful way. The strength of characters made the reader fall in love with them and root for them (even the flawed characters).
I loved how each chapter represented a different character from a different generation. Referring back to my previous comment, whilst the subject matter of each chapter was often horrific, it also felt like each chapter was telling a different love story. Ultimately, what connects each story to each other is love.
The book sits uneasily with the reader as so many of the issues you read about that existed many years ago, still prevail in America today. It’s abhorrent that one reads and thinks “how has any of this really changed?”. I think the book does a very good (and eloquent) job of illustrating this.
I thought the symbolism of the stone necklace was perfect. For me, I felt like it represented African history. When an African was taken from Africa and enslaved and shipped off to America, it was as if their African history was erased. The African-American person’s history then starts with slavery in America, but this of course not the start of their history. When Marjorie hands Marcus the stone necklace, it is like she is handing back his rightful history that was so cruelly taken from him and his ancestors. It is a beautiful and extremely emotional moment.
It was interesting that Marjorie and her side of the family seemed to represent fire and that Marcus’s represented water. When Marjorie and Marcus meet and connect, they persuade each other to embrace the element that they each fear. In this sense, Marjorie and Marcus complete each other.
This book is a fantastic achievement for a debut author. It is truly wonderful and so far (though we only have one book left on the list), this is my favourite book that we have read.
I loved so many quotes in this book. I made a list for you.
The need to call this thing “good” and this thing “bad”, this thing “white” and this thing “black”, was an impulse that Effia did not understand. In her village, everything was everything. Everything bore the weight of everything else.
Slavery aint’ nothin’ but a dot in your eye, huh? If nobody tell you, I’ma tell you. War may be over but it ain’t ended.
He was not the con they had told him he was.
This is the problem of history. We cannot know that which we were not there to see and hear and experience for ourselves. We must rely upon the words of others….(for example) Kojo says that when the warriors came to his village the coats were red, but Kwame says that they were blue. Whose story do we believe, then? We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history, you must always ask yourself , Whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed, so that this voice could come forth?
The news made it sound like the fault lay with the blacks of Harlem. The violent, the crazy, the monstrous black people who had the gall to demand that their children not be gunned down in the streets.
The Ruin of a Nation Begins in the Homes of Its People
Cape Coast Castle, Ghana
Questions to Consider
1. Evaluate the title of the book. Why do you think that the author chose the word Homegoing? What is a homegoing and where does it appear in the novel? In addition to the term’s literal meaning, discuss what symbolic meanings or associations the title might have in terms of a connection with our place of birth, our ancestors, our heritage, and our personal and cultural histories.
2. Explore the theme of belief. What forms of belief are depicted in the book and what purpose do these beliefs seem to serve for the characters? Does the author reveal what has shaped the characters’ beliefs? Do these beliefs seem to have a mostly positive or negative impact on the believer and those around them?
3. What perspective does the book offer on the subject of beliefs and otherness? For instance, does the book delineate between superstition and belief? Why does Ma Aku reprimand Jo after he is kicked out of church? What do the Missionary and the fetish man contribute to a dialogue on beliefs and otherness? Does the book ultimately suggest the best way to confront beliefs that are foreign to us?
4. Evaluate the treatment and role of women in the novel. What role does marriage play within the cultures represented in the novel and how are the women treated as a result? Likewise, what significance does fertility and motherhood have for the women and how does it influence their treatment? In the chapter entitled “Effia,” what does Adwoa tell Effia that her coupling with James is really about? In its depiction of the collective experiences of the female characters, what does the book seem to reveal about womanhood? How different would you say the treatment and role of women is today? Discuss.
5. Analyze the structure of the book. Why do you think the author assigned a chapter to each of the major characters? What points of view are represented therein? Does any single point of view seem to stand out among the rest or do you believe that the author presented a balanced point of view? Explain. Although each chapter is distinct, what do the stories have in common when considered collectively? How might your interpretation of the book differ if the author had chosen to tell the story from a single point of view?
