Ya’a Gyasi’s Homegoing is an ambitious novel exploring the impact of slavery and colonialism on the people of Ghana and America’s northern and southern states. It does so through a series of vignettes focusing on two stepsisters and several generations of their descendents. The sisters never meet. One sister, Effia, marries a British slave trader; the other, Esi, is sold into slavery. The chapters alternate from a descendent of one sister to a descendent of the other until we get to the present day. The story spans about 250 years.
Thankfully, Gyasi includes a table to chart the descendents of each of the sisters to minimize the confusion caused by the shifting perspectives. We barely have time to get familiar with one character before we are thrust to the other side of the world and introduced to a new character or to a character we met earlier who is now decades older. There is little time for character portrayal and development. The effect of all this shifting in time and space and character gives the novel the feel of a series of jarring episodes. This is especially true in Part 2 which seems contrived and where one gets the sense the characters are not fully formed but are stereotypical mouthpieces.
Having said that, I still feel this is a remarkable achievement as a debut novel and well worth reading, primarily due to the strength of Part 1.