JTO Book Club: Homegoing

 

Words by Temi Otedola

Original Thumbnail Art by Antonia Weishaupt

 

The JTO Book Club is back for its February edition! If it’s your first time reading a Book Club post you can catch up here:

December 2018 Edition: Half of A Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (here)

January 2019 Edition:  Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (here)

 

Don’t worry if you haven’t read this month’s focus yet. I intentionally avoid any crucial spoilers and you can still contribute to the comment section of this post by telling us any recommendations you have for a future book focus. Also, I would like to say another huge thank you to everyone who has remained so engaged and supportive of the JTO Book Club. I truly love hearing your takes on each book’s themes and ideas and hope more and more people continue to join our online, book-loving, community! So, don’t forget to leave your thoughts in the comment section below…

 

Judging A Book By Its Cover…

(This section documents my conjectures of the book or author prior to reading, I will also include any background information I think you should have before my personal analysis)

 

On picking up a physical copy of Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing its cover read that it was a “Sunday Times Bestseller” and so I could postulate that it had been commercially successful and widely read. The cover also included a quote by one of my all-time favourite authors, Zadie Smith, declaring it as “an intelligent, beautiful and healing read”, and history has revealed that anything loved by Smith would no doubt also be loved by me. Apart from this, I had no idea what the actual story was about, but I always relish in reading novels by contemporary female writers from West Africa so I knew this would be a special read for me.

 

 

Let’s Dive in Shall We?

Ok, so there is admittedly a lot to unpack. In fact, I was a little intimidated about how exactly I would form my analysis of Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing. Unpacking a single character in a literary review can be overwhelming let alone the fourteen character-led chapters that form this book. The story begins with Maame, an Asante woman whose two daughters are separated by a number of coinciding events. Over the course of the book, the reader observes how specific circumstances diverge the course of their lives and legacies forever. One daughter, Effia, is married to a British governor and lives her days above the slave dungeons of Cape Coast Castle. Simultaneously, her half-sister, Esi, is captured, enslaved in the rooms below her half-sister, raped by one of the British soldiers, and shipped to America.

 

Effia and Esi act as forks in the roads for Homegoing’s generational road map. Although they are born of the same mother it is their circumstances and historical surroundings that shape their legacies. Gyasi forces us to face the consequences of slavery and the effects of colonialism. What happens to these enslaved peoples versus those who remained? Homegoing allows the reader to see these digressing scenarios play out with their own differing problems. As a concept, Homegoing is astonishing. Although we are only with each descendant of either Effia or Esi for a few dozen pages, Gyasi recounts each story with a lifetime of trauma, love, pain, and resilience.

 

 

Antecedents, social narratives, and the relentlessness of history form the ideologies surrounding Homegoing. Each generation lives through different historical events formed by the previous age, reminding us that history is not simply a beginning, middle, and end, but an infinite flow of action and consequence. From the Anglo-Asante Wars in Ghana to Harlem’s Jazz Age, Homegoing reminds me that nothing is formed in a vacuum. These generations carry the consequences of British colonialism and the legacy of racial tensions in America that are still present in society today. We only have to look at the Christianisation of West Africa or the rise of White Nationalism in “Western” countries to remember that history casts a long shadow.

 

In particular, Gyasi powerfully delineates the lineage of racism in America. The transatlantic slave trade is remodelled as sharecropping. Sharecropping is reworked to form the convict-leasing system. The convict-leasing system is rejigged into the War on Drugs. The War on Drugs allows for mass black incarceration. Thus, we are shown that there have always been concealed modes of slavery to control Black American populations. I saw this idea reflected in Ness’ life as a slave working on a southern plantation, whose grandson, “H”, is sold to a mining company as a prisoner for looking at a white woman, and finally, whose grandson, Sonny,  is enslaved by heroin. The shadow of slavery is relentless, which is why I often laugh when I hear the argument that African Americans should “get over it” or are told, “but slavery was hundreds of years ago”.

