7 Novels About Black Women Who Return Home in Search of Meaning and Connection
Returning to England after two weeks in Nigeria in 2019, I found myself marveling at the green grass beside the highway. What I love about coming home from anywhere is the moment when you can see everything with fresh, often rosy-tinted eyes. Perhaps it’s partly “absence makes the heart grow fonder” and partly the fact that distance allows us to soak up details we’d usually overlook, but for a brief moment, the familiar suddenly becomes new.
In literature, homecomings are great because the reader starts on the same page as the narrator or protagonist, entering the party together, so to speak. A well-written comeback scene immediately situates a character and speaks volumes about their relationship to the location and the people around them. We all come from somewhereand our connection there – or the apparent lack of a connection – can quickly and succinctly speak volumes.
My first novel, Hope and Glory, begins with a return to basics. Glory was in Los Angeles where she had the best time of her life, if you believe her Instagram feed. When her father dies suddenly, she returns to her hometown of Peckham, south London, where she finds her family in disarray. Her brother is in prison, her once-ambitious sister is stuck in a problematic marriage, and her mother is very close to a nervous breakdown. Her return home isn’t the triumphant victory lap she once imagined, but it’s the start of her journey to reconnect with her family and herself.
Another thing I like about back to basics in literature is that they work on many levels. Sure, there’s the physical return to a place, but it can also be revisiting something on an emotional or psychic level, reconnecting with old friends and enemies, or re-exploring the inner self. In my humble opinion, the best homecoming stories are a mix of all of the above, and below is a list of some of my favorites.
Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow
Memphis is a lush novel that follows three generations of a black Southern family through tragedy, the civil rights era, loss, estrangement, and reunion. It’s a celebration of the bond of women, the resilience of family, and the musicality and life of the city of Memphis itself. Tara’s prose is so rich I could almost feel the heat and smell the honeysuckle.
It begins with ten-year-old Joan, her mother, and younger sister returning to the house her grandfather built, fleeing their sailor father and an abusive home. In Tennessee, they are building new lives, chasing old dreams, and overcoming past trauma. Stringfellow writes a coming-of-age story filled with love and hope, as much as it challenges the darker side of humanity, and in particular, the wrongs men inflict on the women in their lives. .
26a by Diana Evans
26a is the debut novel by Diana Evans, author of the critically acclaimed novel ordinary people. It’s a layered story that’s simultaneously tragic, warm, humorous and dark.
It begins in the attic bedroom of a residence in Neasden, north London, where twin sisters Georgia and Bessi weave a fantasy world around them. They share their home with older sister Bel, younger sister Kemy, their homesick Nigerian mother and their emotionally unavailable English father. The tale shifts to Nigeria, where their mother experiences a long-delayed homecoming herself, but where her children are introduced to various terrors that will haunt them upon their return to England. 26a is the story of a family as beautiful as it is heartbreaking.
Sankofa by Chibundu Onuzo
The title of the novel is a Twi word, which literally translates to “return and get”. It is also the name of an Adinkra symbol, which is used to represent the philosophical ideas of the Akan ethnic group, found mainly in Ghana and Ivory Coast. Sankofa is an apt title for a novel that follows a middle-aged woman as she returns to a “home” she never knew, in order to “go back and figure out” who she is at some point in her life. life where everything she has known is rapidly falling apart.
When we meet Anna, she has separated from her husband, her only daughter is an adult who needs her less and less and her mother has just died. When Anna finds her father’s journal among her mother’s possessions, she sets off on a journey to learn more about a man she never knew who left her mother before he was even born. This journey takes her to Bamana, a fictional country in West Africa, where she discovers uncomfortable truths about her father and his heritage, but also has the opportunity to connect with a side of his heritage that has been obscured for most of his life.
black cake by Charmaine Wilkerson
Charmaine Wilkerson’s best-selling debut novel begins with estranged siblings, Benny and Byron, forced to reunite at the behest of their late mother. They return to the house they grew up in to piece together the fragments of a woman they soon realize they don’t really know. Thanks to a voice recording delivered by their mother’s lawyer, they discover a family history filled with secrets and shame that casts their parents in a whole new light. Through this, Benny and Byron also grapple with the breakdown of relationships – with the lovers, their parents, and each other.
black cake is a unique story, written in fragments and from multiple perspectives. It spans decades and continents, flying between a community on a Caribbean island living in quiet terror, a post-war Britain as hostile to immigrants as it is desperate for their work, and finally, modern-day California. . The novel is also rich in thematic significance, with motifs of the ocean and food resurfacing to provide a satisfying circularity to the narrative.
The salt eaters by Toni Cade Bambara
The salt eaters begins in the middle of a healing ritual for Velma Henry, a seasoned community activist who suffers from depression and attempts suicide after becoming disillusioned with her life’s work. The ceremony is overseen by Minnie Ransom, a locally renowned healer who is guided through the healing by a “haint” named Old Wife, and assisted by a variety of characters, many of whom know Velma personally.
This novel is beautifully lyrical and experimental in style, written from many points of view, including chapters that feature lengthy dialogue between Minnie and her spirit guide, Old Wife. The politics of the feminist, anti-war and civil rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s are apparent in the narrative, without being authoritarian or moralizing. Ultimately, the book is as much about collective healing as it is about Velma finding her way back to herself.
In Search of Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria by Noo Saro-Wiwa
Noo Saro-Wiwa is a travel writer and the daughter of renowned Nigerian writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. After her father was assassinated by the Nigerian military regime in the 90s, she stayed away from Nigeria for many years, eventually returning as an adult to make sense of the country her father loved and for which he is dead.
In In search of Transwanderland, there is another kind of homecoming. There is little sentimentality but a lucid look at a country whose greatness has arguably been squandered due to persistent poor governance. Yet, it proves to be a country as beautiful as it is infuriating, something that Nigerian nationals both at home and abroad will readily agree with. Much of modern Nigerian mythos revolves around Lagos, the sprawling megalopolis that is home to Africa’s Giant creative industries. But this travelogue reveals the breadth and diversity of a nation in ways only a Nigerian returning from exile can.
Sula by Toni Morrison
While it goes without saying that Toni Morrison was a writer of singular talent and importance, I have a feeling her second novel often slips under the radar when it comes to reviews of her work. Sulato me, is as much a portrait of a city and a people, as it is of the titular protagonist and her evolving relationship with Nel, her best friend.
Sula and Nel grow up in Bottom, a fictional town in the hills of Ohio. They both have strained relationships with their mothers; Nel secretly despises his stilted and proper mother, while Sula increasingly looks after her carefree and openly promiscuous mother with contempt. A secret tragedy they witness brings the girls even closer together, but as they grow older, Nel decides to stay in Bottom, willingly taking on the role of wife and mother, while Sula leaves town, travels, hangs out. university and live a life. as carefree abroad as her mother at home. When Sula returns, her presence sends ripples through the city, which will ultimately test her friendship with Nel.