So the thing I always love about history is seeing the connections and influences that exist across expanses of time, the way that things persist and change and are forgotten. Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing is a novel, not a history, but it captures that feeling better than just about any novel I can remember reading.
Because yeah, it’s a novel, but it’s also a collection of short stories at the same time—Gyasi is telling the story of two separated sisters and their descendants, in this multi-generational epic. And so every chapter has a new protagonist, and each chapter tells a contained story about that person’s life; you could flip to any chapter at random, read it, and feel like you got a complete story. But they also build and connect, as each chapter relates inevitably to the chapter before it, with this protagonist’s life shaped inexorably by the experiences of previous generations.
It’s a brilliant structure, because it really captures both the depth of connection that we have with our history, and how invisible it is—we know our parents through a lens as their child, we know our grandparents as old people, and beyond that, for most people their family’s history is just a set of names and maybe a few fragments of memory. And so you see that in these stories where people end up in situations that to them are inevitable, normal, and just how the world is; but we see the contingent personal decisions and experiences that led to this point.
And of course, this structure only works if the stories work—being introduced to a series of new characters and situations would be absolutely momentum-sapping if they were dull or uninteresting in any way. But they’re not. Each story, across continents and centuries, is vivid and fascinating and memorable.
So, yeah, I straight up love this book. I haven’t read anything quite like this before, and it’s doing exactly what I want fiction to do. Highly recommended.