I downloaded Ghana Must Go onto my Kindle after having read a fascinating interview with its author, Taiye Selasi, in Die Zeit‘s literary supplement a few months ago. I’m trying to branch out with my reading more and more, and it occurred to me that I’d never had a novel about contemporary Africa. I really liked the interview, Selasi sounds like a fascinating woman and the topic of the novel struck a chord.
Ghana Must Go begins with a death: Kweku Sai, a surgeon living with his second wife in a self-designed house, dies of a heart attack. While Kweku was a successful surgeon, he was a much less successful father and husband. Through his children’s reactions to his death, their actions and the places where the news find them, and the recollections of their time with their father, we slowly learn the family’s history. Kweku and his wife Fola, a Nigerian, have both emigrated to the US, where their children are born. They try to succeed at life in the States, but it doesn’t go too well. By progressively peeling away the different layers of hurt of each of the family members, Ghana Must Go uncovers why Kweku failed in the US and left the family and what prompted his, and ultimately also Fola’s, return to Ghana. His death provokes strong reactions within each of his now grown-up children, as the effects of his leaving have impacted all of them and altered the course of their lives.
Selasi’s technique of providing the viewpoint of each of the characters in Ghana Must Go means that the reader, little by little, completes the whole picture of this broken family’s history in as many fragments as the Sai family has been shattered into. Each of them has created their own narrative and explanation for what happened and kept them to themselves, leading to various layers of misunderstandings, misgivings, and apprehension towards the other family members. Until Kweku’s death, these have never been discussed. Kweku’s death provokes the first full family get together in years – catharsis ensues. I don’t want to go into too much detail here, because there’s a number of twists that come unexpectedly and that I don’t want to give away. Taiye Selasi is excellent at building up this tension, so I wouldn’t want to destroy it upfront.
Ghana Must Go completely captured me. I loved how the family panorama developed progressively and how the novel tackled this topic while incorporating the Sai’s African background without making it the main issue. Selasi’s own Ghanaian-Nigerian background means she can speak with authority on this without victimisation or post-colonial romanticism that sometimes characterises white authors’ takes on Africa. In Ghana Must Go, it’s like this background is the canvas on which the bigger story is painted, a canvas that makes the colours of the Sai’s family story shine vividly. Slowly but surely events build up towards a climax in which the protagonists’ perceptions are brought out into the open. My only quip with it would be that while the novel takes its time in building up towards the climax, events then unfold a bit too quickly, as if Selasi was in a rush to draw things to a close. What I really liked is how she manages to create tension by creating multiple perspectives of the same story, and to discuss larger themes by weaving them into this fragmented picture.
This is a fascinating and complex novel that sucked me in with its intensity and the depth of the emotions and human experience it portrays.
German title: Diese Dinge geschehen nicht einfach so
Spanish title: Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a Spanish translation yet.
[Update: I’ve now managed to get the author’s name right in the title. Taiye, not Taiya. Go me.]