Perhaps the passage I felt most at home within this summer’s Connecticut College reading, Yaa Gyasi’s graceful historical fiction novel “Homegoing,” came in the very last chapter of the book, which focuses on Marcus, a graduate student working on his doctoral thesis at Stanford University. A few pages into the chapter, the narrator explains that “Originally [Marcus had] wanted to focus his work on the convict leasing system that had stolen years off of his great-grandpa H’s life”. However, the narrator goes on to explain that Marcus felt he would also have to write about the Great Migration, which his grandparents participated in when they moved from Pratt City in Birmingham, Alabama, to Harlem in New York City. Writing about the Great Migration would in turn make Marcus feel he should also write about histories that had affected his father’s and his lives, specifically the effects of heroin, crack-cocaine and the war on drugs in Harlem.
During an interview between Gyasi and professor Nathalie Etoke at the College a few weeks ago, Gyasi stated that she related most to the characters in the final two chapters, Marjorie and Marcus, who are both the most contemporary and the only two who we see in the settings of a contemporary American high school and college. I feel the same way. As contemporary characters there are many more parallels between my life and their lives than the other characters from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries in the book.
I relate to Marcus’ narrative as a college student. Being a writer and researcher in college, I sympathize with Marcus’ lack of any sort of thesis or claim at the stage of his research when we meet him. I’ve often been in similar situations when writing papers or working on projects. I can even imagine Gyasi struggling with the same challenge as she tried to put together these many different events in history into four chapters about Marcus and the ancestors whose lives form the basis of his research.
My interpretation of “Homegoing” is that it’s a very personal novel for Gyasi. Throughout the book and particularly in the final chapters one can read the book as the culmination of seven years of deeply personal research. I enjoy writing that enables you to relate to the author through its subject matter.
Reading Homegoing was a great experience for me, and I’m glad that I read this book through Conn’s summer reading program. It’s an excellent and brilliantly organized novel that teaches so much about Ghanaian and American history with regards to topics such as the slave trade, colonialism and the present-day African diaspora, and it has given me great perspective on these issues.