Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi

Taiye Selasi's Ghana Must Go is a mesmerizing novel about a Ghanian/Nigerian family in Boston. It's hard to believe that this is Selasi's first novel because it's so polished. It's such a pleasure to read. There's a story about Selasi in the Globe and Mail and I wasn't surprised to learn that she's a high-achiever. Just like her fictional characters.

We meet Kweku Sai first, a brilliant surgeon who abandoned his wife and four children decades earlier in the USA when he returned to live in Ghana. Kweku is in the midst of a heart attack.

"He knows -- as he stands here in wifebeater and MC Hammer pants, shoulder against sliding door, halfway slid open, sliding deeper into reverie, remembrance and re- other things (regret, remorse, resentment, reassessment) -- that's he's dying."

Kweku has never stopped loving them. Fola, his beautiful wife who gave up a law school scholarship to raise their family. Olu, their eldest son, equally talented in academics and athletics. Taiwo and Kehinde, the golden-eyed twins. Sadie, the youngest, born too soon: "her ten tiny fingers all curled up in hope, little fists of determination."

Each member of this family has been broken in their own way, although shame plays a large part in their troubles. Olu, an orthopedic surgeon, doesn't let the rest of his family know that he has married. Taiwo is floundering after losing her (married) lover and being kicked out of college. Kehinde is a famous artist and suicidal. The twins haven't spoken to each other in years. Sadie is bulimic and a closeted lesbian. Fola is sad and lonely once her children are all off on their own.

I especially appreciated the insights Selasi offers into the inner life of her characters. Fola, for example, who was 13 when her father was killed, sensed the "tone people took when they learned that her father had been murdered by soldiers; in the way that they'd nod as if, yes, all makes sense, the beginning of the Nigerian civil war, but of course. [...] She felt it in America when she got to Pennsylvania that her classmates and professors, white or black, it didn't matter, somehow believed that it was natural, however tragic, what had happened. That she'd stopped being Folasade Somayina Savage and had become instead the native of a generic War-Torn Nation. Without specifics."

Selasi's characters are not generic. I felt like I knew them well and was totally invested in them, grateful that Kweku's death presents the opportunity for the rest of them to heal.

(Side note: Kweku Sai is Ga. I learned that Ga coffins are spectacular creations: fish, shoes, birds, coke bottles, airplanes, chili peppers and more. Check out some images online.)

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