I think I was foiled by the hype on this one – and the award – or maybe it’s my having read several similar books lately. I don’t know. I wonder if I would have read it had it not been for a nod from a reading group. ? Anyway, I was kind of looking forward to it but ended up disappointed.
by Yaa Gyasi
2016 / 320 pages
read by Dominic Hoffman 13h 10m
Rating: 7. 25 / historical fiction –
The novel, or more accurately the interwoven stories, opens in the mid-18th century near where Ghana is today. Effia and Esi are pre-pubescent half-sisters who don’t know each other because of different mothers. They live with their own mothers, but Effia is an unfortunate omen due to a fire on the night of her birth. There is competition for the marriage of the girls and their father likes to play the big man.
But slave sales are at a peak in the Asante and Fante tribes and the atrocities are committed by all (whites and blacks) while the Dutch and English are paying for good bodies. Effia, the beauty, is married off to a white boss. but Esi is sold to the whites and kept in a dungeon waiting for transport. These chapters are pretty graphic and horrendous – for my tastes anyway. I’m not saying they don’t need to be written, just that tastes differ.
The narrative then follows the generations alternating between those in Africa and those in the US, each as an almost stand-alone story. The main characters change with each story because it’s the next generation or on the other continent – probably 7 generations.
Life in Africa is not easy and of course life in the US is horrendous, even after the Civil War. Women always seem to get the brunt of it all and there was a bit more sex than I really thought necessary to the plot. Also, some stories were much more compelling than others, but I suppose that’s to be expected but it gave the overall impression of being quite uneven. The stories toward the end of the book are written in a really passive voice – no more “show,” it feels like a lot of “tell” (which is often fine at the end of novels and sometimes stories, but these are individual stories aren’t they?) And I was really glad to finish.