A Novel

Book - 2016
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Two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, unknown to each other, are born into two different tribal villages in 18th century Ghana. Effia will be married off to an English colonist, and will live in comfort in the sprawling, palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle, raising "half-caste" children who will be sent abroad to be educated in England before returning to the Gold Coast to serve as administrators of the Empire. Her sister, Esi, will be imprisoned beneath Effia in the Castle's women's dungeon, before being shipped off on a boat bound for America, where she will be sold into slavery. Stretching from the tribal wars of Ghana to slavery and Civil War in America, from the coal mines in the north to the Great Migration to the streets of 20th century Harlem, Yaa Gyasi has written a modern masterpiece, a novel that moves through histories and geographies and--with outstanding economy and force--captures the intricacies of the troubled yet hopeful human spirit.
Publisher: [Toronto, Ontario] : Bond Street Books, 2016.
ISBN: 9780385686136
Branch Call Number: FIC Gyasi
Characteristics: 305 pages : geneological table ; 25 cm.


From Library Staff

KateHillier Sep 04, 2016

Everything you've heard about this book is true. It was a fantastic read and this is a debut!

When I opened it I thought I'd be getting more about the half sisters mentioned in the summary, Effia and Esi, but you only get one chapter with each of them as the main character. This novel is struc... Read More »

From the critics

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Apr 12, 2020

I read this during the COVID-19 stay at home order. It follows generations of families first in Ghana then in the United States.

Feb 24, 2020

5 goodread friends loved it

AnnabelleLee27 Dec 19, 2019

A heart-wrenching novel beautifully written in short, searing vignettes. This multi-generational saga wrestles with complex issues such gender, race, family, nationality, and slavery. Profound and unforgettable.

Oct 06, 2019

Nov 19 Difficult Reads

Sep 26, 2019

Throughout the entire time I read this book, I would wonder, who are my ancestors? Do I have ancestors who were Mayan or Aztec? Am I the descendant of royalty from 500 years ago? What were the hardships my ancestors had to face? This is a wonderful book and it showed that humans will constantly strive to live and even though their lives may be lost or forgotten, their heirs will live on and carry on their identity.
The novel begins in the late 1700s in Ghana and follows the descendants of two half-sisters; one sister remains in Ghana and the other sister is sold into slavery and sent to the U.S. Each side of the family faces their own obstacles, though it appears to me the descendants in the U.S. faced greater hardships. There was a point I would dread reading the stories that took place in the U.S. because of the realism; there is a strong focus on how the slave masters would force the slaves to forget their heritage, traditions, history, and language.
I learned about the history between the Ashanti and the Fante; I had no idea the British waged four wars against the Ashanti. I guess the history books don't focus on Ghana fighting off the British for half a century.
I highly recommend this book, I think it's a book that everyone should read to understand their own history.

Jul 28, 2019

Firstly, it's well-nigh unbelievable that this powerful and beautifully written story is a debut. Gyasi gives us a rich and emotional famiy saga that spans 300 years, 7 generations, and 2 continents. Effia and Esi, two half-sisters unaware of each other's existence, are separated in mid-18th century Ghana - Effia remains in her homeland and Esi is abducted by the British and sold into slavery. The book alternates chapters/stories between Effia's descendants in Ghana and Esi's in the U.S. Gyasi is an evocative writer and I could feel/see/smell/hear the scenes and settings she described. The earlier stories were especially strong; I felt that some of the later, shorter ones became more like vignettes and didn't have the deep characterizations and emotion of what came before. But this a quiibble. I highly recommend this wonderful book and am eager to see what Gyasi does next.

Jul 19, 2019

Read ✔️

Jun 17, 2019

I am currently reading this beautiful, heartbreaking book. I already know it is five stars ⭐️ but I will add a new comment when completed. Highly recommended. ❤️ 😭

I just finished this book. It is informative and sweeping. Full of heart, great characterizations, and great sadness. The last few chapters were less powerful and felt tacked on yet it had a fitting ending. I would suggest this book to everyone.

Jun 15, 2019

A very ambitious project for Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel and a worthwhile read. Focusing on two lineages of the same family throughout two and a half centuries, Gyasi alternates chapters to follow the descendants who stayed in Ghana, and those who descended from a kidnap victim sold into American slavery. We witness the abusive horrors that were rampant in the American South, and we see the wars, famine and poverty that challenged those in Ghana. But a satisfying conclusion that comes full circle.

Mar 24, 2019

Recommended by Pat and read by my book club early on

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Dec 27, 2018

You can learn anything when you have to learn it. You could learn to fly if it meant you would live another day.

Oct 06, 2017

You are not your mother’s first daughter. There was one before you. 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.

Jan 10, 2017

“History is Storytelling… This is the problem of history. We cannot know that which we were not there to see and hear and experience for ourselves. We must rely upon the words of others. Those who were there in the olden days, they told stories to the children so that the children would know, so that the children could tell stories to their children. And so on, and so on. But now we come upon the problem of conflicting stories… Whose story do we believe? We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history, you must always ask yourself, Whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there, you begin to get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.” - pages 225 & 226

Jan 10, 2017

"Weakness is treating someone as though they belong to you. Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves." - page 38

Jun 02, 2016

"'Shorter hours, better ventilation, those are things that you should be fighting for.'
'More money’s what we should be fighting for.'
'Money’s nice, don’t get me wrong. But mining can be a whole lot safer than what it is. Lives are worth fighting for too.'"

"'When a white man ever listened to a black man?'"


Add a Summary
Oct 06, 2017

Effia and Esi are half-sisters who have never met. First divided by their mother’s secrets, they will soon be divided by an ocean when Esi is sold into slavery and shipped across the Atlantic. Effia remains in Ghana, sold in marriage by her step-mother to the British governor of the Cape Coast Castle, where slaves are held in cramped dungeons before being loaded onto ships bound for America. In present day America, Marjorie wrestles with her identity as a Ghanaian immigrant to the United States, while Marcus struggles to complete his PhD knowing that many young black men of his generation are dead or in jail, and that only chance has kept him from the same fate. In a sweeping family saga, Yaa Gyasi follows the sisters’ bloodlines over hundreds of years, one child from each generation, tracing the impact of colonialism and slavery across the centuries, between Ghana and America.

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