Family sagas/dramas or whatever you’d prefer to call them are, to be honest, not usually my reading fare. Melodrama, tears and potential tantrums have always caused me to shy away from a genre that has always frightened me slightly. I’ve always been more a fan of huge flights of fancy and big rustly dresses, although, as my reading education continues I’m happily feeling myself starting to grow up a little bit. Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go has formed an important part of that ongoing education and the waves of excitement I had heard on the literary grapevine beforehand made me eager to take the plunge and give this one a go.
With its title taken directly from a Nigerian slogan directed at Ghanaian refugees during the 1960s-80s, the origins and previous plight of the mother/father figures in our story are hinted at. However, this story is less concerned with the political and much more with the personal, the title slightly at odds with the content.
Kweku Sai is dead. Collapsing in his impeccably styled backyard following a heart attack he lies, barefoot and his heart slowly breaks for the family he has lost. At the same time, an entire ocean away, Kweku’s loved ones feel their own hearts break as they somehow inexplicably feel their loss before hearing the sad news itself. We often remark in our own lives how it is only weddings and funerals that bring families together. In an uncanny reflection of many families across the globe, the broken Sai family gather together, eventually arriving in Ghana to say goodbye to a man who abandoned them many years before.
Selasi’s characters are carefully and realistically portrayed. Olu; eldest child, surgeon and golden boy, ‘the twins’ (Taiwo and Kehinde); beautiful, talented and tortured, Sadie; young, naive and self conscious and Folasadé; strong and full of regret, the woman Kweku abandons in a fit of shame. This family being so very different from my own, I became hooked on their emotional turmoil despite myself. For the most part, the drama here isn’t gratuitous, nor is it unconvincing. Aspects such as Sadie’s bulimia, although making me wince, had the desired effect in making me fee more invested in their story.
That said, although I feel it is vital to address the evils of life in the form of good literature (see Simon’s piece on Confronting vs. Comforting Fiction) one scene (I won’t spoil it but you’ll know it when you read it) although explaining the strange behaviour of two key characters, really felt quite unnecessary and, dare I say it, a little bit of a lazy narrative technique on the side of the author. I’m sure it’s just a personal aversion to reading about some kinds of things but it’s made all the worse when they jar with the mood of the book. In addition, I had a tough time reconciling myself with the adults’ actions throughout the novel, actions that seemed to have only nearly missed ruining the lives of their children. A bit more background into their childhoods, experiences and motives would have made me feel a tad less frustrated.
That said, overall this is a very beautiful piece writing, particularly the death scene in the opening chapter which was very reminiscent of Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively. As Toni Morrison’s protégé I imagine Selasi is going to have a harder time impressing readers than most, which isn’t at all fair. The delicate way with which she weaves through time, space and memory shows great talent and this family saga is full of African knowledge, wisdom and identity. I seem to have learnt a lot, both about myself and others by reading this book, and I’m glad of it.
The paperback edition of Ghana Must Go will be released by Penguin Books on the 2nd January 2014.
Africa – Labadi Beach, Ghana – 1992, by Simon Pearson via Flickr