 

On the other branch of Homegoing’s family tree, Effia’s descendants initially remained on the Gold Coast, reaping the benefits of Ghana’s slave system. However, as we see with Quey, the son of Effia and a British Governor, it can be an inner conflict to consolidate allegiances to your family whilst also maintaining racist and immoral structures. Quey’s son James is even more conflicted and abandons his family for a poorer life, but one that he believes will break his family’s shameful legacy. So Homegoing reveals one side desperately trying to separate from their European ties whilst the other is forced to form an entirely new identity in an entirely new cultural system.

 

Homegoing’s most poignant impact on me was wavering the prejudicial differences I have always held about what it means to be African vs. African American. I always saw the African American experience to be world’s away from what we knew life to be like in West Africa. I would always wonder why African Americans were so desperate to cling onto a culture or heritage I didn’t see as theirs. You know, the stereotypes of African Americans wearing kente and ankara, listening to Fela Kuti and calling Africa the “motherland”.

 

Reading this book made me embarrassed to have spent most of my life judging others for trying to form whatever connection they could to their true heritage. All because I partially grew up in Nigeria and was able to go back several times a year didn’t give me the right to say who should and shouldn’t feel a connection to where they originate. The paths that lead from Maame, one into America, and one within Ghana, show that although paths may differ, the origin is the same. African Americans are Americans, yes, but it is only natural that African Americans can feel an affinity to where their near ancestors stemmed, especially living in a country that often shows a blatant disregard for their community. For me, Homegoing’s strongest message was a call for unification between African and African American heritage. We may have vastly different cultures now, but not too long ago we were all sisters, brothers, and cousins.

 

 

The divergence of Homegoing’s ancestral web comes full circle when the two branches meet again in the form of Marjorie and Marcus. The two come from different world’s: Marcus is a born and bred Harlem kid and Marjorie a first-generation American immigrant who still has a hold on her Ghanaian identity. Yet they are both descendants of Maame, related in a distant yet very tangible way.

 

In researching Gyasi it was interesting to find out that she gave Marjorie’s parents the same occupations as hers, also grew up in Huntsville, Alabama, and attended Stanford like Marjorie and Marcus. I’m not quite sure how much Gyasi based Marjorie on her own experiences as a young woman in America, but I, and probably many other diaspora kids can relate to these sentiments of cultural removal. Marjorie is socially displaced; not feeling like she totally belongs to either side. In Ghana, she’s often mistaken to be an American tourist, but in America, she’s often picked apart for her otherness – “too white” for the black kids and “too black” for the white kids. I had never seen my own experiences with social purgatory described so succinctly.

 

Apart from storytelling, Gyasi is also a master of prose. Her writing is descriptive and lucid, yet also seamlessly poetic. This balance of direct storytelling with poignant emotion makes for an unforgettable reading experience. Gyasi has an exceptional ability to express experiences of heartbreak, sexuality, human desire, and regret, in such a humanistic and profound way. An ability that transforms a family heirloom, a smooth, black stone, one that was lost and the other passed generationally, into a symbol of two threads of lineage formed from the same origin.

 

Go ahead and share your thoughts, we’re all listening.

 

Temi’s Takeaway Quote:

“Evil begets evil. It grows. It transmutes, so that sometimes you cannot see that the evil in the world began as the evil in your own home.”

– Yaa Gyasi,  Homegoing

 

For all JTO Book Club updates check out the designated “highlight” on my Instagram page (here).

 

 

G  I  V  E  A  W  A  Y

Follow the below steps to win a copy of Homegoing:

– Follow @jtofashion on Instagram (here).

– Like my latest Instagram photo.

– Comment below on this blog post stating: your thoughts on Homegoing or what your favourite book is and why…

– Send me a DM stating that you have finished the following steps.

– I will post an Instagram Photo tagging the 3 winners so keep an eye out!

