*No Major spoilers*
Yaa Gyasi’s “Homegoing” traces a family tree through the genealogy of two sisters, separated at birth, whose descendants live vastly different lives on two different continents. It tells the stories of the lives built by Africans who were stolen and those who were left behind.
The tenuous relationship between Africans and African Americans is complex and in some ways intangible. As an African, I have gone through the gamut of emotions towards my African American brothers and sisters. At first, I felt a type of protectiveness over the use of the term ‘motherland’ which was coupled with suspicion over the seemingly nostalgic affection for a place that they had never been.
But the flip side is that I have consumed African American culture since I was a child, living as a first generation Belgian, as though it were for me. R&B and Hip Hop, Jacqueline Woodson and Ebony magazine, Different World and Eddie Murphy, Whitney Houston and Harry Belafonte… They made sense to me, they had a depth that I felt mirrored my own life’s journey of discovery.
But the truth is that in many ways, it didn’t belong to me. The fundamental difference, between myself and the African American artists I listened to, was that I felt like I could own where I was from. Every second summer my family would travel back to Kenya to visit family and friends. We called it ‘home’ even though I was never born there. I could trace back to beyond my great grandparents on both sides, a historical path that I could then find myself in.
Crucial to my identity, is that I could find myself in my family and my history.
Yaa Gyasi’s “Homecoming” peeled back the truth of that idea in such a way that I would argue made her tale resonate with Africans and African Americans alike. Who else could be more perfectly poised to do so than an author who feels she belongs to both Ghana and America?
Skillfully layered next to each other like Dominos, Yaa Gyasi’s characters paint more than a complex family tree, they tell the story of the Ghanaian and the enslaved African American. They tell the story of forced separation and frustrated isolation. They tell the story of inevitable connection, as trees in a forest, as long lost kin, as two peoples growing apart from one another but always in reaction to one another.
In the words of a poem by the character Marjorie, “ Sister skin// Who Knew? Not Me. Not you.”
For those still to read “Homegoing”? Please, read it. And report back.