Yaa Gyasi’s first novel, Homegoing, made a huge stir five years ago. It followed two descending lines of a Ghananian woman over several centuries – crossing from colonial Africa to America and from slavery to the present day. Me, I felt it dominated by structure and theme, and just as we had felt familiar with one group of characters their chapter ended and we moved on another generation. I wondered what she’d do next.
This, her second novel, is immensely more satisfying. It has a tight focus on Gifty – a Ghanian-American neuroscientist researcher, her mother and her brother Nana. Through two timelines we follow Gifty’s relationship with her deeply depressed mother in present day Stanford, and with her mother and brother twenty years previously in Alabama. Their father, Chin-Chin Man, initially accompanies them to America but returns to Ghana.
Gifty is a completely realised character both as a 28-year old scientist and carer for her mother, and as a girl helpless to prevent tragedy enveloping her family. It is a novel that explores religious belief, opioid addiction. and above all how we try and fix the things that have happened to us that we are helpless to change, by the choices we make in the things that we do. It’s a beautifully written novel that doesn’t pull its punches on race, gender, the African disaspora and education any less than its predecessor – but works its themes completely through the lives and interactions of the characters.
Length of Read:Medium
Might appeal to people who enjoyed…
Her first novel of course, but really anyone who wants to find out where contemporary American fiction is going.
One thing you’ve learned
A lot about the neural circuits of reward-seeking behaviour – but like everything else in this novel the science is never exposition, always moving the characters and the story onwards.