Sunday, January 29, 2017

Homegoing Discussion Guide

Photo of book Homegoing
Book: Homegoing
Author:  Yaa Gyasi
Edition:  Hardcover Alfred A. Knopf 2016 and the kindle version

A poignant sharing of how racism, culture, and personal choices shape the lives of individuals and history of a people. Collectively the individual stories are so interwoven that none can stand on its own, yet in this novel each story does precisely that, both like a window cracked open to let in a moment, and interwoven with the stories before and after to create a mosaic of time.
"Marcus was an accumulation of these times. That was the point." 
"Having been a part of something that stretched so far back, was so impossibly large, that it was easy to forget that she, and he, and everyone else, existed in it- not apart from it, but inside of it."

Internet Resources

In one of many interivews found online, Gyasi responds to the question, "Where is home for you?" with the following:
"It is a complicated question. Home right now is Oakland, California. But again I think I have known for many years that home, for me, can never really be a place. It is this thing that you carry inside of you, similar to these characters, particularly the Afro-American ones who have been ripped away from their original homes and yet have this connection to the land. Home is this little light that you carry inside you wherever you go."
Gyasi is as eloquent in spoken word as in written word. You can listen to her in a brief interview with the Wall Street journal in a 3 minute video or a longer discussion on Politics and Prose or read an interview with her such as the one above or one from the National Post.

Gyasi’s ability to create a story that immerses the reader in history is phenomenal. Rather than looking for internet resources that share more stories, here are three resources offering historical facts connected with three of the time periods in the novel.

Facts from BBC on the slave trade how it began, who participated.

Blacks in Baltimore before the Civil War, talks about life as a black American in Baltimore.

The Movie Slavery by Another Name can be viewed online in its entirety. It shares a chapter of American history that H lived—a system of forced, unpaid labor, mostly affecting Southern black men.

Major Characters

I found it helpful to keep in mind the ancestors of each title character. Most of these are shown as a family tree in print and Kindle versions.  They are grouped by direct descendants and names in bold are title characters from the chapters.

Effia's Family

Cobbee Otcher: Effia’s Father
Baaba: Cobbee’s first wife, not Effia’s biological mother, but reluctantly raises Effia until she can send her away in marriage
Effia Otcher: Fante, married to James to strengthen relationship between village and white men
Fiifi: Effia’s half-brother
James Collins: Governor of Cape Coast Castle, marries Effia
Quey Collins: Fante and British son of Effia and James
Cudjo Sackee: Quey’s friend from a prominent Fante village
Nana Yaa Yeboah: eldest daughter of powerful Asante king, forced into marriage with Quey
James Richard Collins: Fante, Asante and British: Quey and Nana’s son
Amma: James’ first wife whom he doesn’t chose and doesn’t love
Akosua Mensah: Asante, James’ second wife
Abena Collins: only child of James (Unlucky) and Akosua; drowned by missionary when her daughter is a baby
Ohene Nyarko: Abena’s lover
Akua Collins: only child of Abena, raised by missionaries in Kumasi, nightmares of firewoman; becomes the Crazy Woman; lives in Edweso
Asamoah Agyekym: Akua’s Asante husband, becomes the Crippled Man
Abee and Ama: Akua’s children whom she burns to death in their sleep
Nana Serwah: Asamoah’s mother who exiles Akua
Yaw Agyekum: Akua’s son who Asamoah saves from being burned, becomes history teacher
Esther Amoah: comes to clean for Yaw and becomes his wife
Marjorie Agyekum: Daughter of Yaw and Esther

Esi's Family

Maame: Esi’s and Effia’s mother.
Big Man Asare: Esi’s father, skilled and brave Asante warrior who foolishly rushed into conflict, but realized his folly after he was rescued and earned nickname, “It takes a big man to admit his folly.”
Esi Assare: to befriend Adbronoma, Esi sends word to Abronoma’s father that his daughter is a captive. Esi is sold as a slave and raped at the Castle and sold into slavery in U.S.
Abronoma: houseslave for Maame, captive from another tribe.
Ness Stockham: Esi’s daughter, field slave to Thomas Allan Stockham in Alabama
Pinky: Mute slave girl on Stockham’s plantation
Sam: Ness’ husband chosen by the slave owners. Hung by slaveowner
Kojo Freeman: Ness and Sam’s son, taken to Baltimore by Ma Aku
Ma Aku: Asante woman who takes Kojo north in U.S.
Anna Foster: Kojo’s wife, kidnapped when pregnant and commits suicide after H is born
H Black: Kojo and Anna’s son, arrested after the Civil War and sold to work in coal mine in Alabama
Joecy: friend H met as a convict in coal mines and seeks out in Pratt City when released
Ethe Jackson: woman H met before his time as a convict and who he seeks out when released
Wille Black: daughter of H and Ethe, gifted singer, moves from Pratt City to Harlem
Robert Clifton: Willie’s husband from Pratt City who is a very light-skinned black man
Eli: poet of sorts who is transient in Willie's life
Carson “Sonny” Clifton: Willie and Robert’s child
Josephine: Willie and Eli’s child
Amani Zulema: singer and drug addict
Marcus Clifton: Son of sonny and Amani

