[Gyasi is] asking us to consider the tangled chains of moral responsibility that hang on our history. This is one of the many issues that Homegoing explores so powerfully ... [the] structure — essentially a novel in linked stories — places extraordinary demands on Gyasi. Each chapter must immediately introduce a new setting and new characters making fresh claims on our engagement. (The family tree at the front of the book is an invaluable reader’s crutch.) But the speed with which Gyasi sweeps across the decades isn’t confusing so much as dazzling, creating a kind of time-elapsed photo of black lives in America and in the motherland ... Gyasi, who is just 26 and reportedly received more than $1 million for this book, has developed a style agile enough to reflect the remarkable range of her first novel ... truly captivating.
Spanning three centuries of Ghanaian and American history, each chapter functions like a linked story, each with its own dramatic and emotional arc. While telling what happens to one descendant for each generation, the novel also sheds light on a point in history. In the wrong hands, this massive ambition — gliding through long periods of time with different characters — could result in disaster, but Gyasi pulls it off with spectacular results ... Homegoing brims with complex emotions and insights about the human condition. It is essential reading from a young writer whose stellar instincts, sturdy craftsmanship and penetrating wisdom seem likely to continue apace — much to our good fortune as readers.
Homegoing covers seven generations in 300 pages and is, for the most part, a blazing success ... Homegoing is, in essence, a novel in short stories, so each chapter is forced to stand on its own, and inevitably, some chapters fare better than others ... The sum of Homegoing’s parts is remarkable, a panoramic portrait of the slave trade and its reverberations, told through the travails of one family that carries the scars of that legacy.
...[a] lyrical, devastating debut ... Toggling between two continents, Gyasi traces black history from the Middle Passage to the Great Migration and beyond, bringing every Asante village, cotton plantation, and coal mine into vivid focus. The rhythm of her streamlined sentences is clipped and clean, with brilliant bursts of primary color ... As each character cedes their allotted chapter to the next, some emotional impact is necessarily lost, but it’s done in service to the larger sweep of the story—and the luminous beauty of Gyasi’s unforgettable telling.
The West African chapters are the heart of the book, a deep channeling of multilayered humanity. Gyasi evokes what was lost to those who were sold away — the sense of individual and collective identity, a wealth of rituals and customs they’d be whipped for trying to retain in America ... Gyasi seems more interested in broadly exploring American social ills rather than immersing us in the lives of her characters. More disappointingly, the lyricism and depth of the scenes in West Africa give way to the coarser language and surface descriptions of life in America ... on the whole, African-Americans are shown as passive, boats buffeted by the currents. Rarely do we see the richness of their lives — the organized resistance, the faith in the face of near hopeless odds, the creativity and ritual that grew out of hardship. Still, the great, aching gift of the novel is that it offers, in its own way, the very thing that enslavement denied its descendants: the possibility of imagining the connection between the broken threads of their origins.
It’s impossible not to admire the ambition and scope of Homegoing, and thanks to Ms. Gyasi’s instinctive storytelling gifts, the book leaves the reader with a visceral understanding of both the savage realities of slavery and the emotional damage that is handed down, over the centuries, from mothers to daughters, fathers to sons. At its best, the novel makes us experience the horrors of slavery on an intimate, personal level ... Ms. Gyasi’s workmanlike prose and brisk jump-cuts from one generation’s woes to another’s, however, mean that Homegoing never creates the sort of immersive, fully imagined fictional world that One Hundred Years of Solitude did — never makes the leap into the hyperspace of myth that Toni Morrison’s Beloved achieved. As a result, Homegoing often feels deliberate and earthbound ... It’s when she focuses not on the wide-angle aspects of her story, but on relationships — between parents and children, wives and husbands — that her writing is at its most potent.
...a hugely empathic, unflinching portrayal of west Africa’s role in the transatlantic slave trade ... It is an enormous feat for a new writer, but Gyasi rises to the challenge. At the centre of each well-crafted, well-researched narrative episode there is a clearly defined and complex protagonist who we come to care deeply about, largely because of the extent of their suffering ... Love is the glue that binds these life stories together, the chapters a series of couplings and begettings making way for the next in line. Gyasi’s portrayal of physical love between men and women makes for some of the novel’s most powerful scenes ... Homegoing loses some of its urgency in the later segments, perhaps because there are fewer rapes, no bleeding love scenes, no sudden thefts of freedom. There is also too vast an array of lives and emotional interiors to take in; the book becomes overloaded, lacking a central thread, and we begin to forget ... here is a book to help us remember. It is well worth its weight.
More lives thread through Homegoing's pages, in a narrative that is earnest, well-crafted yet not overly self-conscious, marvelous without being precious. Fine details continue to build each individual's world ... In Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi has given rare and heroic voice to the missing and suppressed.