 

For postal reasons, the books can only be sent to addresses within the United Kingdom and Europe.

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SHOWHIDE Comments (55)
  1. I was introduced to this book by a friend, and i must say i am strongly promoting it as on of my most favourite books of all time. The story flow cutting across different paths and generations is just mind blowing. The imagery is very strong you could almost taste it! I also love the ending. In summary, from start to finish, this book is complete.

  2. ‘The Beautiful Ones Are Not Born’ is my favorite book. I am part Ghanaian and Nigerian and I would really love to read ‘Homecoming’.

  3. Hey girl, it’s me again lol. But I felt strongly about this.

    I really want to recommend “Stay With Me” by Ayobami Adebayo, like strongly, strongly recommend.

    It was another page turner for me. It had beautiful writing, and alllllll the tea I needed! Chimamanda and Akwaeke Emezi were repping strong but these Yoruba authors are coming for everybody’s necks lately lol!

  4. As Ghana celebrates 62 years of independence in some hours to come (6th March), homegoing reminds me of the predicament some of our ancestors had to go through. The novel portrays the slave trade, our history as Ghanaians, the diaspora in a more mesmerizing and emotionally appealing way. We follow the lives of different individuals from one descent. I was quite appalled at the scene where Esi was sold into slavery and even raped by some of the white soldiers. If you do ever come to Ghana 🇬🇭 you should visit the Elmina Castle in Cape Coast where slaves were kept, to get a more visual image of the living conditions individuals like Esi had to succumb to. For people like Majorie Agyekum who feel that they don’t really fit in either the Western Society or their African roots, best believe that you have the best of both worlds. Individuals from the diaspora have a chance to always get in touch with their African roots and make their African country better. Homegoing is a must read for everyone especially Africans , black Americans. Everyone .
    Thank you Temi for such a wonderful book club. Looking forward to more books. More Ghanaian books such as The beautyful ones are not yet born by Ayi Kwei Armah and the Girl who can by Ama Ata Aidoo are all interesting books to read .
    Thank you 🙏🏿

  5. Hi Temi thanks for introducing me to this book (homegoing) I am not much of a reader, so one of my goals this year is to read because you do learn a lot with more reading. Also when I saw your post on IG funny enough the cover of the book got my attention and then I read your great review. I am from Ghana 🇬🇭 and is nice to see books written by a sister. So that also wanted me to even read more. I read the preview on google and I must say I really want this book cause it also shows the history of the Ghana culture back then. I left Ghana when I was 10 (26 now) and only went back for holidays last year and I loved it there. So I always want to learn more about my country and how things used to be back then. And also the storyline is really great and I just want to continue reading it.

  6. My favorite book in recent times is ‘Born a crime’ by Trevor Noah. It was such a great read, insightful and more than just a title.
    I’m looking forward to winning a copy of Homegoing because your book club is the only way I can connect with my ‘Krush from Kyoto’.

    I hope you get to see this and I win a copy of your book

  7. Hi Temi.I loved Homegoing! I devoured the book in one night. I couldn’t get enough. The parallels of the lives of the two sisters were so masterfully crafted.
    PS You are absolutely great and I love all of your content. Keep going strong. This is off subject, but could you do a video or blog post on relationships and how you have gone through them.

    1. Hi Amarachi, thank you so much! I will definitely think about a relationships blog/video :)

  8. Loved your review!
    I also loved the book. Definitely one of my all times favorite books. The part that stuck to me the most was Marcus’s struggle in trying to finish his PhD dissertation because of all the history he would have had to include in order to prove his argument. (I don’t remember the exact page right now sorry). He felt he couldn’t write centuries of oppression in a few pages, and that’s why he couldn’t finish his dissertation. The way Gyasi writes that part is so powerful.
    Can’t wait for next month’s book.

