“And in my village we have a saying about separated sisters. They are like a woman and her reflection, doomed to stay on opposite sides of the pond.”
I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that has managed to stuff so much history, trauma, heartbreak, love, hardship, and resilience into so few pages. At just 300 pages, Yaa Gyasi manages to weave a rich web of connecting stories, spanning hundreds of years in history over 7 generations. We begin with two sisters, Effia and Esi, separated at birth in their home country of Africa, and subsequent generations after them which grow further and further apart, as one sister remains in Africa married to a British officer, and the other is sold to slavery across the Atlantic ocean (the pond, in this case). There is so much to cover here, following 14 main characters in what come across as separate short stories that intrinsically connect through direct descendants.
I will admit that I found the characters in the first half were drawing me in more, and though all the stories included had profound moments and themes, the latter half started to drag a little for me. Then again, the later chapters are also a little more connected to the previous ones, with some characters overlapping more than previously (also a product of the history therein). I don’t know, I just liked the way that the initial portions were handled more than the latter, and I can’t put my finger on it. Maybe it was that I started to get a sense of where it was going to wrap up in the later portrions, but even that didn't really detract too much for the ultimate result.
Overall, however, this book took my breath away. The characters, the themes, and just the ambition of following so much time to present so many issues is astounding. We hit on issues of slavery and the involvement of both the British and African civil unrest, familial ties both pride and resentment, racial identity, segregation, the value placed on female bodies, child raising, and so much more. It’s a lot, but it also works so well together, and isn’t overwhelming. And this is Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel, so you can tell she put a ton of thought into the whole thing. I would definitely recommend giving it a read.
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