6. Consider the setting of the book. What time periods are represented and what places are adopted as settings? Why do you think that the author chose these particular settings? What subjects and themes are illuminated via these particular choices? How does the extensive scope of the book help to unify these themes and create a cohesive treatment of the subjects therein?
7. In the chapter entitled “Quey,” Fiifi tells Quey that “[the] village must conduct its business like [the] female bird” (53). What does he mean by this and why do you think that Fiifi chooses this approach?
8. Why was Quey sent to England? After his return home, why does Quey say that it was safer in England? Why might he feel that what he faces at home is more difficult than the challenges he faced in leaving home and living abroad?
9. James’s mother, Nana Yaa, says that the Gold Coast is like a pot of groundnut soup (89). What does she mean by this?
10. Why does Akosua Mensah insist to James, “I will be my own nation” (99)? What role do patriotism, heritage, and tradition play in contributing to the injustices, prejudices, and violence depicted in the book? Which other characters seem to share Akosua’s point of view?
11. Explore the theme of complicity. What are some examples of complicity found in the novel? Who is complicit in the slave trade? Where do most of the slaves come from and who trades them? Who does Abena’s father say is ultimately responsible (142)? Do you agree with him? Explain why or why not.
12. Examine the relationships between parents and children in the book. How would you characterize these relationships? Do the children seem to understand their parents and have good relationships with them and vice versa? Do the characters’ views of their parents change or evolve as they grow up? How do the characters’ relationships with their parents influence the way that they raise their own children?
13. What significance does naming have in the book? Why do some of the characters have to change or give up their names? Likewise, what do the characters’ nicknames reveal both about them and about those who give or repeat these names? What does this dialogue ultimately suggest about the power of language and naming?
14. Explore the motif of storytelling. Who are the storytellers in the book and what kinds of stories do they tell? Who is their audience? What might these examples suggest about the purpose and significance of a storytelling tradition?
15. According to Akua, where does evil begin? Where else in the book do readers find examples that support her view? What impact does Akua’s opinion have on Yaw’s lifework? Does he agree with Akua’s view or refute it? Do you agree with her? Discuss.
16. What is history according to Yaw? What does he tell his students is “the problem of history” (226)? Who does Yaw say we believe when reading historical texts and what does he say is the question we must ask when studying history? How might these ideas influence your own reading of Gyasi’s book and reshape your ideas about the historical subjects and themes treated therein?
17. Sonny says that the problem in America “wasn’t segregation but the fact that you could not, in fact, segregate” (244)? What does he mean by this? What does Sonny say that he is forced to feel because of segregation? Which of the other characters experience these same feelings and hardships? Does there seem to be any progress as the story goes on? If so, how is progress achieved? Alternatively, what stymies and slows progress in this area?
18. What is Marcus studying and why isn’t his research going well? What feeling does he indicate that he hopes to capture with his project? Why does Marcus go to Ghana and what does he learn from his experiences there? Marcus believes that “most people lived their lives on upper levels, not stopping to peer underneath (298). What does he mean by this? Where do we find examples of this elsewhere in the book? Are there any characters in the novel who defy this characterization?
19. Consider the book’s treatment of colonialism and imperialism. In the chapter entitled “Esi” at the start of the book, what does Esi’s mother tell her daughter that weakness and strength really are? How does her definition of weakness and strength correspond to the dialogue about colonialism and imperialism that runs throughout the book? Discuss how this dialogue expands into a deeper conversation about freedom and human rights. Have the issues surrounding colonialism, imperialism, freedom, and human rights featured in the book been resolved today or do they linger? If they remain, does the book ultimately offer any suggestions or advice as to how this might be remedied?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)
December’s book is My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises by Fredrik Backman. I’ll be starting the conversation for this on Wednesday 3rd January.
A list of new books for the first six months of 2018 will be published NEXT MONDAY 11th DECEMBER.