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Anyone who lives abroad knows how hard it can be to engage with literature from your mother tongue. For me, living in Switzerland means that German is a regular part of my day-to-day life. This means I forget English words all the time (just ask any of my friends back home when I throw in words like Staubsauger and öffentliches Verkehr in our Skype and Whatsapp calls). This is why the Kaufleuten in Zurich means so much to me. The Kaufleuten has literary nights throughout the year that cater to German, French, and English speaking audiences.
Yaa Gyasi came to Kaufleuten to talk about her debut novel Homegoing, which has become an international success for very good reasons. The premise of the novel is simple: the lives and lineages of 2 half-sisters who never meet, but are intrinsically linked through the slave trade from Ghana to the U.S. It starts of with the stories of Effia and Esi and then follows their children’s stories, and their children’s children’s stories until seven generations have passed. Stories like this cannot really exist outside of fiction due to the impact slavery and wars had on each generation knowing its roots. Despite this loss of heritage and the evolution of a distinct African American culture, there is something unspoken, yet remembered throughout each generation. It is easy to think that history is the past. A long ago event that cannot touch us today. However, Homegoing tells us that this is not the case. History is etched into our lives and the past and the people we have lost knowingly or unknowingly do stay with us.
The work done in the field of memory studies that looks at inherited loss and inherited trauma, often with a focus on Holocaust survivors and their children, show that both through nature and nurture there is some sort of inheritance of loss, trauma, fear, and anger. Stories that attempt a similar discussion around trauma, loss, and inheritance like Homegoing can sometimes become overwhelmingly just about the trauma and loss. However, what Homegoing does so beautifully is look at the resilience of the Black community in Ghana and in the U.S. and also focuses particularly in the U.S. of a distinct evolution of Black beauty, success, and vitality.
Homegoing is easy to read and despite a lot of extremely distressing and dark parts of American and African history, the story ends with hope and the possibility for healing. Without spoiling the ending, I felt that it was a bit cliche at times. Although, in saying that, it also worked for novel and I was not disappointed with how the story concluded.
So with that being said, I can thoroughly recommend Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing. And if you ever get the opportunity to see her live, go! She is so lovely, kind, intelligent, witty, eloquent, and friendly.
Have you read Homegoing? What did you think about the style for novel? Did you also find the ending cliche? As always, share the reading love.