Taken in as a panorama, Homegoing can be breathtaking ... Gyasi has conscientiously assembled the furniture of each of these American historical periods, but she never seems quite at home in them. The farther back in time she goes, the more prone she is to jarring anachronisms ... Too often, however, Gyasi struggles to make the linked-story form suit her epic enterprise. There are significant challenges to overcome, not least the lack of a central character to arrest the reader’s attention and carry it through the book ... Rough as it is page by page, hampered as it is by a form that would daunt a far more practiced novelist, Homegoing succeeds, by the end, in accumulating no small emotional power.
While the appearance of so many familiar historical tropes like the Underground Railroad, the Harlem Renaissance, and the civil rights movement threaten to create a Forrest Gump’-like vibe, there are also illuminating glimpses of less well-known experiences, from free black life in Baltimore and interracial union organizing in 19th-century Alabama coal mines, to African nations manipulating the British and each other during the slave trade. Gyasi is also admirably determined to show the complexities of culpability and affinity ... Homegoing is ultimately a tad schematic. Many of the narrative choices can be justified as the overlaying of myth and history, another of Gyasi’s literary strategies, but they are nonetheless more predictable than they need to be. The writing can also be anachronistic in a way that’s not quite worthy of the novel’s ambitions.
There is a lot to synthesize, and Ms. Gyasi doesn’t always make it work. The biggest obstacle in a genealogical novel is the need to constantly explain how the families perpetuates their lines, and the result is that the stories in Homegoing repetitively focus on the hows and whys of marriage and childbirth. You start to feel that the only point to these characters’ lives is their ability to procreate. Yet it’s refreshing to read a novel with a sense of historical imminence. Contemporary American fiction frequently seems to exist in blank isolation from world events. Not so Homegoing, where wars and laws directly shape the characters’ destinies, often across generations.
Gyasi is not yet a polished prose stylist. One must turn away from Gyasi’s prose as a source of delight, critics suggest, and find pleasure in Homegoing’s collected narratives and in its overall structure. In doing so, one confronts a problem: To read Gyasi’s structure as innovative is to ignore or forget that writers like John Edgar Wideman, Edwidge Danticat, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie have imagined Afro-Diasporic experiences via the short story or the novel-in-stories form to much greater effect that Gyasi mounts here ... Gyasi’s work depends on readers not knowing African American literature or recognizing her undigested references ... Though none of Homegoing’s characters are fully realized, characters like Effia, Quey, Abena, and Yaw make it clear that Gyasi is an imaginative and talented artist. So, why would she sabotage her fiction with cliché-riven renditions of African American life?
Each of Homegoing’s chapters centers on one character from either line in the successive generations and bears the burden of conveying the lived feel of a mini-epoch of history. They have the feel less of linked stories than of compressed miniature novels. This is a lot to ask of passages of around 20 pages, but there are some payoffs. Each chapter is tightly plotted, and there are suspenseful, even spectacular climaxes. Their echoes ring throughout the book when formerly central characters reappear as diminished or resilient parents or grandparents of new protagonists...From a distance of three centuries, this can have an overdetermined ring, even a taste of contemporary liberal projection, but Homegoing repeatedly enacts one of the the novel’s classic missions: to dramatize the struggle of the individual soul, with its local yearnings and heartbreaks, against the unjust social forces of the modern world.
Gyasi's lyric and versatile language makes all the difference. She's only 26, yet she writes with authority about history and pulls her readers deep into her characters' lives through the force of her empathetic imagination ... it's a stagey premise, but Gyasi coaxes us into accepting this baroque situation through the conviction and, occasionally, even the playful novelty of her descriptions ... Homegoing would have been a stronger novel if it had ended sooner, perhaps on a moment like this one, where the urban crowd absorbs Robert in his whiteness, but silently rebuffs Willie. As the novel moves forward into our own time the pressure to wrap up the two storylines intensifies, and contrivance comes to the fore. But so many moments earlier on in this strong debut novel linger.
The destinies of Effia Otcher and Esi Asare in Yaa Gyasi’s spellbinding Homegoing recall those of sisters Celie and Nettie in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple ... Fourteen radiant narratives illuminate the twists and turns of a genealogy molded by colonization, slavery, Jim Crow, the Great Migration, addiction and incarceration. Homegoing poses an essential question: Can people ever return to a land they’ve never been to in the first place? ... Gyasi has written a nuanced, scintillating investigation into the myriad intricacies and institutions that shape a family.
Gyasi’s novel gives voice to some of the voiceless multitudes ... The strength of Gyasi’s novel lies in the complexity and the profundity of these moments of reflection, which gain momentum in each iteration, with each new generation. The things lost and gained by each successive generation evolve into the richness and the deep deficits of the characters ... Though linked by the bonds of family and legacy, the disconnected nature of vignettes leaves large gaps and swaths of these characters’ lives unchronicled.
