Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi–A Review

Described as “… trac[ing] three hundred years in Ghana and along the way also becom[ing] a truly great American novel,” Homegoing is so much more than a chronology. Young writer Yaa Gyasi debuts her talent with an expansive and epic collection of intimate histories that build up to present times from the 18th century. These myriad stories come full circle in a brilliant conclusion that binds us to our past and to each other.

One of the characters—a Ghanian teacher, Yaw—says “… that is the problem of history… we must rely upon the words of others” (Gyasi 226). He tells his students how it is the voice of the winner that writes history, and how that version is always lacking due to the missing voices of the oppressed. Though their roles were vital in the creation of the story, their input is invalid to the teller.

This book gives voice to a whole host of characters. They are all worth hearing, all powerful and virile because they are human. The smallest life is treasured and painted as a complete portrait by Gyasi. Even though the author follows the lives of many people in two different family trees through multiple generations, each character is fully developed with fears, faults, strengths, and desires. Gyasi is a master at creating the sense that we owe everything in our lives (good and bad) to those that came before us, and that we have a monumental responsibility to those who will come after. We do not stand alone in our individuality, but rather, as a link in a chain reaction, for better or worse.

Yaa Gyasi approaches history the way that the word “history” implies: as a story. Rich in detail, her book teaches about ways of life that might be unfamiliar to many: farming and scavenging in Ghana, life as a person of color in antebellum Baltimore, the struggles of living in Harlem in the 1960s. Gyasi shows a side of history we are not often taught.

If the author simply told unspoken histories, the book would be a masterful work of research. However, Gyasi couples chronology with that spark that turns words into literature, a book into an art work. Even in her debut novel, Gyasi instills great life and music in her story. Not only are we affected by decisions others made in our pasts, but we are affected by their intentions, their hopes, their fears. Gyasi gives platforms to Ghanian magic and mysticism, baptist religion, and unconditional familial connections. These unexplainable forces are just as powerful as the tangible or visible results we experience from decisions made and actions taken around us.

Yaa Gyasi’s book is called “Homegoing,” not “homecoming.” This is not a story of return, but rather, of moving forward through time while learning about and growing from your roots.

 

Featured image via Amazon

Marathon

From the day you were born

it’s been a marathon.

You should have known

something was wrong.

You tasted the air,

but took as a dare

(curling your fingers)

the blazing, bare

beams of sunlight—

bright in your eyes.

Here, your first lesson,

you learned to care

—to close your eyes—

to survive, from birth,

to show your strength,

to prove your worth.

The marathon doesn’t slow

when you sleep at night.

Fears that are the birthright

of being alive

teem inside your mind

and try to drive a wedge

between possibilities

and dreams.

The marathon doesn’t slow,

even though potential

and your goals are within reach,

they just need some light,

a green thumb, and time

to grow.

 

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/marathon/

via Daily Prompt: Marathon

 

Infinite

She didn’t believe in ghosts or an eternal afterlife. So you could imagine her confusion when she stood, surveying the end of the world, and heard voices. The sole survivor, she had been underground for almost a year, tunneling away from the burning, toxic surface. But one day, she looked across at the same dirt wall for the hundred thousandth time and thought, “What am I waiting for?”

Pushing open the heavy, titanium hatch, she emerged into a wasteland, still smoldering. Little, spitting pits of fire sent off streams of black smoke as far as she could see. The sky was red, the way she had learned that it was in the ancient days. She stood on the hot hatch in her tunic, arms crossed, and didn’t even realize how picturesque she was, alone, with dreadlocks and dressed in rags, breathing in poison at the end of the world.

She walked away from the hatch, looking for anything else on the flat plain. Her feet sank in layers of ash as thick as snow. It had been difficult to grow up a the end of time. Everything was virtual, intangible, and for the normal person like herself, pretty inconceivable. Birth and life in that era were accidents. The people who mattered had already been preserved in the hive mind thousands of years before. Maybe even now the hive mind was still functioning somewhere in a virtual reality, or another dimension, or some other method of existing that had never been explained to her.

Growing up as one of the sole consciousnesses with a body, she had been forced to be an existentialist. The hive mind was one, big, harmonious entity that flowed together like billions of layers of music–all the same song. Trudging about below, she was very aware of waking up each day and the sixteen or so hours of decisions she would have to make.

She hadn’t minded living alone, or struggling to find food in a society where not that many people ate anymore. She did these things and kept herself alive each day the way an animal does, never asking why. Whatever she took from the earth, she gave back. She saved away corn kernels, potato eyes, and apple seeds to plant; she grew trees, starting new forests each year; she couldn’t really do anything about the water she took, but somehow never felt bad about it. She knew that the ancients had made art, music, and recorded history, but the hive mind had no need for these things–it had transcended them. Sometimes she hummed a little to herself, but she could almost see the sounds floating away from her and falling to the ground.

