I'm late to the Homegoing party and because of that I perhaps had unreasonably high expectations for it. That could be why I'm not quite as over-the-moon about it as every one of my friends who read it. But I think the real reason is that although I liked the ancestral narration style, I do appreciate fewer voices telling a tale and spending a longer with each.
If you're one of the few weirdos who hasn't read Homegoing yet, the conceit is this: sisters from two different 17th century African villages who never meet and their descendants each tell part of the story of the two lines into the present time. If you read the book electronically, like I did, I recommend you take a screenshot of the family tree to refer to throughout. I'm not sure what audiobook listeners should do. Please advise, not that I plan to listen to any abooks anytime soon other than The First Rule of Punk read by Trini Alvarado.
All that being said, I still loved Homegoing, from the Akan proverb epigraph on.
The family is like the forest: if you are outside it is dense; if you are inside you see that each tree has it's own position.
One of the family lines is quickly enslaved and brought to the United States where we see throughout how enslavement ruins people for generations. I say "ruins" not to say that the people are ruined, but that the lack of freedom, first literal under slavery, and then more figurative, under Jim Crow and systemic oppression leads to poverty, imprisonment, sadness, and anger that impact individuals and families deeply.
Ma Aku always said it was bad juju, him and all the other freed Negroes working on ships. She said there was something evil about them building up the things that had brought them to America in the first place, the very things that had tried to drag them under.
The "him" in the quotation above is Kojo Freeman, the grandson of one of the sisters. Like many slaves he has taken the name "Freeman," something I've often thought about as someone iwth the surname "Freedman." There are some Jews who are "Freemans," but most of us are "Friedman" or "Freedman." It's interesting to me that Jews have taken a more passive approach, that we were freed (by G-d?), rather than that we are free.
H, the son of Kojo, is the first to go back to enslavement, on a chain gang in a mine. He is told by a cellmate that "Slavery ain't nothin' but a dot in your eye, huh? If nobody tell you, I'ma tell you. War may be over but it ain't ended."
Back in Africa, the other line of descendants is encountering America in the form of missionaries.
"You...you are a sinner," the Missionary whispered, his head in his hands. "You are a heathen," he said louder now. "You must ask God to forgive yours sins.
And then Akua, the 16-year-old great-great granddaughter of the other sister, who had been married to a married white muckety-muck in the slave trade, is whipped by the missionary.
Gender dynamics play out in Accra, which is what the land of the original sisters villages has become. A descendant remarks, "Typical Gold Coast woman, more concerned with dinner than with freedom."
That remark is made by a scarred bachelor schoolteacher, but he has some good things to say.
"We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who get to write the story. So when you study history, you must always ask yourself, Whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could go forth. Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there, you begin to get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.
Critical information literacy! In Ghana! I'll leave my review at that, no more spoilers.