I’m so late to the game in getting to Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel, Homegoing. And I have to admit, it was not at all what I expected.
In a panel earlier this week, I heard an editor from a prestigious publishing house say that, when it comes to positioning a book, the publishing industry tends to pigeonhole writers into certain categories and that often, their race or heritage plays a role in creating that (often quite biased and racist) definition. I can’t help but thinkin about these comments in relation to Homegoing, given all the reviews that assert “[Toni Morrison’s] influence is palpable” (Vogue) and that Gyasi is “Carrying on in the tradition of her foremothers – like Toni Morrison […]”.
And while certainly Gyasi touches on similar subject matter to Toni Morrison, reviewers who have drawn comparisons to Alex Haley’s Roots or Chinua Achebe’s work feel more apt to me. But I would have added less-obvious comparisons to the list: the epic, intergenerational story that Gyasi has crafted so vividly and so artfully in Homegoing reminds me of Allende’s House of Spirits and even Ken Follet’s Century Trilogy (though of course, much shorter).
The reason I bother to parse out all these comparisons is because I think what Gyasi does so well in this novel (which I should say, I really enjoyed!) is create a thread between generations. And at the same time, she gives readers enough familiarity with each generation that those threads are easy to follow and you can’t help but care deeply for characters even when they appear only for a chapter or two. I found myself wondering how I could care so deeply for a character within a few short pages, and came to the conclusion that was because of this “thread” Gyasi weaves through the narrative. As with our personal ancestry or bloodlines, when we consider the events of generations past, we inherit some of their trauma and injustices, some of their pride and beliefs. It lives on within us and makes us care about that thread. I think that is an incredibly powerful and difficult message to demonstrate through literature but Gyasi, even in her debut novel, has proven herself up to the challenge.
Are you a fan of intergenerational narratives? Did you enjoy Gyasi’s 250-year-long thread? Let me know what you thought about Homegoing in the comments below.
Isabel Wilkerson’s fantastic review of Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing. Warning! Spoiler alert!
Finished Homegoing? Loved it? Ready for more? Try Yaa Gyasi’s latest novel: Transcendent Kingdom