Yaa Gyasi’s skill as a writer is incredibly impressive. This novel is closer in genre, in a sense, to a collection of linked stories than it is to a more traditional novel, and the funny thing is I usually get quite annoyed by linked stories (which often seem like a bit of a cop-out to me). But the reason this works, I think, is for two reasons: first, Gyasi’s theme is the history and consequences of slavery on multiple generations of a family, which is a much more ambitious and meaningful project that, say, “vignettes of a small town” or some such thing, and second, Gyasi is such a skilled writer that she manages to deftly flesh out a character and her story in such a way that this reader, at least, felt just as connected to and moved by the character as if the entire 300 pages had been about her. And as one reviewer noted, the novel is a powerful illustration of why reparations are needed. Yet it manages to be this while never losing sight of the beauty of the characters, as well as their suffering.
I can only imagine how much planning and revising went into this novel behind the scenes–it’s really quite a feat.
I agree with a couple of other reviewers that the early chapters are perhaps the most compelling (although some of the most vivid stories, to me, came about halfway through), and there are parts that could be more fleshed out. The novel isn’t perfect, but what novel is? And some might say that the ending is hokey or contrived, but I actually loved it — I found it poignant, haunting, and beautiful, as well as totally earned. As a writer, I am truly in awe of the achievement, and will remember these characters always.