This book has been sitting on my shelf for at least two years. Everyone praised the book when it came out, but I never felt the urge to pick it up because I knew it would not be an easy read. And it wasn’t, but it wasn’t supposed to be. Homegoing discusses the slave trade, family, racism and discrimination, the criminal justice system, motherhood, and so much more. Somehow the novel is able to highlight these issues using a human touch and an engaging and heartbreaking narrative. Though the characters are fictional, their stories hold many truths.
Homegoing tells the story of two half-sisters separated by chance, Effia and Esi. The novel covers 300 hundred years and alternates chapters between each sister’s line, following one child from each side of the family tree. We begin in Africa where the sisters were born. One sister marries a British slaver, while the other is enslaved and taken to America. We follow Effia and Esi’s descendants throughout history as the African tribes fight against each other and the white men and as America fights for civil rights.
For a book that attempts to comment on so many of these issues, it succeeds in doing so without being preachy. As I said, each chapter focuses on a different member of the family, so unfortunately, the time spent with each character is rather small. Some of the earlier ancestors, Effia and Esi especially, have longer chapters, while the chapters get a bit shorter as the book comes to a close. However, once you progress to the next person in the family, there are references to and appearances of past characters to tie things together. A lot happens off-page because of this, so sometimes assumptions must be made about what happened to previously featured characters.
This is an important book, now more than ever, as the U.S. president attacks people for not being “American enough” or tells them to “go back to their own countries.” Homegoing explores what home can mean to different people as well as how difficult it can be to fit in because of one’s skin color. I cannot believe this is the author’s debut novel because it feels so polished. Despite there being so many characters, I can still clearly remember my favorites. I may not be able to remember all of the characters’ names, but I can remember the plot from most of the chapters. And, if the alternating times and characters sounds confusing, there is a family tree in the physical copy of the book at least.
If I had to pick out something I thought could have been better, I would have to say the ending. The whole book packed a punch, but that left the ending feeling slightly unsatisfying in comparison. I’m honestly not sure how I would have made it any better though! So, I had to rate Homegoing a perfect five out of five stars. Such an impressive debut that was certainly worth the hype in my opinion.