The totally unexpected beginning of this story had me thinking: ‘Who starts a novel like that?’ The closest would be how Margaret Atwood, who, in a recent ad for an online masterclass, says she would have rewritten the beginning of Little Red Riding Hood to say: ‘ It was dark inside the wolf.’ Taiye Selasi’s technique kept me riveted for the next 318 pages.
The story draws you into the chronicles of three generations of a family. Starting with an interracial marriage between Maud a Scotswoman and John Nwaneri in Nigeria; their daughter Somayina, who dies young leaving her husband Olukayode Savage and their young daughter Folasade. After the tragic death of her father in an outbreak of violence in the Muslim North, Folasade emigrates to the United States of America, where she meets Kweku, a Ghanaian medical student. They get married and raise a family: Olu, who follows in his father’s’ footsteps, the twins Taiwo, a girl and Kehinde a boy who share that sacred bond and Folasade, nicknamed Sadie, the last-born daughter who nearly didn’t make it.
The family’s American Dream, however, morphs into a nightmare when he fails to save the life of a millionaire’s mother, who happens to be a benefactor of the hospital. To appease the family, the hospital unjustly fires the good doctor, one of their finest surgeons and thus begins the family’s downward spiral into tragedy.
The novel, much like a movie, pans, zooms and fades, with flashbacks in and out of the family’s lives as they deal with the disappearance from and attempted reappearance of the husband and father in their lives after he loses his job. Folasade calls on her native Nigerian hustling instincts to pick up the pieces and keep going. Each child is affected differently and each finds their own way of dealing with the separation of their parents and the impact of the decisions their mother had to make to support them.
The family reunites in Ghana many years later to bury Kweku, now a successful surgeon in a local hospital. He has remarried and built his dream home with an achingly beautiful garden, planted and tended by a geriatric yogi called Mr Lamptey, the eccentric carpenter who built his house. They all react differently on arrival in this country. It’s home, yet not home, this strange land that their father came from.
In the run-up to the funeral, the children get to know their father’s family, come to understand their father better and what drove him. They each find their own connection to this place, to start to understand and resolve some of their personal issues, including the retelling of some painful and deeply-buried secrets.
In this land they begin to understand some of their gifts and start to find their place in the world. This unfolding of events gives credence to the belief that only when you know where you come from, will you know where you are going. It partially explains Africans’ obsession with ‘going home’, especially for immigrants and their children born on foreign soil.
The most poignant part of the story is how the wife, having moved back to Africa, mourns her estranged husband and makes peace with his new wife Ama. In one of those stories of female solidarity that is so often not told, the two women, understanding they have both lost him, mourn him together and support each other.
‘Ghana Must Go’ makes reference to the xenophobic sentiment in Nigeria which led to the mass expulsion of Ghanaians living in the country. It is a story of personal struggle and sacrifice against the backdrop of war, poverty and making a life in a foreign land. It reveals the beauty and cruelty that comes with being part of a family as well as a personal search for belonging and a spiritual place of rest. It is an altogether unforgettable read.
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