Ghana must go by Taiye Selasi

15811505If you are into books, then chances are you have heard of “Ghana must go”. This novel was one of the most anticipated  forthcoming book this spring. I did a Guestpost about it on Afrokanlife. Some of the section of that article will be reproduced here.

About the author

Ghana Must Go is the author debut novel. Who is she? She is a half Ghanaian, half Nigerian who was born in England and raised in Massachusetts. She graduated summa cum laude from Yale before returning to England to earn an M.Phil. in International Relations from Oxford. The author has been mentored by Toni Morrison and endorsed by Salman Rushdie. She described herself as an Afroprolitan, which refers to internationally mobile, young people of African descent, making their mark on the world.

About the book

Here is the shorter version of the official excerpt:

 Ghana must go is at once a portrait of a modern family and an exploration of the importance of where we come from to who we are. In a sweeping narrative that takes us from Accra to Lagos to London to New-york, Ghana must go teaches that the truths we speak can heal the wounds we hide.

This is the story of the Sai Family. Kweku Sai is the Ghanaian father and Folasade Savage is the Nigerian mother. Both of them met in the US while attending University. They both had a very traumatic background. While Kweku was living in abject poverty in a Ghanaian slum, Fola narrowly escaped death during Nigeria’s civil war. Unfortunately, her father got killed.Consequently, she had to leave Nigeria for Ghana, one could say, as a refugee. I think it’s important to point out that Folasade Savage was not Igbo but Yoruba – the Biafran war is usually depicted as a conflict between the Igbo and the Hausa tribe.

The novel starts with Kweku Sai dying alone in  his garden in Ghana.  While he is having a cardiac arrest, he is reflecting back on his life. On the first half of the novel, the stories is going back and forth between Kweku dying and him reflecting on his early life in Boston with his wife and children. He had 4 children with Fola: Olu the surgeon like his father; the twins Taiwo a gift writer who drops out of Law school, kehinde a talented painter and finally Sadie who is studying in Yale.

A few observations about the story

In the beginning, I really had problems reading this book. Mainly because of the author’s writing style, I have no doubt that she is a genius. Even with my untrained eyes, I could see it so to speak. Luckily for me, I am a very tenacious reader. After I got used to her writing style, I had to admit that it was an extraordinary story,very interesting characters. So many issues, but oh so realistic. To say that communication was a  problem is an understatement.

The main themes are “identity”, “being accepted”,”feeling beautiful” inside and outside ,”believing in yourself”, “believing that you are loved” and “trusting others”…I could go on and on. All characters  faces these challenges.

When I was reading this book, the question that kept coming to my mind was: Does where you come from define who you are? 

As a  member of the diaspora, this is a fundamental question I face everyday. African but leaving out of the continent for so many years, can you still claim to be authentically African? Can’t it be that we just became so  “westernized” to the point that the little things “they” do, irritate us. It is indeed a very important question, that was brilliantly explored in this novel. Not in the point of view of a first generation migrant like me, but more in the perspective of the second generation.They face a different  set of issues. For example, the sense of belonging and of being “enough” and accepted.

African fathers and Warrior mothers

Kweku’s father left his family because he was too proud. After, he was flogged in public, he couldn’t face his family again. He just left one day. Now some thirty-odd years later, Kweku did the same with his family. When his son witnesses his humiliation, Kweku couldn’t face his wife again. He just left that same day. One could think that Kweku’s leaving was inevitable. Unlike his father, he  fighted all his life to escape poverty in his small village. His wife sacrificed her studies so that he could live his dream, when he was disgraced in front of his son, he just couldn’t stand the humiliation. Obviously, the african paternal figure takes a lot of hits in this novel. They came out being too proud and insensitive and ,in a way, selfish. For instance, when Olu meet his father’s fiance, he explained to him why he doesn’t want his daughter to marry an african man . No, he is not racist. He thinks that although they are brilliant and hardworking, african men don’t have any respect for the family, especially when women are concerned.

A brain without equal but no moral backbone

Kweku’s leaving did affect the family in a very bad way. But before we go there, one think to keep in mind is that the family had issues even before the father left. Again, it all boiled down to a communication problem. For instance, at one point, Kweku is reflecting on this unspoken agreement he had with his wife to never talk about the sacrifice. Folasade sacrifices her Law studies to follow Kweku and  started a family. “One dream is enough for the family” she said. What is quite remarkable is that Fola never really looked back or regret her actions.  While Kweku was busy being perfect and holding his part of the deal – which is to make sure that the family had the best of everything, mainly all the things he didn’t have as a child – his children was suffering from a perceived indifference. For some reasons, best known to them, they believe that they have one role in their families’ lives and that is to provide. Nothing less, Nothing more.

My Favorite character is Folasade Savage, the beautiful and strong african women. You get this sense that she was born a warrior and nothing can bring her down. Not her father being killed during the war because he was at the wrong place at the wrong time, not her husband leaving her without nothing, not even her children not talking to her. But you can aslo sense her vulnerabilities.

Now, imagine how they all felt when Kweku left them. To be fair, he tried to come back later. But the betrayal was just too much for his wife.

When Dr Sai died, the family reunited in Ghana for the burial. This is my favourite part of the book. The burial happens some 16 years after Kweku left. Once in Ghana, things started to unravel .Kehinde and Taiwo reconcile just before leaving for Ghana. Taiwo finally spoke to her mother about the  traumatizing event that happen to them while  in Nigeria.(The twins were sent to Nigeria  for a year, when Kweku left them). Sadie learn to finally accept herself. And Olu understand that you can’t control everything around you. Perfection does not exist.

The others themes worth mentioning are being successful in America, immigration of course, child abuse, interracial relations and the difference between Nigeria and Ghana.

Now back to the fundamental question I asked earlier : Does where you come from define who you are? Clearly yes, according to this novel!What do you think?

I most definitely recommend Ghana Must go. It is a great read.

In case you were wondering what’s up with the title:

louisbag

This bag is called “Ghana Must Go” and no it was not created by Louis Vuitton as seen here. I will let you look up why this bag is called Ghana Must go. (Hint: Something to do with Ghana and Nigeria)

Have you read this book? Tell us what you think of it? Drop us a comment or email us at utneemtre@gmail.com

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5 responses to “Ghana must go by Taiye Selasi

  1. That is a wonderful review. You brought a perspective that I did not have when I reviewed it. I absolutely loved the book and identified strongly with all the characters. Even though I have never migrated anywhere, I have many of the same psychological needs of never feeling I am successful enough, never good enough. I slipped right into her language and although it was strange I enjoyed it. But after I finished reading the book, I realized that even with the last section, it was more about the US and demands felt here than about Africa. I sensed she was writing for an international audience–which makes sense given her personal background–in contrast to, say, Unity Dow. Thanks for highlighting her term Afroprolitan which I think is very appropriate. And thanks for your picture of a “Ghana Must Go” bag. See my review http://wp.me/p24OK2-Kg

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