Kweku Sai, who was an immigrant to the US from Ghana in the late 1970s and became a brilliant surgeon but he later left his wife and four children in Boston to return to Africa. As the book opens Kweku lies alone in his garden, dying. Meanwhile Amma, his second wife sleeps upstairs inside their house. We follow Kweku’s dying memories for a few chapters and then switch to the whereabouts, the thoughts and activities of the four children and his first wife, Fola. This is a story of immigration, of families and homes (the actual houses really) of memories and death plus more, forgiveness and ambition and failure and love. Quite a task for a debut novel – ambitious as others have said.
Ghana Must Go
by Taiye Selasi
2014 / 336 pages
read by Adjoa Andoh
rating: 7 contemp fiction – Ghana/Nigeria/US
In the US Kweku was married for perhaps 20 years to Folasadé (Fola), herself an immigrant to the US from Nigeria and he dearly loved her, as she did him, but he always felt he had to live up to some kind of expectations of success. The couple had four children pretty quickly and life was going along nicely when Kweku was suddenly and unfairly fired from his prestigious job at Johns Hopkins Medical in Boston. He was unable to tell his wife and family, so in horrendous shame, he just left the family without a goodbye and went back home to Ghana where he lived until he died in a home of his own design, another 16 or so years.
So the obvious questions and thrust of the novel is why did he leave, what happened to the rest of the family as well as to Kweku after he left, and how can they get back together at all now that they’re rich and famous, living their own lives in different parts of the world? That’s the book.
Fola, the mother (the wife Kweku left with to raise the children) was unable to finish law school as she planned, but she raised 4 fairly successful children, in the conventional sense of the term “success.” Olu, the eldest, becomes an accomplished doctor in Boston. A pair of twins, Kehinde a boy and Taiwo, a girl, turn into a important artist in London and a successful lawyer with piano talents in Virginia respectively. The youngest child is Sadie, a dancer at heart, is also studying to be a lawyer at Yale. They all have emotional difficulties, some more intense than others. They are all somewhat emotional – crying easily and thinking they feel one another’s pain. But they rarely communicate.
The narrative alternates for awhile between the dying Kweku’s memories and the points of view of the children, now grown, what they remember and then what they do. then they switch over to the children only . Thankfully it’s all third person. But it’s so complex I had to start over when I’d got about 1/3 of the way through the book.
“Dewdrops on grass blades like diamonds flung freely from the pouch of some sprite-god who’d just happened by, stepping lightly and lithely through Kweku Sai’s garden just moments before Kweku appeared there himself.”
Methinks Selasi stretched a tad too far with her concept and tried to compensate by overworking the narrative, throwing too many metaphors stretching a description in all sorts of directions, and overdoing the structural cleverness – or awkwardness if you prefer – with backstories inside of backstories engaging too many characters. Both of these are intrusive of anything happening – but that seems to take second place to Selasi’s lists of descriptors. Too bad because it really could have been a good tale. As other reviewers have said, it’s ambitious.