2017 African Reading Challenge- Hosted by Kinna Reads
I have wanted to read Ghana Must Go for years. I read and posted on her debut work of fiction, "The Sex Lives of African Girls" which was published in The Best American Short Stories of 2012.
As the novel opens Kwaki Sai, a doctor, has returned to Ghana, from living for a long time in America. He is now living,in a house he designed, with his second wife. He is slowly dying of a heart attack and is recalling, in a poetically rendered cascade of images, his five children, with his first wife, all grown now and highly accomplished immigrants to America.
The children learn of the news of the death of their father while still in America and plan a reunion in Ghana. His oldest son has followed his father to become a surgeon, he is married to a Chinese American woman. The Guardian review perfectly describes the children:
"Across the ocean in America their children learn of the news. They have their own pre-existing pockets of grief. There is Olu, the oldest, responsible, neat, also a surgeon, married in Las Vegas to Ling, a Chinese-American for whom his love knows neither beginning nor end, yet whom he finds it difficult to accept as his family. There are Taiwo and Kehinde, the beautiful hazel-eyed twins, whose relationship and self-image were skewered by a horrific episode in Lagos when they were children. Taiwo, a gifted writer, sulky and aloof, is studying to be a lawyer, but flounders into a scandalous affair with the dean of her college. Kehinde has become a successful painter, hidden away in a warehouse studio in Brooklyn with scars on his wrist. And then there is Sadie, the youngest, her mother's favourite, the most insecure of all and bulimic with it, studying her hardest at university to shine as brightly as her siblings."
We learn that Africa students are under intense pressure to excel. The tangled web of colonialism impacts every one in the story. I sense that people from Ghana tend to feel inferior to Nigerians, or maybe that is just the perception of Nigerians.
Selasi elegantly renders the chaos of Accra, which is still a magnet for self-exiled citizens. We see the interactions between the educated affluent Ghanaians and other residents, servants, cab drivers and such. We see relationships between generations. There is a starkly rendered horrific sex scene I found disturbing. Violence is never far from the surface in Accra.
This is a challenging book,just as the immigrant experience confuses the characters, we must concentrate to follow the narrative.
The prose is lush and poetic. The characters are real and very interesting.
A writer and photographer of Nigerian and Ghanaian descent, born in London and raised in Boston, now living in Rome and Berlin, who has studied Latin and music, Taiye Selasi is herself a study in the modern meaning of identity. In 2005 she published the much-discussed (and controversial) essay "Bye-Bye, Babar (Or: What Is an Afropolitan?)," offering an alternative vision of African identity for a transnational generation. Prompted by writer Toni Morrison, the following year she published the short story "The Sex Lives of African Girls" in the literary magazine Granta.
Her first novel Ghana Must Go, published in 2013, is a tale of family drama and reconciliation, following six characters and spanning generations, continents, genders and classes.
2017 is the fifth year Kinna Reads has hosted an African Reading challenge. This novel begins my participation in this wonderful event. The rules and reading suggestions can be found on the link at the top of this post.