Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi – Gbenga Adesina



Language unbuttons me.

This sentence “When he came back into Baaba’s hut to find Effia, the child of the night’s fire….” in the very first paragraph of Yaa Gyasi’s brilliantly calibrated novel keeled me over and my strategy quickly became to follow the language’s swill down the plateau and see where it will lead.

What powers the novel, it turns out though is not exactly the language as it were but an epic, almost sinusoidal feel. Sometimes you are cresting, some other times you are in a free fall.

Because I read the book across a span of days my reactions were, as with individual days, variegated. There were days, propelled by the language and narrative furl,  I carried on in elation and there were days I segued with the story’s disconsolate arc into all kinds of sorrow.

Picture a dark rivulet spreading, snaking around bends and curves of time and human lives across generations. What Home Going does is to track that rivulet.

It’s an endless family tree. It’s the story of the slave trade. What they did to us. But also what we did to us. The plantations.The US civil war.The emancipation proclamation.Jim Crow’s South. Racism. Colorism. The history of dispossession the black body has been.  Through the lives of two half-sisters, Effia and Esi and their progenies across generations and spaces she threads through these tar dark histories.

The difference between the fact of history and the knowledge of history stares you in the face. Humans, in our different layers and skins, are as capable of kindness as we are of cruelty. Yaa Gyasi’s insistence, I think, is on this essential fact. We encounter the familiarity of kindness in small, elusive moments, the sameness of longing across the aisle but also the stoic unblinking contour of cruelties in all its various manifestations.

In reading this beautiful, sad, beautiful novel and tracking the way, the author, with complete heart,explored embodiment, what it means to exist within a particular body, I became aware again of word’s capacity for such transformation but also for such disconsolation. I found myself asking: what histories, what trauma spreading across generations currently inhabit my body?

Days after I had finished reading the book, I had a conversation with a friend. I went on and on about the layers of sadness in this world and violence and dispossession but also joys and mercies, forgiveness and the offer of redemption. And she—my friend, who had seen things I had never seen, who had carried a body with consequence all her life the way I had not—said: you know it’s so difficult to overcome trauma when the fact of your trauma is an ongoing, unresolved history


By Gbenga Adesina

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