Two half sisters in 18th-century Africa have never met, yet their lives, and the lives of their descendants, are deeply enmeshed.
Esi is abducted and taken as a slave to America; Effia "marries" a white slaver who conducts his trade in Cape Coast, Ghana. As time marches towards the present, we are immersed in the experiences of their children and their children's children, alternating between Africa and America.
Each descendant's story is worthy of a book in itself, giving this novel the feel of interlinked novellas. The American descendants suffer through slavery, the Fugitive Slave Act, and the coal mines of Alabama before entering the modern age of the Harlem Renaissance and the Civil Rights Movement. The African descendants experience tribal betrayals, sexual intolerance, the Anglo-Ashanti Wars, and emigration to an unfriendly, post-war American south.
This novel is rich in the details of history for the different time periods, which has motivated me to read more about these eras. I was enthralled by each person's journey: horrific, inspirational, villainous, courageous creating a wealth of emotional vignettes. I often found myself thinking about the characters when I was away from the book, and I wanted to get back to it as soon as possible.
I also recommend the audio book narrated by Dominic Hoffman. He does a masterful job depicting African accents, southern American accents, New York accents, and the voices of women. After the book unfortunately ended, I felt like I wanted to fill in the details of my own genealogy to imagine how my ancestors may have personally experienced historic events. Gyasi unequivocally succeeds in putting herself in the shoes of relatively ordinary people who are thrust into extraordinary and deplorable situations.
*A "homegoing" is a funereal ritual to celebrate the return home one experiences at death. It was embraced by African slaves as a way to find comfort at the end of a loved one's suffering.