Yaw is sitting in his classroom, staring at the title of his book, Let the Africans Own Africa. He’s frustrated with this book, having written two hundred pages and thrown out nearly as many.
Yaw’s chapter takes place in the midst of the Ghanaian independence movement, in which the people on the Gold Coast demand complete independence from British colonialism.
That night, Yaw eats dinner with Edward Boahen, a fellow teacher at the Roman Catholic school where Yaw teaches history. The two joke once again that Yaw needs a wife, before moving on to more serious matters. Yaw claims that independence from the British is coming.
Even as Yaw claims that independence from the British is coming, the effects of British colonization can still be felt quite distinctly, as Yaw is teaching at a Roman Catholic school as a direct result of that colonization.
Edward tells Yaw that he should go to America to finish his schooling and to help lead the revolution. Yaw says he is too old, and that going to a school engineered by white people will only cause him to learn things that white people want him to learn.
Just as in America many characters experience a deep fear of authority figures and policemen, Yaw has inherited a deep skepticism of white people and their institutions.
At the end of dinner, Edward’s wife offers to introduce Yaw to a nice girl, but he leaves abruptly. He walks home and sees boys playing football. The ball comes flying towards him and he catches it. When he gives the ball back to a boy, the boy’s smile falters, and as Yaw quickly walks away he hears the boy ask what’s wrong with Yaw’s face.
Yaw has also inherited the fallout of his mother’s madness, as the scars on his face mark him with his family’s curse for having caused so much destruction in the lives of others.
It is Yaw’s tenth year of teaching at the school. He teaches fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds. He starts his first lesson with three words on the board, “History is Storytelling.” He then asks the boys to tell him the story of how he got his scar. The boys are hesitant at first, but they soon offer a series of theories and myths.
Yaw’s lesson is one that has been taught throughout the narrative, as various characters have told each other stories, which not only explain different phenomena in the world but constitute a connection to a culture and an identity (like Tansi’s story about the kente cloth).
Yaw then asks whose story is correct. He says that the problem of history is that people must rely on the words of others. In addition, people believe the one who has power—that is the person who gets to write the story. He says that when the boys study history, they must always ask whose story they are missing. As Yaw instructs them to open their textbooks, one boy asks what actually happened with his scar. Yaw says he only knows what he has heard.
Yaw’s lesson explains how history itself can become biased, and a means of covering up injustices that the groups in power might have perpetrated. Not only does Yaw try to rectify this, but so does Gyasi in attempting to create a balanced, if fictionalized, view of these various historical periods.
What Yaw had heard about his scar was this: his mother, Akua, had set the hut on fire while he and his sisters slept. Asamoah had only been able to save him and Akua. The town had then collected money to send Yaw away to school. Asamoah had soon died, but Akua still lives in the town. Yaw has not been home since the day he left for school, even though his mother had sent many letters begging him to return.
Yaw rejects his mother because of the harm that she had caused him, and refuses to reconcile with her so that he might avoid the family curse. But his heritage has still altered his life, and his family has shaped his identity—not only on his face but in his desire for Ghanaian independence.
The semester passes. In June, a political leader starts the Convention People’s Party and Edward joins. Yaw still goes to Edward and his wife’s house for dinner, but does so far less often because Mrs. Boahen is expecting her fifth child. And so, Yaw gets a house girl named Esther.
The Convention People’s Party was a real-life political party founded in order to call for independence, strengthening the resistance to British colonization.
Esther is a plain girl. On her first day of work, Yaw shows her to her room and tells her that he spends most of his time writing. He then goes to work, reading about the American civil rights movement, attracted to the sense of rage in the books.
The fact that Yaw draws inspiration from the American civil rights movement implies that even though the two societies have very different histories, they share commonalities in fighting racism and oppression.
Esther interrupts Yaw’s work tentatively, saying “excuse me” in English. As soon as Yaw tells her she can speak Twi, she relaxes and smiles brightly, asking him ten questions in a row about how he wants his house kept what he wants for dinner, without taking a breath. Yaw tells her to make whatever she’d like. Esther asks if he wants to join her going to the market so that he can take a break from his work. He agrees.
Like Effia and James Collins’s interactions at the beginning of the novel, language actually alters how Yaw views Esther. When she is free to use the language she feels most comfortable in, her entire personality shifts, demonstrating how the freedom to express oneself within one’s own culture can shape one’s identity.
