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Homegoing Summary


Here you will find a Homegoing summary (Yaa Gyasi's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.

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Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024

Homegoing Summary Overview

In the turmoil of a forest fire between Fanteland and Asanteland, a girl named Effia is born. As she comes of age under the harsh hand of Baaba, she's eventually married off to Cape Coast Castle's British governor, James Collins. The revelation that her real mother was a slave, who gave birth to her before escaping into the fatal flames of the night she was born, only comes to light when she returns to her village as a pregnant woman. The secret sibling, an equally unaware Esi, is thrust into a life of hardship, beginning with her capture and subsequent rape that leads to her being shipped off to America as a slave. Effia and James’s offspring Quey lives a lonely life, briefly finding a friend in a boy named Cudjo before being sent away to London. He eventually returns to help his uncle with the slave trade, marrying a kidnapped Asante king's daughter despite his personal objections to the arrangement. Parallel to Quey's life, Esi's daughter Ness endures her own tribulations as a slave in Alabama. A failed escape attempt, assisted by a woman named Aku, results in her husband Sam's lynching and her brutal punishment. Years later, Quey’s descendant James breaks free from the family’s involvement in the slave trade by faking his death, ultimately finding his way back to the woman he loves, Akosua. On the other side of the ocean, Kojo, Ness's son, lives in constant fear under the looming shadow of the Fugitive Slave Act, which eventually results in his wife Anna’s capture. Years later, the descendants of Effia and Esi continue to face trials and tribulations. Effia's lineage sees unmarried Akua, a daughter who sets her family hut aflame in her sleep, Yaw who becomes a history teacher despite bearing the scars of the fire, and eventually Marjorie who struggles with her dual cultural identity. Across the ocean, Anna and Jo’s son H, born on a plantation, endures the injustices of a racist society, while Willie, his daughter, struggles with her husband’s betrayal. This tumultuous journey comes full circle when Marjorie, the descendant of Effia, meets Marcus, the descendant of Esi, in Ghana where they acknowledge their shared history and the painful legacy left by the slave trade.

part 1 effia

Effia Otcher is born on a night when a fire sweeps through the forest to a nearby Asanteland village. Her father, Cobbe, fears that the fire's legacy will follow his family. Effia endures abuse from her mother, Baaba, particularly following the birth of her brother, Fiifi. As she matures, Effia's beauty garners attention, with men offering gifts for her hand in marriage. Notably, one village girl, Adwoa Aidoo, weds a British soldier and moves to the Cape Coast Castle. Cobbe expresses his wish for Effia to marry Abeeku Badu, the next village chief. Effia turns fifteen and confides in Baaba about her menstruation, a secret she must keep held tightly. After the reigning chief's death, Abeeku ascends to power. Effia learns from Fiifi that Abeeku is engaged in the slave trade between the British and Asantes. During Abeeku's meeting with the British, Baaba arranges for Effia to meet the soldiers. One soldier, James Collins, requests Cobbe's permission to wed Effia. Cobbe is initially enraged, having promised Effia to Abeeku, but Baaba manipulates the situation by declaring Effia barren. Before she departs, Baaba gifts her a black stone pendant, alleging it is a piece from her mother. Effia marries James in Cape Coast Castle, but soon learns that the soldiers refer their African wives as 'wenches.' She discovers that slaves are held in the castle's dungeons, and despite her initial desire to return home, she resigns herself to her new life. Effia grows fond of James, yet worries about her alleged infertility. Adwoa, now Effia's friend, provides her with roots that would aid in pregnancy. When James discovers the roots, however, he rejects them as 'voodoo' and 'not Christian.' Surprisingly, Effia soon finds herself expecting a child. She then hears of Cobbe's illness and returns to her village, where Fiifi informs her that Baaba is not her biological mother. Rather, her mother was a housemaid who vanished into the fire on the night of her birth, leaving behind the black stone pendant.

