By: Yaa Gyasi
Wooooow. What a book. I was hooked from page 1, and stayed hooked throughout the entire novel. I say “novel,” and it is, but it really is essentially a collection of short stories that follow a variety of characters through the three hundred year lineage of two Ghanaian sisters who never had the chance to meet each other. Each story is a snapshot of the character’s life. Their history, their family, their sensibilities. We get to see the world through the lens of each character which gives us so much information about that moment in time. The flow of the stories is so beautifully done, and only towards the very end of the book did I have to start consulting the family tree provided at the beginning of the book. It was also the perfect amount of story. I didn’t leave wanting more or less, it was the perfect ending to a perfect book.
What Went Down:
The night that Effia was born, fired raged throughout her village and destroyed most of that year’s crop. Effia is the daughter of a well respected Fante warrior and is raised by one of his wives (who she believes is her mother). . The woman who raises her is verbally and physically abusive towards her and tricks her father from marrying her to the chief of the village and into marrying her off to a British soldier who will pay better, and take Effia away from the village. Effia moves to the Cape Coast Castle with her new husband, who we then learn is the British Governor at the time. Initially resentful, she learns to love him and to create a great friendship with him. Together they have a son named Quey. Quey eventually makes his way back to the village of his mother, where his uncle arranges a marriage between Quey and the captured daughter of an Asante chief named ###. He and ### have James. James travels back to Asante land for his maternal grandfathers funeral celebration. While he is there he meets Akosua who is a strong and unyielding woman from a nearby farming village. James vows to give up his life of royalty and politics, where every decision is made for him, and run away with Akosua. However, it takes another couple of years, a trip to an herbal doctor, and some urging from his grandmother Effia, before her figures out a route to run away with Akosua. The two of them run away and settle in a village where neither of them is recognized. They raise one daughter named Abena, who grows up knowing very little about her families history. Abena does not marry, but instead begins to have a very open affair with her childhood best friend who promises to marry her as soon as the famine is over. However, the affair causes much consternation in the village who keep trying to find ways to excommunicate Abena. Right as she is about to be redeemed in the eyes of the village, she becomes pregnant, and runs away to give birth to her daughter Akua in a Catholic mission. Akua is raised in the mission by a missionary who is abusive and neglectful and constantly tells her she is not as gifted as the other children, and separates her from them, and from the villagers. When she is proposed to by a man from the nearby village, she accepts and goes against the will of the missionary to run away and start a life outside of the mission. She has two girls, and vivid horrible nightmares of a woman on fire that haunt her and keep her from sleeping. After she gives birth to her son, she unknowingly sets fire to the hut and to her children while experiencing one of these nightmares. Only her son Yaw survives. The villagers want to condemn Akua to death, but her husband begs them to spare her and they agree. As soon as Yaw is old enough, the villagers band together to send him to boarding school and get him away from his mother. He doesn’t return to that village for nearly 50 years. Yaw becomes a teacher, and holds on to the anger against his mother who scarred his face. Eventually, believing he will never marry, he falls in love with the woman who he hired to be his house girl, named Esther, who then convinces him to visit his mother and to make amends. After many years, Yaw and Esther marry, and together they move to Alabama and have Marjorie.