    1. Thank you Giovanna!

      Marcus’s frustration was so compelling. I love this section detailing Marcus thoughts and mounting indignation:

      “Originally, he’d wanted to focus his work on the convict leasing system that had stolen years off of his great-grandpa H’s life, but the deeper into the research he got, the bigger the project got. How could he talk about Great-Grandpa H’s story without also talking about his grandma Willie and the millions of other black people who had migrated north, fleeing Jim Crow? And if he mentioned the Great Migration, he’d have to talk about the cities that took that flock in. He’d have to talk about Harlem, And how could he talk about Harlem without mentioning his father’s heroin addiction – the stints in prison, the criminal record? And if he was going to talk about heroin in Harlem in the ’60s, wouldn’t he also have to talk about crack everywhere in the ’80s? And if he wrote about crack, he’d inevitably be writing, to, about the “war on drugs.” And if he started talking about the war on drugs, he’d be talking about how nearly half of the black men he grew up with were on their way either into or out of what had become the harshest prison system in the world. And if he talked about why friends from his hood were doing five-year bids for possession of marijuana when nearly all the white people he’d gone to college with smoked it openly every day, he’d get so angry that he’d slam the research book on the table of the beautiful but deadly silent Lane Reading Room of Green Library of Stanford University. And if he slammed the book down, then everyone in the room would stare and all they would see would be his skin and his anger, and they’d think they knew something about him, and it would be the same something that had justified putting his great-grandpa H in prison, only it would be different too, less obvious than it once was.”

  9. I really love how you described this book. It really makes me want to read it. I have only recently started reading again and I also had a French education so I didn’t know anything about all these books. But my favorite book had to be things fall apart by Chinua Achebe. I might be late here because you probably already read this but I am from Benin Republic and I also came to the USA at 18 for college. Reading this made me realize not only how much of the culture I knew but it was also beautifully written and gave another story of Africa not centered on the simgle story that people usually think of.

    1. Thank you Nadia, I’m so excited to hear that you’re getting into reading! Agreed, ‘Things Fall Apart’ is one of my favorites.

      I think ‘Homegoing’ resonates with many 21st-century Africans in that it retells how we see our pasts, but does not rely on cliches for its storytelling.

  10. Hey Temi, huge fan of the blog and especially the book club. I read your review of half of a yellow sun and I was quick to find myself a copy (a birthday gift to myself). Your book club has introduced me to contemporary female West African authors which admittedly, I was familiar with but hadn’t given a chance. My favorite book is Dan Brown’s Origin. It’s my favorite because it explores science and religion and exposes and interest in artificial intelligence almost like a prediction of what we can expect in the near future.

    Your loyal club member from lusaka, zambia!

    1. Thank you so much!

      Happy Belated Birthday and I hope you enjoyed ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’, isn’t it exquisite?

      Also – thank you for your rec, it has been added to the JTO Book Club List. Sending love to Zambia.

  11. My favourite novel is The Constant Gardner by John Le Carré. It sheds light on the exploitation of vulnerable Africans by pharmaceuticals and exposes the corruption of some African leaders who have no interest in protecting their citizens. These issues are important to me as a South African because I believe in people’s rights to human dignity which are outlined in our Constitution. I would love to read Homegoing as I love African literature and novels about Africa. I’m so glad you’ve been able to explore a bit of my country and hope you will continue to in the future. (Can ship to France)

    1. Hi Olwethu, thank you for your rec – it’s been added to the JTO Book Club List! It sounds fascinating.

      If African Lit is your thing you will LOVE ‘Homegoing’. I’ve really enjoyed discovering SA and can’t wait for my next trip.