part 1 esi

Esi, a fifteen-year-old Asante girl, finds herself in the packed Cape Coast Castle dungeon. Previously, she was the Big Man's daughter in her village. Her mother, Maame, only chose a slave named Abronoma after Big Man's insistence. Initially unskilled in household tasks, Abronoma was eventually beaten by Big Man for spilling two drops of water while carrying a bucket. This act deeply upset Maame. Esi comforted her mother, suggesting that Big Man had to appear strong. However, Maame stated that true strength didn't involve mistreating others. Abronoma revealed her own similar background and asked Esi to inform her father of her location for potential peace. During an enemy attack, a joyful Abronoma hoped her father had arrived. Maame gave Esi a black rock and told her to flee. Esi was later knocked unconscious in the forest. En route to the castle, Esi was bound with others. In a Fante village, white men inspected them. A warrior named Fiifi tried to untie Esi's cloth, in which she hid the black stone. She spat at him and used his retaliation as a distraction to swallow the stone. She later recovered and concealed the stone in the dungeon. A British soldier abuses Esi, and she's recognized by Governor James from the Fante village. The governor orders Esi and a group of women out of the dungeon. Esi is forced to leave before she can retrieve her mother's stone.

part 1 quey

Quey, the son of James and Effia, is living in his mother's village to uphold a business pact with the British. His uncle Fiifi has procrastinated discussions about this agreement since Quey's arrival. Fiifi uses the analogy of birdsong to explain that the village is waiting to choose the most beneficial trading partner between the British and their rivals. Quey feels unsettled by this as he wishes to leave the village soon. He reflects on the stark contrast between the village and London. Quey's childhood in the castle was solitary. His father once hosted a competitor, whose son, Cudjo, became Quey's close friend. Quey spent a lot of time in Cudjo's village, where they grew up together. Cudjo was skilled at wrestling and often enjoyed teasing Quey about his fear of the sport. After losing a wrestling match to Cudjo, Quey proposed a rematch when they were alone. During that match, they shared an intimate moment, which was interrupted by Quey's father, who subsequently sent Quey to England. Back in Effia's village, Quey receives a request from Cudjo, now a village chief, to visit him. Quey attempts to ignore his fond memories of Cudjo, but they are brought back to the forefront when Cudjo visits the village to assist Fiifi. Quey is emotionally shaken by seeing Cudjo again. Fiifi returns from his mission weeks later, injured but having captured slaves, including the Asante king's daughter, Nana Yaa. Fiifi reveals his plans to pass his legacy onto Quey, expressing the Fante belief that a sister's sons hold the highest importance. He believes Quey will grow into a powerful man, marry Nana Yaa, and be safe from the Asante.

part 1 ness

Ness is a slave laboring on an Alabama plantation following a harrowing year in a place she refers to as Hell. Initially, the plantation owner, Tom Allan Stockham, had her work as a house slave due to her looks. However, seeing the scars that mar her body, he relegates her to field work. Despite her reserved nature, Ness finds companionship in Pinky, a mute slave girl, who is tasked with fetching water for the plantation. One day, the Stockham children cause Pinky to spill the water and the son, Tom Jr., demands an apology. When Ness attempts to apologize for Pinky, Tom Jr. threatens her, which escalates into a tussle leaving Tom Jr. on the ground. As a result, the plantation owner promises to deal with Ness. While awaiting her punishment, Ness is haunted by memories of her time in Hell. During that period, she had been forced into marriage with Sam, a strong-willed African man who initially refused to learn English. After Sam violently ruined their cabin, Ness shouldered the blame and was punished by their owner, referred to as the Devil. Following the incident, Sam began to learn English, tended to Ness's injuries, and eventually they became true husband and wife. Pinky rouses Ness from her dream, speaking for the first time to ask about her nightmare. The following day, Ness continues to dwell on her past. She remembers the birth of her son, Kojo, which instigated a change in Sam's behavior, making him less troublesome. A woman named Aku became an important figure in her life when she recognized an Asante song Ness had learned from Esi. Aku offered to help her escape the plantation. After what felt like an eternity, Aku's signal to escape arrived, and they began their arduous journey, traveling by night and hiding in trees by day. On one occasion, Aku carries Kojo due to Ness's back pain. The next day, the Devil discovers their hideout. Ness instructs Aku, in Twi, to remain hidden with Kojo, while she and Sam surrender, claiming their child had passed away. They were returned to Hell where Sam was lynched and Ness was brutally whipped. Presently, Ness toils in the cotton fields of Alabama, always conscious of Tom's presence, and prays for the safety of her son, Kojo.

