I’ve had Homegoing (2016) by Yaa Gyasi on my t0-read list for a long while. It won many well-deserved literary awards, and when my book group chose Gyasi’s second novel, Transcendent Kingdom (2020), which I’ve already read, I decided that it was time.
It’s set both in the former Gold Coast of Africa, now Ghana, and various places in what becomes the United States, Beginning in the 1750’s, Gyasi introduces us to two young girls who we don’t realize until later are sisters. One girl is married to the British governor and lives in the Cape Coast Castle. The other sister is captured when her village is attacked, and is eventually taken to the dungeon of the Castle.
Gyasi masterfully interlocks each character with the others, generation after generation. The structure of the novel is more like interrelated short stories, similar to some of Louise Erdrich’s books. Each chapter leaves you wanting to know more, but the reader doesn’t find out a lot of what happened until we read the next generation’s story. I hate to say I “enjoyed” a book that deals with the legacies of slavery, colonialism and racism on two continents, but I was riveted.
With regard to descriptions of fat people, I was initially disappointed, as one of the British is described as “fat all over” so I was worried Gyasi was going to describe fat people always as negative characters. But she didn’t. One descendant described his cousin as a “fat, dark man” who was “kind and loyal.” I read her descriptions as more neutral, just describing fatness as a characteristic but not a shorthand implying anything else.
Many of the stories include historic events, such as the Fugitive Slave Act, the introduction of cacao to Ghana, the Great Migration, and the civil rights movement. And each character was completely unique, with their own voice. I highly recommend it.