Just into the second half of 2016 and we come across what will be one of the major books — and certainly the most significant debut — of 2016.
Author Yaa Gyasi was born in Ghana and raised in Alabama. The 26-year-old studied at Stanford and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and here, with her debut novel, Homegoing (Alfred A. Knopf), she begins her writing career on a memorable foot.
Two half-sisters are born in 18th-century Ghana. One is married to an affluent Englishman in order to live a life of luxury. The other ends up in the dungeons of her sister’s home, to be shipped off to the new world and slavery. We follow these two women through their lives and over generations. Centuries of warfare in Ghana and the Civil War in the United States, the coal mines in Alabama, the jazz clubs of Harlem. The action changes here so quickly, sometimes you feel as though if you blink a few times, you’ll miss something. That said, Gyasi never seems rushed — though she does sometimes seem urgent — as we follow her characters and their descendants right through to the present day.
The night Efia Otcher was born into the musky heat of Fanteland, a fire raged through the woods just outside her father’s compound, tearing a path for days. It lived off the air; it slept in caves and hid in trees; it burned, up and through, unconcerned with what wreckage it left behind, until it reached Asante village. There, it disappeared, becoming one with the night.
Gyasi’s voice is lyrical, her storytelling compelling. Homegoing is an astonishing first effort, not to be missed. ◊