Taiye Selasi's Ghana Must Go finds its focus
By Taiye Selasi. Hamish Hamilton, 320 pp, hardcover
Patience. That’s the most important thing readers can bring to first-time novelist Taiye Selasi’s quite wonderful Ghana Must Go, for its qualities are not immediately apparent. In fact, the first half of the British-born, American-raised globetrotter’s debut borders on hard slogging, as neither the characters nor Selasi’s somewhat overcooked prose quite come into focus. She’s trying too hard, perhaps, and delivering too little, with her initially awkward attempts to limn the life of her central character, the Ghanaian-born, American-trained doctor Kweku Sai.
It doesn’t help that we meet Sai, and his untimely death, in the very first sentence of the very first paragraph. He enters the scene in mid-collapse, succumbing to heart failure as he’s about to step into his Accra dream home’s garden, uncharacteristically barefoot and in a contemplative mood. As we know the end from the beginning, this journey is not going to be a series of revelations.
Or so we think, as we’re slowly—very slowly—introduced to Sai’s back story: to his childhood, to his former wife Fola, to her sacrifice and his surgical brilliance, and to their collective struggle not just to survive but to excel in the cold and foreign environs of Boston, Massachusetts.
It’s all quite interesting, or at least it will be to those who have a taste for memoirs of immigration, whether fictional or factual. But it’s not compelling until about halfway through, when something changes. And what changes is that Selasi shifts her focus from the dead doctor to his living family: to Fola and her four children, Olu, twins Taiwo and Kehinde, and Sadie, the youngest.
They’re not ghosts, but flesh-and-blood characters with dreams, fears, hopes, and—in the case of Taiwo and Kehinde—a dreadful family secret that’s only revealed after the shock and liberation of their father’s death.
It’s not what you might think from the previous paragraph, and about that I’ll say no more. It’s enough to know that Selasi’s writing suddenly has a purpose that matches its intensity—and that if you can make it to the tipping point, you’ll be engrossed until the novel’s end. Ghana Must Go introduces a powerful if unpolished new voice, and it will be worth watching to see where Selasi ventures next.
Mar 28, 2013 at 11:35am
New voice she might be. it sounds interesting, hope it comes onto the market or better still secondary schools for new minds to appreciate GHANA MUST GO