Taiye Selasi knocks the ball out of the park with her debut novel and New York Times best seller, Ghana Must Go, a beautifully written story of love, pain, and a family’s path to healing. Brought together after the death of brilliantly-gifted surgeon and failed husband and father Kweku Sai, the five remaining Sai’s reunite in Ghana to bury his body, forcing them to confront dark paths and unspoken pain, stemming from far beyond the untimely and devastating departure of their family patriarch. Ghana Must Go follows the perspectives of the six Sais:
- Kweku Sai: Renown surgeon from humble beginnings, estranged from his ex-wife and children.
- Folasadé Savage: Kweku’s beautiful and graceful ex-wife, who gave up a scholarship to Georgetown Law to follow her husband’s dreams of becoming a surgeon as she carried their first child.
- Olu Sai: The driven and fastidious eldest Sai child, who followed in his father’s footsteps to become a surgeon, as outstanding as his father had been.
- Taiwo and Kehinde Sai: the equally brilliant twins, Kehinde a famous artist and Taiwo always at the top of her class, both known for their beauty and talent.
- Sadie Sai: the youngest child, plagued with insecurity, eating disorders, and feelings of inadequacy, yet still a gifted dancer.
Selasi’s ability to create incredibly complex and relatable characters is commendable. The lack of novels written by and about African characters is strikingly noticeable in the world of literature, but Selasi’s Ghana Must Go effectively breaks free from the common, trite story often pinned to African characters of devastation, hunger, and war. Selasi’s characters are a refreshing departure from the usual descriptions of African desolation, written as whole people with complex stories, showing a Western audience the many shades of Africa that exist alongside the negative but are too often erased.
The books starts off somewhat slow, due to the gratuitous scene descriptions that have a tendency to detract from the core of the story, but then picks up quickly. After the stagnant beginning it became the type of book you don’t want to put down. After the discovery of Kweku’s reason for abandoning his family in the United States and subsequent path back to Ghana, I was left scratching my head in some scenes. It seemed unlikely that Folasadé, equal to Kweku in intelligence, could be completely unaware that after 11 months Kweku had lost his job in a case of blatant discrimination and spent almost their entire fortune fighting it. Kweku’s departure after his inability to face his failure to his family (and most of all his wife, who had given up so much for him to succeed) was heart-wrenching, a reminder of the stresses and pressure to achieve success faced by many African immigrants.
Folasadé’s decision to send Taiwo and Kehinde to Nigeria to live with her drug-dealing half-brother that she herself barely knew seemed out of place with her character, even after Kweku’s departure and financial ruin. Folasadé was fiercely protective of her children, and had no noteworthy relationship with her brother enough to entrust him with her twins. It is quite predictable by the reader when the twins have a nightmarish experience in Lagos, marred by sexual abuse and neglect before being returned home. Though the circumstances of their shipping to Nigeria did not seem to make very much sense, the writing remained excellent throughout the book.
All in all, Ghana Must Go proved to be an exceptional book that left me searching for any more publications by Selasi to get my hands on. I would encourage this book for anyone, especially fans of Chimamanda Adichie, who similarly writes novels with African characters that break out of the dangerous single story stereotype of Africa, showing us the capability of these characters to be complex and whole.
Overall: 4/5 stars