This epic tale begins with the birth of Effia, born during a fire that devastated her father’s crops, a harbinger of the impact that fire would have on generations to come. And as we learn about the generations that follow, we also learn about the history of the warring tribes that inhabit the Gold Coast of Africa as well as the movement of enslaved Black men and women to America and their experience through generations there.
This is another work of genius by Gyasi. Through many endearing characters and colorful and impassioned scenes, we learn about the history of the peoples of current day Ghana as well as how so many came to be enslaved in America. We learn, too, about their experience of continued oppression beyond the years of slavery in the US as well. The stories are so tactile and sharply painted, the reader cannot help but feel a connection to the many characters, as if we are traveling along the family’s lineage ourselves, through each generation.
And Gyasi omits nothing. She includes the dark reality for those who migrated north seeking relief from enslavement only to find continued prejudice and rejection in different forms. She includes the ugly truth about our history of replacing slavery with mass incarceration. She writes about our American reality now and how, in spite of some change and advancement, divides persist.
It’s a beautifully rendered portrait of the not-so-beautiful history of Ghana and the history of our country. Yes, another MUST-READ.
Gifty is striving to complete her final doctoral thesis in neuroscience on addictive behaviors. She knows she’s obsessing over her data, and that she needs to move on to the writing of the final paper, but her past has come back to haunt her and she is stuck. It may be that the visit from her mother, drowning in her own pain, will nudge her forward. Or will it be her sifting through her old journals from her youth? Somehow, Gifty works through a resolution and confronts the deeply painful religious, emotional and philosophical issues that are holding her back.
This memoir is a recounting of a second generation immigrant from Ghana who suffers multiple layers of trauma during her childhood, while seeking and finding little community support in her small town, Southern evangelical church. Needless to say, her struggle is complicated.
One recurrent theme is the conflict she feels between religion and science. Having memorized large swaths of scripture for her mother’s approval and having limited experience outside her small, Bible belt town in Alabama until college, she has a deeply ingrained emotional connection to her religion and to a traditional belief in God. On the other hand, her more cerebral side has rejected much of the dogma the church espouses; whether the narrow views on sexuality, the scorning of evolutionary theory, or the criticism of science in general. So when a fellow student criticizes those who are religious, she is not quite sure what to feel, but she is simultaneously insulted and embarrassed. She identifies with those being criticized but also sees why they are being so.
The other inescapable message here is the devastation that occurs when a family member has an addiction. Not only does the addict suffer, but everyone around him suffers as well. When Nana, Gifty’s brother disappears, she and her mother spend hours searching for him to try to bring him home to safety. When he is not functioning, the whole family is not able to function. And the cycling and unpredictability has devastating effects on everyone for years to come.
This very real story hits hard and is a hard read. We are very fortunate that the author has chosen to share her experience with us.