A really engaging read about eight generations of a family, starting with two sisters, Effia and Esi, one sold into slavery, one becoming a slave traders wife. We follow each side of the family by generation, in turn. This means we have what is essentially fourteen short stories about (mostly) new, but connected characters each time.
From the back of the book:
Effia and Esi: two sisters with two very different destinies. One sold into slavery; one a slave trader’s wife. The consequences of their fate reverberate through the generations that follow: from thr Gold Coast of Africa to the plantations of Mississippi; from the missionary schools of Ghana to the dive bars of Harlem. Spanning continents and generations, Yaa Gyasi has written a miraculous novel – an intense, heartbreaking story of one family and, through their lives, the story of America itself.
The first stories take place around 1770, on the African Gold Coast, the final stories take place in modern day United States, and also back on the Gold Coast. One side of the stories follows the family into the United States and into slavery. The other side of the family stay in Africa, and only in the final generation make the journey to the United States.
The book read, to me, very much like a collection of short, connected stories. Almost every story has a new setting, new characters, and a new focus. Each chapter was written so well, I quickly cared for and got involved in the new story. This is almost miraculous to be able to keep this up through fourteen chapters, and is a real testament to the excellent writing and the engaging stories.
I have read quite a lot of books about slavery in the United States (notably The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead and Beloved by Toni Morrison), and I really liked how in parallel to the United States experiences, you get stories of the same time period on the Gold Coast. It’s a perspective I’ve never read about in fiction before.
I don’t want to get into describing the individual stories – we would be here for a while! It is a great read. Really interesting to get the different aspects of the slave trade on the two different continents, and I would really recommend it. I read this for a book club I’m in, and it was overwhelmingly loved!