Dorothy Koomson has 15 published books, one of which (The Ice Cream Girls) was adapted into an ITV drama series. Born to Ghanaian parents she grew up in London as the second-born out of four children and had an international life that still shapes her writing until this day. She went to college in Leeds in the north of England, worked in Australia and now lives in Brighton, UK. On top of all that she’s also been nominated for a Black British Business Award (BBBAward) and challenges what it means to write about the ‘black British experience’.
I was standing in a book shop when… When I got a call saying I had been shortlisted as a finalist for a BBBAward and I thought, oh wow!
I do my job of writing books and… Being nominated for awards is like the icing on a fantastic cake because I never expect anything.
I started writing books at… Thirteen and always loved writing stories. When I worked as a journalist, I would write chapters for my books on the train into work and on weekends.
I did have books when I was younger but… We didn’t have much money and we’re reliant on the library.
I read all sorts of books… Including Jackie Collins’ books, sci-fi and comics!
When I read the feature about Homegoing in Stylist magazine last year, I tore out the page as a reminder to get the book. I misplaced the page and months past… During a random clear out, the page floated down from my top shelf and in an act of spontaneity I went straight online and bought it! I think it was a sign, that the page came floating down from above lol.
I can’t believe this is Yaa Gyasi’s first book, the intricate research underpinning this novel is evident and impressive. Starting in 1700s Ghana, Homegoing travels the lives and lineage of two sisters (Effia and Esi) engulfed in the horrific mire of slavery, civil rights and freedom. This isn’t just another ‘slavery book’; Gyasi honestly depicts the role Africans played in the slave trade without diluting the brutality inflicted by Europeans.
Part of me wanted to read this book because it was set in Ghana, where my family is from. In 2004 I went to Cape Coast castle in Ghana which was one of the main slave ports of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Even then I could feel the heaviness of the lead-filled air in the dungeons. The tour continued, and we were taken to the church which sat on top of the dungeons. I was speechless as I walked in…a church sitting on top of the chained slaves ‘living’ in their own excrement.
I was intrigued to see how the lives of these two sisters would unfold. The story flows onto dissect the complexities of amalgamated families; the love and damage they inflict upon each other. At one point both sisters ‘lived’ in Cape Coast castle in starkly opposite conditions. Inevitably there is a mixed-raced character, the son of Effia and James (a British slave trader stationed at Cape Coast Castle) – Quey. Trying to deal with his own conflicts, Quey takes his destiny into his own hands and convolutes the family tree even further.
Across the three hundred years the novel covers, psychological and emotional knots of slavery, the raging wars between the Asante, Fante tribes and British colonisers, then flows into the realities of black life in America. From slavery on the hot plantations of Alabama, to the jazz clubs and crack epidemics of New York. The beginning of the end occurs in swanky art galleries and elitist halls of higher education. Homegoing makes history palpable in the present and is a prime example of they saying [paraphrased] we do not know were we are going unless we know where we are from.
Despite the sombre backdrop of slavery, this book took me on a rollercoaster of emotions. From the subtle expressions of love in the ugliest circumstances that made me smile to the vivid descriptions of brutality that made my stomach churn. Homegoing is a profound read that can capture anyone of any background, among the various themes throughout the novel is a tale of family. Intricately and intelligently written by first time author Yaa Gyasi, born in Ghana and raised in Alabama, USA. Homegoing is a must read and is available on Amazon.
The family is like the forest; if you are outside it is dense; if you are inside you see that each tree has its own position Akan proverb