Saturday, March 25, 2017

Around the World in 7 Books: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi


Effia and Esi are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.

Short History:

It seems rather fitting that my journey will begin in Africa, and that it will a multigenerational epic from late 18th century up until present. In the ancient past, Africa is best known for Egypt and even some Greek/Roman myths claim a connection to Africa. It is even thought that humankind had its origins in Africa during Ice Age when ice covered the rest of the world.

Unfortunately the more recent history is tarnished by slavery, poverty, AIDS, genocide, warfare and destruction of nature and life.

Fire and Water Symbolism: 

Four elements dominate life: water, air, fire and earth. All these elements are necessary for survival. Homegoing has two primal elements dominating the characters and their lives: fire and water. Air and earth, oddly enough, play no role in the story.

In the African timeline, fire plays a dominant role in the characters' lives, be it directly or indirectly, while in the American timeline, water plays a dominant role. Some prime examples of water is the ocean, bodies of water that characters end up settling near. In the book, fire is used as a weapon or even a myth in a creature known as 'fire-woman'.


One of the other interesting aspects I found in Homegoing are connections that the characters have to the past; in what seems to be a parallel journey, in the African timeline, the connection to the past and to the land is always recovered and is never allowed to be forgotten, while in the American timeline, each time the descendants take root or memories of their past, it's always wiped away by different situations; it's as if in America the characters were not allowed to take root and to grow but instead were scattered (perhaps the indirect Air connection) while in Africa the characters were not allowed to take to the air and fly (perhaps indirect Earth connection.)

Ending my stay in Africa:

I enjoyed my stay in this particular book a lot, and I also was encouraged to perhaps try to create something similar in my stories. In this book, the stories are both broad and intimate in scope and are very enjoyable. (Heck, I read the book in one sitting.)

Time for me to leave Africa and to continue traveling on to Antarctica in The Comet Seekers by Helen Sedgwick:

Róisín and François first meet in the snowy white expanse of Antarctica. And everything changes.

While Róisín grew up in a tiny village in Ireland, ablaze with a passion for science and the skies and for all there is to discover about the world, François was raised by his beautiful young mother, who dreamt of new worlds but was unable to turn her back on her past.

As we loop back through their lives, glimpsing each of them only when a comet is visible in the skies above, we see how their paths cross as they come closer and closer to this moment.

Theirs are stories filled with love and hope and heartbreak, that show how strangers can be connected and ghosts can be real, and the world can be as lonely or as beautiful as the comets themselves.

See you in Antarctica!

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