Split the Castle open
find me, find you,
We, two, felt sand,
One felt whip. Whipped,
(First verse of Marjorie’s spoken word poem. Yaa Gyasi, 2017, Homegoing, New York: Penguin Random House, p. 292)
Yaa Gyasi’s novel Homegoing tells the story of two sisters, Effia and Esi, and their descendants. The book starts in 18th century Ghana, in an Asante village on the Gold Coast, and follows Effia and Esi’s family lines in Ghana and the U.S. up to the 21st century. While Effia is gifted to a slave trader by her father, who is attempting to establish trade relations with the British, Esi is captured by rival tribe members and sold into slavery. At the end of the novel, we follow Marjorie and Marcus, descendants of Effia and Esi respectively, who meet and travel to Ghana to confront their fears and contemplate the past. The book paints a dire picture of the wounds inflicted by the practice of slavery not only on those who were sold into servitude in the United States, but also those who remained in West Africa. In telling such an interwoven story that spans a multitude of decades, Homegoing is able to grasp issues of systemic racism from a much larger vantage point than many other novels in the same vain.
The story is told from multiple points of view over the centuries. Although some of the characters we follow are male or present as male, the narrative feel has a distinctly female perspective to it. It is at times intensely difficult to read, with depictions of violence and sexual assault particularly prevalent in earlier chapters. But it manages to encapsulate important ideas of inherited trauma and notions of affect with brutal precision for exactly that reason. Personally, I read Homegoing as a narrative about resilience. In shining a light on these wrongdoings and the pain inflicted by them, going home ultimately becomes possible.
Voices like Gyasi’s are vital tools for the discussion of systemic injustices, particularly given the current global political climate. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you read Homegoing.
Homegoing is Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel, first published in 2016 by YNG Books, available in the 2017 version from Penguin Random House and was published in a German translation by DuMont.
Simone was listening to “DNA” by Kendrick Lamar.