When she had gone underground a year ago, it had been purely on instinct. Fight or flight, and you can’t fight ultimate destruction and desolation. Hiding deep in the earth with meager provisions and a slow drip of water from the ceiling sustained her for ten months, but those were running low. Planting apple trees in the spring from the seeds she had spit out in the autumn had somehow been fulfilling enough for most of her life, but now she was simply sitting in the dark, working her way through a finite source of food and water at the end of the world in the bottom of the earth.

Before the devastation, the hive mind society had not needed her. The world did not depend upon or even acknowledge her existence, but, heavy feet firmly planted, she had always had a strange sense of place. It was as if, supposing she had died years before, there would have been a hole shaped like her in the fabric of this time.

Above ground again, she walked through the fire and what she thought must be burning sulfur, a little bit curious now about what the end of the world looked like.

She arrived at the edge of a plateau or a cliff. It was the world the way the ancients described it: a flat piece of land with edges that cascaded away into nothingness. She was standing at the edge of ruin, emptiness and smoke and flames so far below, they might as well have been a distant star. She looked out through the decayed atmosphere into space.

There she heard the voices. It was as if the humming she had sent out over the years was reverberating, soft but strong and in a multitude of bodiless voices. Hot wind pushed her a step closer to the edge. She closed her eyes, listening, feeling the flying embers and thick air.

She knew that an old culture called the Norse had believed that time was cyclical; that when this world was destroyed, a new one was birthed out of its destruction, with a few gods and relics surviving to see the establishment of the new world. In this way, there was no beginning or end of time and earth, but only a circle.

Science, history, religion, and mythology had little place in her life, so she really couldn’t be sure, but she had a strong feeling that the world she had just lost must also have been born under fire and song.

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/infinite/

Gone

I’ve been taking lessons for a long time–gathering notes, making observations, keeping careful records. I guess because I’m so fastidious (perfectionist? maybe just a little bit, sometimes), something inside me innately sought out unsurpassed teachers for the job. I’ve always been able to surround myself with the best in the business, and I’ve never even had to try. It just happens.

Here I am, at series nineteen: the nineteenth teacher, fresh and ready for lesson two. I’m ready, too. Mental notebook jotting down every subtly, I don’t miss a thing. I’m an excellent student.

Though my teachers have come in all shapes and sizes–father, first-ever-best-friend, co-worker, even child-I-used-to-nanny–this new teacher is among a fan of similar five in the cohort of nineteen. This one is among the lovers. New and shiny, I can’t call him a boyfriend, no no, lover isn’t even correct. Crush, love interest, just-a-guy-I’m-talking-to.

The boy is textbook. Asking too many questions about me, brushing off my questions about him. Keeping the compliments and wine from the carafe on the marble bar flowing. I talk around my red lipstick, trying to not get it on my teeth. I’ve started wearing red lipstick all the time. Red is the color of power, passion, and no one wants to kiss you when you’re wearing it. They start thinking about you without it.

This boy is looking alternately among my eyes, the restaurant surroundings, and my mouth. He’s tilted his fine jaw down, just a bit, so he’s looking up at me somehow, even though he’s significantly taller than I am. One elbow resting on the bar, his fingers are in the air, loose and empty.

This is date two. Date one was a casual morning coffee. Date three will be at his place, he knows it. His knee is touching mine. There’s nothing offensive or sleazy about the guy, he’s probably fairly stand-up, with good grades, good part-time work, and a decent relationship with his mother.

He’ll probably be so proud of me, this, my nineteenth teacher. Arriving home after our date, I took off my makeup; chose a big, dark, infinite hole, one among eighteen; and walked through it to the other side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/gone/

via Daily Prompt: Gone

Interior

 

Somewhere deep

in the freezing dark,

buried behind stars,

comets, sparks, and

endless worlds

we’re here.

 

Huddled safe

beneath a thick

and sometimes nourishing

atmosphere–

dotted about–

between the seas

and mountains:

stand houses.

Or homes, rather,

there is a difference

between living in

an extension

of yourself and

mere existence.

You stand inside,

comfortable, at home,

no need to hide

or protect yourself

or guard your eyes.

Your mind

is yours to free.

 

Building nests behind

brave brick faces–

behind the walls

of spaces that we call

“home,”

that we made our own

with painted walls

and beds and art,

you stand,

hand to chest,

feeling the beating

of your heart

inside

pumping like a

rhythmic song.

Within the valves

and warm red walls

there is a cosmos

of your own

with never ending light,

galaxies and planets

still unknown.

Inside of you

there is a place,

dark and dense,

nebulas with

unseen colors,

infinite time,

brilliant space.

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/interior/

via Daily Prompt: Interior