It’s mid-18th century Fanteland. One sister glides across the smoothed stone floors of Cape Coast Castle, the seized wife of the British governor. Her wrists wreathed in lace, eyes gazing out through plate glass windows at a smooth sea. Below her, beneath several stories of guest rooms and servants’ quarters and kitchens, her half-sister lies in hostile darkness, her body crushed by bodies like a clove of stressed garlic. Steeped in the odors of excrement and sweat, awaiting a journey below dark waters and, then, enslavement on the other side.
Published in 2016 to great acclaim, Ghanian Gyasi’s debut Homegoing follows the sisters’ descendants as they move from Cape Coast to Kumasi and Alabama to Harlem. A loosely tied series of vignettes, the stories (some like myths, others horror stories) stand alone and come together to create a searing portrait of trans-Atlantic black experience. It’s African history meets social justice meets grand and ambitious storytelling.
In Ghana and the United States, characters struggle with what to name their children, passing in white society, forced separation, desire, the haunting dreams of ancestors.
The power of Gyasi’s story is the melody of other writers she brings together–Achebe, Hurston, Ellison–while simultaneously weaving a new story. “Whose story am I missing?” one of her characters asks his students. “Whose voice was suppressed so this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too” (227). Gyasi seeks out the voices both suppressed and celebrated to create something new, a family saga dominated by the voices of women, shot through with fire, at home in deep waters.