Six months after receiving my degree I can finally read again. My dad has a PhD in English literature and my mum was a librarian, separately, they both have pretty impressive bookshelves. Since I can remember I have always been surrounded by books.
I remember waking up early in the mornings, curling up and reading my book under my covers before my mum knocked on my door for me to get ready for school. Or I would stay up until the early hours, determined to finish the book before I would close my straining eyes and go to sleep. Every time we got in the car to do the 40 minute journey across town to our dad’s house, my head was firmly pressed in a book. Looking back I realise that not only were books a constant throughout my childhood, they also provided a beautiful escape from my reality.
Then, I went to university. Studying History you are constantly thrust horrendously long reading lists, which is all fun and games until you realise that they want you to read the whole book, and not just a chapter. When you have spent your whole day in the library and you have ventured from the fourth floor to the second floor for the fifth time that day, to find a book about the partition of India that the online catalogue says is on the shelf but it is not on the shelf, the last thing you want to do is go home and read for pleasure. Hence why my Real Housewives obsession began, reality TV is great for making you forget about your own reality.
I finished my final exams in May and I finally felt ready to start reading again. I read a few books before this one, but I wanted to talk about it first, because this one, Homegoing, made me fall in love with reading again.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi was recommended by a friend (thank you Kara) and is a Sunday Times Bestseller. It is about slavery, a genre that I have found is to say the least, overpopulated and at times inaccurate. But it was also written by a woman of colour so I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt and buy it.
Spanning from the 18th century Gold Coast to a present day America, Homegoing is about two bloodlines of the same family and the journey the subsequent generations take from West Africa to America. Each chapter is about a different family member and so this is kind of a book of lots of short stories. I found that just as I would fall for a character, their story was over and we would be on to the next.
I also found myself shocked and slightly embarrassed about my lack of knowledge about the specifics of the slave trade in Africa. So I learnt a lot from the early chapters in particular and they made me reflect a lot about what is going on in Libya right now.
What I really appreciated about Homegoing is that when I have studied the Atlantic slave trade, it has always been a story of the oppressors and the oppressed, the Europeans/whites and the Africans/blacks. That, I am learning is a simplistic argument that erases huge parts of history. The Atlantic slave trade like most events in history is multi-layered but the way Gyasi carefully arranged her words on every page tells us that the understands this.
Homegoing was not my history, but it also wasn’t about it being mine or not. As I lay in my bed at 3am having finally the finished the book which was now lying on my chest, I felt this overwhelming sense of sadness. It is a beautifully rich thing to be part of the black diaspora, but it carries with it a history of struggle, loss and oppression. Homegoing reminded me why it is so important to find pride in your blackness. When hundreds of years of history tells you that being black is bad, then as a person of colour, one of the most wonderful things you can do is unapologetically, be yourself.