...an impressive debut ... Gyasi manages to make each story feel intensely personal and shows a willingness to stay in the uncomfortable moments ... In direct opposition to the death, displacement and fragmentation of so many individuals and families as a result of the slave trade, Homegoing serves as a modern-day reconstruction of lost and untold narratives — and a desire to move forward. Having both sides of one family journey home together more than 300 years after the fact is the start of a new truth, a new chapter.
Homegoing’s structure—with chapters alternating between Africa and America—serves the narrative well. We are reminded of the recent past from which these slaves have been torn, and are always aware of the unforgiving violence of the rupture ... Homegoing’s imaginative breadth lies in dreaming up a lineage, a continuous history of family, for those who would otherwise be dust ... The novel succeeds when it retrieves individual lives from the oblivion mandated by racism and spins the story of the family’s struggle to survive.
While in nearly every chapter the book introduces a new generation, I came to care for each of the characters more deeply through these detailed snapshots of their lives. Initially, the book was an uncomfortable read, because I feared it would all be set in the 1700’s, and because slavery is a heartbreaking subject. However, the more I got to know the characters the more invested I became in their stories. Although I continued to feel sorrow, I fell in love with their wit, their romances, and their temporary joys ... The story also has major black feminist vibes. It grants agency to strong female characters and discounts hypermasculinity by allowing men to be vulnerable. If books are about exploring the human condition, then Homegoing is a great lesson in empathy ... Ms. Gyasi’s style is beautiful and poetic. Diction changes during the narration to represent differences in age, backgrounds and struggles with language barriers. ”Homegoing” has been told through the eyes of well-rounded characters, so that in discussing grand sociopolitical issues we never lose sight of the fact that they affect people’s everyday experiences.
Through these varied yet intertwined viewpoints, Gyasi explores the deep territory of colonialism, slavery, discrimination, corruption, identity, and homecoming. She approaches tough topics with unflinching honesty. Her description of the horrific conditions in the castle’s dungeon, for instance, is explicit, yet her language shows remarkable restraint. She gives it to us straight, and therefore we are enlightened without feeling manipulated ... Didactic moments can pull the reader out of the story. This happens more toward the beginning, somewhat by the necessity of explaining an unfamiliar time and place. But Gyasi is at her best when she settles in and lets her characters tell us about themselves in their own terms ... The structure of the book dictates a somewhat high tell vs. show ratio, because with each new character, a good amount of reportage is required to connect the new character with their forebears and to situate the character in the new time and place. But perhaps it is unfair to criticize a book for raising such interesting and complex issues in truncated form. The generation-to-generation format can lead to a recurring feeling of disappointment at not having spent more time with each character, but on the other hand, it indicates fertile ground for more books from Gyasi in the future — books I look forward to reading.
The language of the American chapters never quite matches the lyrical quality of the early ones in Africa. Some of the changes may be by design: Gyasi depicts in vivid detail the horrific abuses Esi’s descendants suffer under slavery, from beatings to rape to a lynching. But even for later descendants, the suffering does not end. Gyasi attempts to cover multiple social problems and turning points in African-American history with each chapter. As a result some characters are forced to do historical double duty in a way that seems contrived ... Gyasi is an enormously talented writer. She blends historical research and compelling scenes well, creating a truly epic family drama. Homegoing provides a needed corrective to anyone who would gloss over the horrors of the slave era or argue that it happened too long ago to matter.
...[a] deeply empathetic novel ... Homegoing is an affecting examination of the soul-destroying and lingering effects of slavery ... Reading Homegoing can be a disconcerting experience: just as you have settled in with one character, the chapter ends and you move to another. This is by no means a complaint; it is precisely this unsettling quality that is so powerful about the novel ... Homegoing is particularly honest in its unflinching and resolute refusal to hide from unpleasant facts ... Homegoing is a first novel, and therefore is not without its faults. The language can be overwrought to the point of occlusion. Nor is the dialogue always convincing; it is sometimes difficult to distinguish one voice from the next, and the rendering of African-American argot falls wincingly on the ear. But these are minor complaints to put to the writer of such a wonderfully evocative and compassionate novel — one that, given her tender age, shows deftness, depth and maturity. Homegoing is a gift to its readers, and a treasure to cherish.
Gyasi has delivered something unbelievably tough to pull off: a centuries-spanning epic of interlinked short stories. Each character gets only one chapter, yet most are so vividly and empathetically drawn that you get a sense of both the span of their lives and the events that shaped it, from the Fugitive Slave Act to the Anglo-Asante wars. She has a poet’s ability to paint a scene with a handful of phrases.
Gyasi has captured that feeling of time in a novel that dramatizes the consequences of slavery and the African diaspora from 18th-century Ghana through contemporary America in graceful prose that never wastes a word ... Gyasi writes with empathy for her characters and judicious restraint in her style. Even so, many lines demand to be savored ... A generation later, a different teacher urges Yaw's bookworm daughter to find books that 'she could feel inside of her.' For many readers, Homegoing will be one of those books.