This book rocked me to the core.
It’s very hard to read. I don’t mean the writing, because that’s brilliant, I mean the content. It’s brutal and tragic and if you were watching it as a movie you’d probably close your eyes in parts.
Yaa Gyasi has written a story about two half-sisters living in Ghana three hundred years ago and who never meet. Gyasi has very cleverly traced the descendants from these two women. One sister, Effia is married off to an Englishman living in relative comfort in a castle whose dungeons deep below house her half-sister, Esi and many hundreds of others who wait to be shipped as slaves to America.
The cruel legacy of slavery affects each generation as does the picture of what it means to be seen as less of a human being because your skin happens to be a different colour. And if you’re also a woman, it’s even worse. The author takes us at first into the patriarchal village where men have several wives and many children. Tribes fight for power or territory and those captured are sold into slavery set up by British colonialization.
Luckily, there is a family tree to refer to. We are given short vignettes about each descendant and travel through time and place in Africa and to America until we reach current day. It’s a very clever structure and we quickly grow to know the characters well in a very short time. The stories themselves reveal the deprivations, betrayals, secrets and suffering. Yet, interwoven is an enormous amount of love binding them together. We travel through time, the Civil War, the end of slavery but not the end of racism.
“Whatchu done wrong?” H asked, returning his gaze to the white man.
Finally, the words came out. “I killed a man.”
“Killed a man, huh? You know what they got my friend Joey over there for? He ain’t cross the street when a white woman walk by. For that they gave him nine years (in jail). For killin’ a man they give you the same. We ain’t cons like you.”
As we reach current day, it almost feels biographical and perhaps it is. The author was born in Ghana and her family went to America when she was small. The ending however for me is probably the weakest part being perhaps a little too convenient but nevertheless it doesn’t lessen the impact.
Yes, it’s a tough read. But a necessary one to educate and remind us that every human being deserves respect regardless of their sex or colour or indeed, any other difference. This book shows us what happens when it doesn’t. If you know anyone who thinks otherwise, buy this book and get them to read it so they can walk in another’s shoes and know what it feels like. Or just buy it or read it just to remind yourself.