Approximate Time Periods

Effia and Esi: 1760’s to 1780’s
Quey and Ness: 1800 to 1820’s
James and Kojo: 1820’s to 1860
Abena and H: 1860s to 1890s
Akua and Willie: 1890s to 1920s
Yaw and Sonny : 1940s to 1980s
Marjorie and Marcus: 2000’s

Quotes for Reflection

Following are just a few of the many phrases Gyasi shares that reflect the many themes she has interwoven.  Select from these or others that move you and discuss their impact upon you in the novel and with respect to your own life.

Belief and Religion

“god, a being who himself was made up of three but who allowed men to marry only one.”
Chapter: Effia

“‘The white man’s god is just like the white man. He thinks he is the only god, just like the white man thinks he is the only man. But the only reason he is god instead of Nyame or Chukwu or whoever is because we let him be. We do not fight him. We do not even question him.’”
Chapter: Kojo

“Prayer was not a sacred or holy thing. It was not spoken plainly, in Twi or English. It need not be performed ion the knees or with folded palms. For Akua, prayer was a frenzied chant, a language for those desires of the heart that even the mind did not recognize were there.”
Chapter: Akua

“Forgiveness, they shouted, all the while committing their wrongs. When he was younger, Yaw wondered why they did not preach that the people should avoid wrongdoing altogether.
Chapter: Yaw

History and Stories

“Ancestors, whole histories, came with the act, but so did sins and curses.”
Chapter: Effia

“The British were no longer selling slaves to America, but slavery had not ended, and his father did not seem to think that it would end. They would just trade one type of shackles for another, trade physical ones that wrapped around wrists and ankles for the invisible ones that wrapped around the mind.”
Chapter: James

“The Asante had power from capturing slaves. The Fante had protection from trading them.  If the girl could not shake his hands, then surely she could never touch own."
Chapter: James

“History is storytelling”
Chapter: Yaw

“We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history, you must always ask yourself, Whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth?”
Chapter: Yaw

“the problem with America wasn’t segregation but the fact that you could not, in fact, segregate.
Chapter: Sonny


"You can learn anything when you have to learn it. You could learn to fly if it meant you would live another day."
Chapter: Esi

“Now that she had a plan, a hope for a way out, she felt emboldened.”
Chapter: Akua

“Eat or be eater. Capture of be captured. Marry for protection.”
Chapter: Quey

“’But if we do not like the person we have learned to be, should we just sit in front of our fufu, doing nothing? I think, James, that maybe it is possible to make a new way.”
Chapter: James

“No one forgets that they were once captive, even if they are now free.”
Chapter: Yaw

“Not the being lost, but the being found.”
Chapter: Marcus

Personal History

“Tell a lie long enough and it will turn to truth.”
Chapter: Kojo

"There should be no room in your life for regret. If in the moment of doing you felt clarity, you felt certainty, then why feel regret later?"
Chapter Abena

“playing his strange game of student/teacher, heathen/savior, but with Assamoah she saw that maybe her life could be something different from what she had always imagined it would be.”
Chapter: Abena  

“How can I tell you the story of your scar without first telling you the story of my dreams? And how do I talk about my dreams without talking about my family? Our family?”
Chapter: Yaw

“When they were living they had not known where they came from, and so dead, they did not know how to get to dry land.  I put you in here so that if your spirit ever wandered, you would know where home was… It was their sumer ritural, her grandmother reminding her how to come home.”
Chapter: Marjorie

“How could he talk about Great-Grandpa H’s story without also talking about his grandma Willie and the missions of other black people who had migrated north, fleeing Jim Crow? And if he mentioned the Great Migration, he’d have to talk about the citities that took that flock in. He’d have to talk about Harlem…”
Chapter: Marcus

“… the feeling of time, of having been a part of something that stretched so far back, was so impossibly large, that it was easy to forget that she, and he, and everyone else, existed in it—not apart from it, but inside of it.”
Chapter: Marcus

“Marcus was an accumulation of these times. That was the point.”
Chapter: Marcus

Assessing Others

You can only decide a wicked man by what he does.
Chapter: Akua

“‘People think they are coming to me for advice,’ Mampanyin said, ‘but really, they come to me for permission. If you want to do something, do it.”
Chapter: James

“Willie smiled at Robert, and it wasn’t until that smile that she realized she forgave him.  She felt like the smile had opened a valve, like the pressure of anger and sadness and confusion and loss was shooting out of her, in the sky and away.”
Chapter: Willie

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