Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi
|Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: Emotional turbulence as a fragmented family search for an anchor and a way to make sense of their lives. A poignant read that's enriched by an understanding of humanity and suffering and, indeed, endorsed by Toni Morrison and Salman Rushdie.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 336 pages||Date: April 2013|
|External links: Author's website|
Kweku Sai, father, husband and doctor, awakes early one morning and wanders outside into his Ghanaian garden. As he gazes back at his house, he suffers a fatal heart attack and, during his last moments reflects on his life and a family fragmented. On hearing of his death, his children and first wife Folasade look back on what they were before and, thanks in part to Folasade's and Kweku's actions, what they've become.
A British-born writer and photographer of Nigerian/Ghanaian descent, Taiye Selasi has written about something close to home in this, her debut novel which also made the prestigious Waterstones 11 list for 2013. Like Kweku and Folasade, her parents both escaped conflict in Africa and, like Kweku, her father is a surgeon and, like her family, they're 'Afropolitans', a word that Taiye coined in an essay about the migration of intellectual Africans.
This novel is very much like looking through a family album that captures feelings alongside the moments in time. Indeed, as Kweku and his family look back across the generations and those who remain look forward, there are colourful cultures, personalities and moments laid out before us but most of all there's emotion.
We see events through each character's eyes as the narrative jumps, fully comprehensibly, back and forth in time. We begin with Kweko as he recounts his Ghanaian childhood, his happiness with Folasade and the rash pride-saturated decision he made juxtaposed against the lingering regret that haunts him afterwards. Would we make that same decision under the same circumstances? Probably not but Taiye ensures that we know the cultural context, making Kweko's choice fully understandable.
Folasade, in her turn, goes on to make a decision that will compound the repercussions, causing each of their four children to react differently. The most extreme of these reactions comes from the youngest, Sadie, who seeks a sense of belonging in all the wrong places and one of her brothers, Kehinde, who seeks consolation in isolation and art.
There is light alongside the shadow, though. There are ripples of gentle humour amongst the pain especially wherever Mr Lamptey, the single-minded Ghanaian builder, goes. The confrontations between him and Kweku are gems. There are also cultural insights adding an extra layer of fascination, like the meanings behind names, naming conventions and the traditions surrounding twins as the story sweeps from Africa to the USA and back again. (Fascinating factoid: the author's first name, Taiye, actually means first twin in her mother's native Yoruba.)
However, the crux of the story is universal: people trying to escape their past but being faced with the inability to escape who they are. Genetic heritage is secondary to this main theme and how the internal scars generated by life's shocks and memories are dealt with.
Throughout the book there's a sense that we're all travelling together, through experiences as much as in time and space. As we leave the Sai family, we're rewarded with a note of optimism for their future; the fact it feels like a reward testifies to the level of engagement we experience. No matter who they are, what they've done or how they've reacted, I turned that final page happy to have met them and then, as memories of them returned, catching me by surprise at random moments over the next week, I hoped they would be alright.
If this appeals and you'd like to read more about the Sais' heritage, we recommend Purge by Sofi Oksanen.
You can read more book reviews or buy Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi at Amazon.com.
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