part 1 james

James partakes in a gathering with Quey, his father, and British military personnel who notify him of his maternal grandfather's demise. James suspects the British have murdered him as payback for an Asante-led assassination of a British governor, a move aimed at causing discord between the Asante and Fante tribes. While James’s grandmother, Effia, remains at home with the younger children, Quey and his parents arrange to attend the funeral. On the journey, arguments ensue between James's parents, leading him to question if they had ever loved each other. James is due to wed Amma Atta, the daughter of the successor to Abeeku Badu, a woman he has known all his life, finds irritating, and is certain he will never love. While lodging with Quey's associate David, James hears chatter about ending the slave trade. Despite this, James is aware that the lucrative opportunities from slavery continue to exist. In Nana Yaa’s village, they join the funeral procession and come face to face with mourners. Among them, a striking girl refuses to shake hands with James, branding him a slave trader. Following the funeral, James seeks out the girl, Akosua, who shares that her three brothers were captured in war. After a shared stroll, James expresses his desire to marry Akosua, promising to return for her and together, they would start anew in a different village. A year post his marriage with Amma, James evades consummating their relationship till she persuades him to consult the apothecary for remedies. On meeting the apothecary Mampanyin, James confesses his longing to be married to Akosua and his dream of a quiet farming life. Mampanyin gives him spiritual advice, and James contemplates using the war between the Asantes and British as an alibi to desert his current life. During a private moment with his grandmother, Effia, she notices his discontent and urges him to pursue his desires. James subsequently travels to Efutu, where Mampanyin had informed him the Asante army was located, and secures a position assisting a Scottish doctor. A month later, an Asante army onslaught results in James narrowly avoiding death. He is saved by an Asante soldier who identifies him as the Asante king's grandson. James instructs the warrior to spread word of his death before venturing to Akosua who has been patiently waiting for him.

part 1 kojo

Jo, a dockworker known as Kojo, nervously leaves the Alice after it is robbed and police begin questioning all the Black workers. With memories of past escapes from the authorities flashing in his mind, he asks his friend Poot to cover for him. He strolls through Baltimore, reminiscing about how his life was transformed from slavery to freedom by Ma Aku. He pays a visit to his wife, Anna, who is expecting their eighth child, and is employed as a house cleaner at the Mathison's residence along with Ma Aku. The Mathisons are affluent abolitionists. After their duties, the trio return to their home, filled with their seven children whose names follow alphabetical order from A to G. The yet-to-be-born child is nicknamed "H." The following day, Mathison informs Jo about an impending law that would mandate the return of escaped slaves back to the South. He advises Jo to travel north since both he and Ma Aku are escapees with counterfeit freedom papers. Nonetheless, Jo is not keen on leaving Anna or their children, who were born free. On the day their eldest daughter Agnes gets married, the law comes into effect. From then on, Jo ensures that Anna and their children always have their papers. However, one day, Anna doesn't return from work. After an exhaustive three-week search, Mathison meets a young Black boy who witnessed a white man forcefully take a pregnant Black woman into his carriage. Mathison remains optimistic about finding Anna, but in his heart, Jo knows she has been sold. A decade later, Ma Aku has passed away, and the image of Anna haunts Jo wherever he goes. His grown-up children find his presence unbearable, which prompts Jo to relocate to New York. He engages in various day jobs and spends his nights drinking at a Black bar. One evening, a conversation about the potential war following South Carolina's secession catches his ear at the bar, but Jo feels too detached to care.