At the market, Esther buys a goat for soup. She says her soup is so good that Yaw would think his mother had made it. She then asks where his mother is. He says that he hasn’t seen her, because she gave him his scar. Esther stops walking, and observes that Yaw is very angry. She then says that anger doesn’t suit him.
While Yaw sees his separation from his mother as a way to escape the family’s hardships, Esther seems to know that Yaw must instead reconcile with her in order to let go of the anger and hate that he harbors, and to help the family come to terms with its darker past.
Five years pass, and Yaw realizes that he is in love with Esther. He watches her work and is upset that he doesn’t think that they could be together. He is old; she is young. He is educated; she is not. He is scarred; she is not. He wishes he were a more attractive man, and he tries to come up with something to win her over, and decides to ask Esther if she wants to go to Edweso with him to visit Akua because she had been nudging him to do so for years. She nods.
Esther’s expressiveness, her energy, and her incisive observations make Esther more and more attractive to Yaw. This is another break from most of the earlier generations on the Gold Coast, who married based on political power and a woman’s ability to have children. Before, the concerns that Yaw expresses would not have been a factor.
When Yaw and Esther reach the town in their car, a young boy points out Yaw’s face. The boy’s father tells him to stop, but then realizes he recognizes Yaw. The man is Kofi Poku, who had been a young boy when Yaw left Edweso. Kofi Poku offers to make Yaw and Esther dinner.
When Yaw returns to his hometown, he sees how his mother’s actions have created a legend surrounding her madness and his own face—one that he inherits upon his return.
When Esther and Yaw go back to Kofi Poku’s house for dinner, the children realize that he is “Crazy Woman’s” son, as his story has become myth in his village. Esther shouts at the children that Yaw has suffered enough without having to come home to these stories. Kofi’s wife apologizes.
The way that the children speak about the “myth” of Yaw and his mother show how that story has come to define his own identity and how the people in the town view him.
As Yaw and Esther eat dinner, he asks what to expect from Akua. Kofi Poku explains that she lives with a house girl, tending her garden and rarely going out. Yaw and Esther finish their food and spend the night at the Poku house, with Yaw on the mattress and Esther on the floor.
Not only has the story come to define Yaw’s identity, but Akua’s actions and her label of “Crazy Woman” have made her essentially a recluse in the town as she tends only to herself.
The next evening, Kofi Poku brings Yaw and Esther to Akua’s house and leaves them. Yaw knocks, and the girl who answers the door is so surprised to see him that she drops her clay bowl, thanking God for bringing Yaw back. Yaw walks through the house and greets Akua. Esther and Akua’s house girl, Kukua, go off to make a celebratory dinner.
Kukua’s response at seeing the son of the woman she works for, whom she had never known, highlights Yaw’s continued importance to Akua as her son, and how much she wanted to reconnect with him.
Akua puts her hands on Yaw’s scar and pulls him into an embrace. He begins to cry. After staying still a long time, Yaw asks Akua the story of his scar. Akua explains the dreams that had led her to burn the hut. She goes on to explain that the dreams had not stopped: the firewoman would take her to the ocean on Cape Coast, or to a cocoa farm, or to Kumasi. When she had gone back to the missionary school for answers about her mother, she had been able to get back one thing: Effia’s stone pendant.
Akua’s reconnection with Yaw allows not only for a reunion of family members, but also for Yaw to understand his identity more fully. Without completely understanding the history of Akua’s family, Yaw could not know the circumstances that led to her episode and thus could not come to terms with the way in which he had been affected by them as well.
Akua had then gone to the fetish priest’s son to make offerings to the ancestors, and seeing the stone necklace, he had said that there was evil in Akua’s lineage. Akua knows that he had been right: that there are people in her family who have done wrong, and who could not see the result of that wrong. She apologizes to Yaw for what he has suffered.
The fetish priest’s assertion that there is evil in Akua’s lineage confirms that even though Akua and Yaw did not participate in the slave trade, their family’s actions still affected and haunted them. Although Yaw and Akua are able to reconcile, the story does not end there because they must also reconcile with the people that bore the brunt of that evil—which Marjorie and Marcus do in the final chapter.