Diasporian News of Monday, 18 March 2013
Source: NY Daily News/Margaret Eby
BY Margaret Eby
Despite its title, Taiye Selasi’s debut novel Ghana Must Go isn’t the story of a place. Rather, it is a vivid and aching tale of placelessness, a map of one family’s history across the globe.
It is also the history of a father’s absence. The book opens with Kwaku, the head of the Sai family, keeling over from a heart attack in his house in Ghana. The novel expands outward through place and time, tracing Kwaku’s career as a surgeon in Boston and his decision, after an unfair and abrupt dismissal from his job, to abandon his wife and four children to move back to West Africa.
In swooping, evocative prose, Selasi sketches out what Kwaku’s estrangement means for each of his children — the forceful eldest Olu, twins Taiwo and Kehinde, as well as delicate Sadie. When the family gathers again to face Kwaku’s death, they are forced to reckon with his betrayal and how it altered the courses of their lives. (For Taiwo and Kehinde, sent to live in Nigeria with their mother Fola’s drug-dealing half-brother Femi, the consequences are particularly horrifying.)
Selasi has garnered much praise over her debut, earning a glowing review by Nell Freudenberger in The New York Times and buzz from all corners of the literary world. Much of it is well deserved. Ghana Must Go is an impressive debut, an intensely personal tale that paints family as diaspora. Selasi has a knack for structure that makes the book feel like flipping through a scrapbook of a forgotten relative.
Selasi also has a flair for description. Kwaku’s battered slippers are “like leather pets with separation issues, loyal, his dogs.” A name that Fola wants to give her youngest child is “goat-meat-tough.” Where Selasi falters is when she falls too far into description, meditating on the moment of Kwaku’s death for pages, endlessly analyzing his final moments. Her prose, too, can feel a mite too rich and overdone — a heaping serving of cake when a sliver would do.
But at its best Ghana Must Go is warm and imaginative. The Sai family, and their individual journeys, are worth following to the end. And Selasi, I suspect, is an author who deserves your attention.
Ghana Must Go is available from Amazon.com