part 1 abena

Abena, a single woman of 25, attributes her unmarried status to her father's ill fortune in farming, leading him to be known as "Unlucky". She expresses a desire to travel to the Asante city of Kumasi but is denied by her father. In response, she ridicules his failures, causing him to strike her. Her mother later reveals their ostracism from Kumasi due to her defiance in marrying Abena's father, an ancestor of notable figures. Encouraging Abena's desire for independence, her mother urges her to visit Kumasi regardless. She convinces her childhood friend, Ohene Nyarko, to accompany her to Kumasi. There, she is mistaken for her father by an elderly man. While Ohene purchases farming equipment, Abena gets lost in the city and hears a sermon from a white missionary, reminding her of the atrocities committed by white traders. That night, she and Ohene consummate their relationship in a cave, promising marriage after the next successful harvest. Despite their promise, the next few years witness failed harvests, which are blamed on their affair. The villagers decree that Abena will be expelled either after seven bad harvests or if she becomes pregnant. On the eve of the sixth failed harvest, Abena and Ohene sleep together before he departs to procure cocoa plants from another village. His return brings about successful cocoa cultivation, but it also brings about his rejection of Abena, who suspects she's pregnant. Ohene discloses his promise to marry another in exchange for the cocoa plants, leaving Abena heartbroken. Upon deciding to leave the village, her father gives her a black stone necklace, a family heirloom, and shares that their lineage is rooted in slavery. However, he finds luck in his respectable labor. The following day, pregnant Abena departs for a missionary church in Kumasi.

part 2 h

H is wrongfully jailed on the pretext of looking at a white woman. His cellmate emphasizes that slavery still exists in different forms despite the Civil War's end. Unable to pay the jail fine, H is drafted to work in the coal mines in Birmingham, Alabama. Here, he and other prisoners are compelled to shovel twelve tons of coal daily under the threat of injury or death. At night, H reminisces about his short-lived freedom and his estranged wife, Ethe, who abandoned him after he mistakenly called her by another woman's name. In the mines, he helps a white man named Thomas meet his quota. When thanked and questioned about his name, H reveals that his mother died without giving him a proper name. In 1889, H is released from the mines, moves to Pratt City, and reconnects with old friend Joecy, who lives there with his family. H rejects Joecy’s offer to have his son write to Ethe and instead secures a job working in a mine, where he constructs his house on Joecy’s land. Joecy persuades him to join the union, which leads H to fight for better wages. Aware of the health risks associated with mining, H requests Joecy’s son to inform Ethe of his whereabouts. During a union meeting, a resolution to strike is passed in response to management's refusal to improve pay and conditions. Tensions escalate when the bosses bring in Black teenage convicts and one is shot, leading to a violent confrontation. After six months, the bosses relent and agree to a pay increase. Arriving home, H finds Ethe. She admits that hearing about his unjust imprisonment helped her forgive his past mistake. Overwhelmed, H embraces her as she tidies up a pot.

part 2 akua

Akua is haunted by dreams of a fiery woman holding two infants. Her husband, Asamoah, rouses her from these nightmares, only for her to reproach him for setting alight a white foreigner – an act of vengeance after the British arrested and deported the Asante ruler. This incident sparked her night terrors when she was sixteen. Daytime sees Akua helping her mother-in-law, Nana Serwah, and her own children with household tasks. She often pauses at the place where the white man was incinerated, an innocent passerby mistaken for an enemy. Back home, she discovers the Asante have declared war on the British, with Asamoah joining the fight. Akua reminisces about her upbringing in a Christian missionary school, where she was deemed a sinner and told the British were a saving grace. When she wished to marry Asamoah, the missionary wouldn't allow it and divulged the fate of her mother, Abena – accidentally drowned during a baptism. Outraged, Akua left the school. Presently, a pregnant Akua still experiences her recurring nightmares. Seeing her exhaustion, Nana Serwah believes Akua is unwell and instructs her to rest in a separate hut, away from her children. Asamoah’s absence, the war's end, and her continued insomnia lead the villagers to label Akua a madwoman. She falls silent, only breaking her quietude after the birth of her son, Yaw. Akua starts to sleep a little and communicates more, despite sleepwalking. One fateful night, Akua dreams of standing by Cape Coast Castle beach, transforming into a fire-breathing woman holding two infants. She wakes up to shrieks, her hands and feet singed, being hustled towards the tree where the white man was set ablaze. The crowd accuses her of ending her children's lives, like the white men who raised her. Asamoah manages to intervene and save only Yaw, leading to Akua's release.