  12. Hello. It’s my birthday on Wednesday. Been wishing to have a teeth whitening session at celeb beauty clinic. I eoukdbevthe happiest of this wish comes true 😭❤️ It’s been messing with my self esteem. JTO Queen 👸🏽

  13. One of my favourite books has to be Lion from Saroo Brierley. It is based on his life’s story- his journey from being separated from his biological family to finding them again when he was an adult. Each page leaves you wanting more. Each chapter leaves you sad knowing that so many children in India are living in these circumstances. Overall the book is a must read because it shows the importance of family. & it teaches you how to be grateful for what you have in life. 💐

    1. Hi Amikah, I just watched the film version 2 weeks ago! I was in tears…

      Although I knew it was a real-life story I had no idea it was based on a book. Now I wish I had read the book first… Anyway, ‘Lion’ is now on the JTO Rec List, thank you so much for recommending it.

    1. Thank you Temitope! As you can probably tell from the blog post I highly recommend ‘Homegoing’.

  14. Temi, you did an incredible job summarizing this amazing book! Homegoing is definitely one of my favorite books to date. I remember when I first started the book, I was slightly frustrated that I didn’t get a chance to really get to know the characters before a new chapter started. But I came to appreciate Gyasi’s ability to beautifully interconnect the characters and their stories. I definitely related to Marjorie’s conflict of being too African for America and too American for Africa. Thus, I love how you commented on the fact that there really should not be a divide between Africans and African Americans, since we’ve all come from the same place. Really looking forward to the next book!

    1. Thank you Opeyemi :)

      I totally agree, it’s incredible how concise yet profound Gyasi is at telling each character’s story. It doesn’t feel rushed or as if any detail is lacking.

      I feel like a lot of diaspora/ 2nd generation immigrant kids can connect to Marjorie, It was my first time reading a novel that really covered this subject in such a relatable way.

  15. I am almost done with “Born a Crime” so I hope I get this recent book. One of my favorite book is Chimamanda Adichie’s “Americanah.” The book is slightly similar to this one on the topic of immigrants experiences in the United States, but also very relatable when it comes to the circumstances that lead to people emigrating their Home country in search of opportunities. I personally love Adichie’s writing a lot so I might be biased. A book that I recommend for the book club is “The Book of Unknown Americans” by Gloria Hernandez.

    1. Thank you for your recommendation Kismot – ‘The Book of Unknown Americans’ and ‘Americanah’ have been added to the JTO Book Club List!

      P.S. I hope you’re enjoying ‘Born A Crime’

  16. So I haven’t read home going. My favourite book is Americanah because for me it kind of has a relatable love story. It also really explains what life was like for a Nigerian student studying abroad and having to make her own money. It also shows how Ifemelu learns what it’s like to be African in America and black in America.

    1. Hi Tomiwa!

      ‘Americanah’ has been added to the JTO Book Club List for the 100th time haha – thank you for your comment, I think it will be an incredible focus book in the next few months.

  17. So Sis, yes. This post did a really good job of encapsulating how I felt when I read this Novel (in 1 night) 3 years ago. My only context was a Daily Show interview of Gyasi explaining that the novel follows 2 sisters. I was intrigued, and consequently, my life changed.

    I moved to the U.S. at 18 for college, and being Jamaican, never felt AS* strong a need to connect to Africa, nor as confused as African Americans, because we were fortunate to retain so much of our African heritage (Maroons directly of Ghanaian descent in Jamaica STILL speak Twi). Like you, I was really harsh on African Americans, even while being schooled at the Mecca for black learning (The Illustrious Howard University).
    Like you, I critiqued African americans seeming stagnation in identity limbo, not understanding why they were so “bitter”.

    Over time, especially after Trayvon Martin was murdered, I had a better understanding of the history that led them to that place of confusion – being treated as second class citizens because of their identity, while not being allowed to even investigate their origin.

    Reading this book in 2016 brought these sociological and historical implications completely full circle. Gyasi lucidly but beautifully contextualized the generational loss of identity (when the last of the twi speaking descendants passed, I sorta lost it), and as you said, outlines how the system in this country continues to systemically enslave black people today.

    This quote at the end, to me, was striking, and extremely relevant to the current date of African Americans; “”No one forgets that they were once captive, even if they are now free”.

