In the field of medicine Kweku Sai was a renowned surgeon, considered one of the best. But at home, he was a failed husband and runaway father. When Kweku passes away at his home in suburban Accra, the children he abandoned in America many years ago, gather at their mother's home in Ghana, their first time in a country where they can trace their blood, but not much connection. And as they journey to this homeland, they face the pain, lies, and turmoil they kept hidden for years, forging a new family dynamic and a new way forward.
Ghana Must Go is the debut novel from Taiye Selasi, and what an incredibly moving debut it is. I rarely comment on the writing of a book through the lens of it being a debut novel but I have to do so this time. The writing is so beautifully crafted, the story so delicate and heartbreaking, the entire book just eloquent and poetic. If this is her first book, I can't imagine what Selasi has in store for us in the future.
The Sai family that Kweku left behind suddenly when problems at work arose struggles to move forward in the absence. His wife, Fola, had given up her full scholarship to law school to support her husbands dream. Twins Kehinde and Taiwo, were sent to live with family they had never met in Nigeria while oldest son Olu and youngest daughter Sadie were able to stay in America with their mother. As we watch the children grow into adults, their success and their failures, we see them whole family struggle with the concepts of race and class in both America and Africa, as well as the notions of love and self-awareness.
The story of Kehinde and Taiwo drew me in the most. Throughout the whole book you are given the feeling of something greater, something secret, between the two of them that has shaped their lives. To find out what it was put a greater sense of urgency in me to take in every piece of this book, the fragmented relationships and the lessons Selasi wants us to draw from this book.
There is a lot of set-up in this book, much of the first half is spent introducing the characters, their surroundings, and the circumstances that brought Kweku and Fola together and what brought them to America. The term "Ghana Must Go" was used in Nigeria when many Ghanians arrived in their country due to the political unrest in their own country. The themes of displacement, belonging, and finding love that run through the book open the eyes of the reader to an experience that is foreign to them, not just on a map. As the book moves into the second half, the family gathers together in Ghana to find healing and the story moves forward at a much quicker pace.
The writing style of this book may not be for everyone but there is no denying that this one of the big debut novels of 2013. I think there would be no shame in saying that the style isn't for you, but there would be shame in saying you didn't pick up this book and give it a try. In a March 27, 2013 article on NPR.org, Selasi is quoted as saying, "As a novelist, I ask of myself only that I tell the truth and that I tell it beautifully." Mission accomplished.