part 2 willie

Following a church choir session, Willie and her son Carson, who harbors deep resentment, stroll through Harlem. Willie reflects on her history. She used to perform at her father H's labor union gatherings where she met Robert, a very fair-skinned Black boy. They started dating, got married, and had Carson. After her parents passed away, Willie and Robert moved to New York to live with Joecy’s son Joe in Harlem. As they sought employment, people mistook Robert for being white, but seeing him with Willie hindered his job prospects. They decided to job hunt separately. Willie took up housekeeping and night cleaning at a jazz club, the Jazzing, hoping to secure singing opportunities. Robert landed a good-paying job, but withheld the specifics from Willie. One evening, Willie stumbles upon Robert in the men's restroom at the Jazzing and hardly recognizes him. Two white men with Robert walk in and suspect a clandestine affair between Willie and Robert. They coerce Robert into an inappropriate exchange with Willie. Following the incident, the men inform Robert of his termination. That night, Robert tells Willie he's leaving. Soon after, Willie starts attending church but halts when she meets Eli, a poet. Eli occasionally calls Carson “sonny” just like Robert did, but Willie chides him. After their daughter Josephine is born, Eli starts disappearing intermittently. Willie joins the church choir, but doesn't sing. During their walk, Willie and Carson reach Harlem's boundary. Despite her better judgement, they continue on. Surrounded by white folks, Willie spots Robert helping a young boy tie his shoe while a white woman watches. Upon standing, Robert kisses the woman and locks eyes with Willie. They exchange smiles, and Willie realizes she has forgiven him. The following Sunday at church, she remembers her father returning from the mines, glad to have his family waiting. Seeing Carson and Josephine, Willie finally resumes singing.

part 2 yaw

Yaw, a historian penning a book on African liberation, recollects a dinner gathering with his friend Edward and his partner. Edward had suggested that Yaw should visit America for learning about revolutions. However, Yaw disagreed, stating that whites only educate others about what suits their interests. After this meeting, Yaw noticed some boys play football and he managed to intercept their ball, but the boy who took it back from Yaw seemed terrified of Yaw's facial scars. When school starts, Yaw shares with his students that "History is Storytelling". He invites them to narrate some tales they've heard about the origin of his facial scars. One student responds that they could never truly know as they weren't present. Yaw agrees to this, emphasizing that history is usually conveyed through others' words and commonly, only the powerful get to tell their stories. A student highlights that Yaw hasn't revealed how he obtained his scar, to which Yaw admits that he only knows from what he's heard as he was just an infant then. He adds that he was sent to school funded by the village's contributions and he didn't know his parents. His mother, Akua, who's still alive, has sent numerous letters requesting to meet Yaw, but he never replied. Eventually, Yaw employs a housemaid named Esther. After five years, he realizes his love for her. He invites Esther to visit his mother with him, leading to a deeply emotional reunion. Akua discloses her dreams about a fiery woman and how these visions continued even after she set a hut ablaze. She also shares her discovery of her mother's black stone necklace, the only item that wasn't burnt by the missionary. She had this necklace examined by a fetish man who revealed the presence of evil in her lineage and that the black stone had belonged to an ancestor who was the fiery woman in her dreams. Akua finally understands that "evil begets evil" until it's difficult to distinguish one evil from another. She seeks Yaw's forgiveness, which he grants.