    The truth is, as a black person in America today, we’re still not free*.

    It’s such an important read.

    On the topic of more rec’s, I have 2 suggestions that look at the role of women, and the implications of their sexuality in both Jamaica and Nigeria respectively;
    “Here Comes The Sun” – Nicole Dennis-Benn
    “ Under the Udala Tree” – Chinelo Okparanta
    I can tel we’re literary twins (^_^), so I’m confident you’ll enjoy them both lol.

    1. Hi Nkeeyba, wow, thank you SO much for sharing such informative and personal thoughts.

      What you said about Trayvon Martin and the growing frustration and anger within the African American community was so spot on. Being treated as a second class citizen in a country you have been born, raised, and consider home is harrowing – of course, confusion and attempts to reconnect will ensue! That is something that ‘Homegoing’ really brought home for me.

      I’ve added your recommendations to the JTO Book Club list – they sound so interesting! And yes, sounds like we’re kindred hearts when it comes to literature :)

  18. Hey! Homecoming is one of the books on my reading list for 2019 so I’m so glad you did a review on it! My favourite book is Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie. I love this book so much because it tells the story of modern love set against a backdrop of immigration and race. The story proves that love in fact does win, no matter how long it takes and no matter the borders or economical structures that try to tear it apart, love will always find its way back.

    1. Hi Ore – You’re going to love ‘Homegoing’ and thank you for recommending ‘Americanah’ it’s definitely a JTO Book Club’s favorite!

    1. Hi Odunayo – We’ll be adding other areas for the Giveaway in the next few months!

  19. Hi
    Haven’t read this book, but would totally love to check it out. It’s just difficult finding a good bookstore here in Nigeria.

    1. I’ve seen lots of DM’s about it being hard to find book stores and vendors in Nigeria – I think maybe next time I’m in Lagos I’ll investigate places to buy books and share it in a blog post!

  20. Your right I feel homegoing highlights the stereotype
    Of african American culture. Although I have read great reviews about the book I haven’t yet read it. Currently reading the secret lives of baba segis wives.
    So far it’s got to be favourite because it Just highlights how different we all are.

    1. Thank you for your comment Cynthia! I think you’ll really enjoy ‘Homegoing’ if you get a chance to read it and thank you for your rec it’s been added to the JTO Book Club List.

  21. My favourite book is things fall apart by chinua achebe because it portrays African culture and tradition and it also shows the concept of fate. I really hope I win this book

    1. ‘Things Fall Apart’ is a masterpiece. It will absolutely be a focus book this year :)

  22. I haven’t read home going however my favourite book is pure by Rose Cartwright because it sheds light on a very rare and highly stigmatised form of ocd.

    1. ‘Pure’ sounds really interesting… I feel like anxiety disorders aren’t covered a lot in contemporary literature so it could be a great JTO Book Club focus.

  23. Wow, I guess this book is gonna be so interesting, gonna have one of soon. You doing a great Job and I like that!

  24. I haven’t read this book yet but how you described the content makes it interesting ,am definitely going to check it out …I think I will have to check some of the other books you recommended out too .thanks 🇬🇭

    1. Hi Berklin – would love to hear your thoughts once you give ‘Homegoing’ or one of the other focus books a read!

  25. I have read a lot of books , but I guess my favorite book is a book I have read countless times and Funny enough it’s “The Purple Hibiscus “ by Chiamanda Adiche and her best work ( my personal view).

    1. Thank you for your recommendation Michelle! ‘Purple Hibiscus’ is definitely another JTO Book Club favourite that will need to be a focus book in the next few months.

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JTO Fashion

JTO is far from just a fashion blog. The all-inclusive website was founded in 2014 by Temi Otedola, who was motivated to start blogging her personal thoughts and inspirations. Temi continues to use JTO as a platform from which she can express her adventures through the arenas of fashion, beauty, art, and travel.