part 2 sonny

Willie, Sonny's mom, secures his release from jail after his arrest for protesting segregation. She reprimands him for his recurrent arrests. Sonny, an NAACP housing team worker in Harlem, is distressed by the seeming futility of his efforts to end segregation in a society dominated by white ownership. Confronted with his inability to effect change, a man in the park gives him a bag of drugs to cope with his helplessness. Sonny discards the drugs and resigns from the NAACP. Later, Sonny works as a bartender at a jazz club, where he meets Amani, a pianist and singer who reminds him of his mother. Despite having children with different women, Sonny believes they're better off without him due to his lack of a paternal figure in his life. Finally locating Amani at another club, they tour Harlem and end up in a room full of heroin users. Amani, injecting herself, reveals her addiction and questions Sonny's acceptance of her. Years later, Sonny wakes up to his mother shouting outside his door, and subsequently seeks out heroin. He injects in a diner restroom before returning to Amani, who advises Sonny to dine with his mother on Sunday to borrow money. At dinner, Willie shares memories of Sonny's father and his new white family. She tells Sonny she left Alabama for his better future. She also points out his resentment of not having the same choices as white people, but warns him of the consequences of his lifestyle. When Willie offers him money, Sonny suppresses his urge to use it for drugs and decides to stay with her.

part 2 marjorie

Marjorie heads to Ghana for her yearly trip to visit her grandmother, Akua. Her discomfort from carrying her bag reminds her of the physical scars her family carries, teaching her to overlook her own suffering. Akua encourages her to speak Twi, contrary to her parents' insistence on English in Alabama. During a trip to the beach, Akua affirms Marjorie is wearing Maame’s stone, gifted to her by her father. Akua shares that their family started in Cape Coast, where she's resided ever since she felt their ancestors' spirits beckoning from the sea. Upon her return to Alabama, Marjorie starts high school and faces mockery from Black girls who say she acts too white. Friendless, she spends lunchtime with her beloved teacher, Mrs. Pinkston, in the English teachers’ lounge. In her senior year, Marjorie befriends a new student from Germany, Graham, and starts having romantic feelings for him. In the spring, Mrs. Pinkston tasks Marjorie with writing a poem for a Black cultural event. After a movie date with Graham, he fiddles with a lighter in his car, which frightens Marjorie due to her family's traumatic experiences with fire. As weeks pass, Marjorie learns Akua is ill. After sharing their first kiss, Marjorie starts avoiding Graham. When he tries to join her for lunch, another student discourages him from sitting with Marjorie. Graham, on Marjorie’s advice, leaves. On the night of prom, Graham calls Marjorie, revealing that he wanted her as his date but was prevented by his father and the school. Later, as Marjorie recites her poem about her family’s history, she feels a foreboding sensation and realizes her grandmother has passed away. She travels back to Ghana with her parents for the burial. During the funeral, she breaks down, wailing and throwing herself onto Akua’s grave.

part 2 marcus

Marcus, who is currently a grad student at Stanford, is attending a pool party, but is not fond of water. His father, Sonny, believes this to be due to the traumatic history of Black people being transported to America on slave ships. Sonny, a custodian who maintains sobriety through daily methadone clinic visits, keeps in touch with Marcus. When he mentions Marcus's mother, it triggers a memory of the last time Marcus saw Amani, at his high school graduation, with her track marks hidden beneath a dress. Marcus's academic research focuses on the convict leasing system, a tragic part of his family history that prematurely took his grandfather H's life. As he dives deeper into his research, he finds it challenging to dissociate it from the broader picture of systemic racism in American history. This evokes memories of family dinners, where he felt a strong connection to his extended family. Marcus's friend Diante accompanies him to a museum. Diante hopes to reconnect with a woman he had previously met, but they had forgotten to exchange contact information. While they do meet the woman, Marcus is more captivated by her friend, Marjorie. Marcus and Marjorie start spending time together, and he feels comfortable around her. Marjorie shares that she hasn't visited her grandmother's home for fourteen years and agrees to accompany Marcus to Pratt City for his research. They also plan a trip to Cape Coast. On reaching Cape Coast, they explore the castle and the dungeon where women were once kept, which leaves Marcus feeling sick. He runs to the beach where men are grilling fish. Marjorie follows him, keeps away from the fire, and runs into the ocean. Marcus joins her, and she hands him her black stone necklace, which glitters gold in the water, welcoming him home.

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