Blurb (from the back of the book)
“It is the story of one family, the Sais, whose good life crumbles in an evening; a Ghanaian father, Kweku Sai, who becomes a highly respected surgeon in the US only to be disillusioned by a grotesque injustice; his Nigerian wife, Fola, the beautiful homemaker abandoned in his wake; their eldest son, Olu, determined to reconstruct the life his father should have had; their twins, seductive Taiwo and acclaimed artist Kehinde, both brilliant but scarred and flailing; their youngest, Sadie, jelously in love with her celebrity best friend. All of them sent reeling on their disparate paths into the world. Until, one day, tragedy spins the Sai’s in a new direction.
This is the story of a family: torn apart by lies, reunited by grief. A family absolved, ultimately, by that bitter but most tenuous bond: familial love.”
Ghana Must Go is a beautifully written, almost poetic, account of the dispersal of one family – the Sai’s. At the start of the novel we are immediately confronted with the death of Kweku, the father, back in his birthplace, Ghana. Between fragmented flashbacks we glimpse how each Sai member receives his death. We realise that the real tragedy, alluded to in the blurb, actually happens years before, when Kweku abandons his family in the wake of his own professional failure as a surgeon in the US. However, it is only through his death that the Sai’s are able to confront these buried feelings of loss and betrayal, which have resulted in a family scattered and unconnected to one another. As the novel progresses, Selasi thoroughly explores the different viewpoints of each family member to heartbreaking and haunting effect.
This is particularly resonant in the character of Sadie, the youngest Sai sibling, who, despite knowing her father the least, seems to feel his absence and the effect it has had on her family the most. She has grown up with no real memory of her father and no real memory of a connected and close family. Her battle with bulimia, therefore, acts as a way of disowning her heritage in an attempt to become more like her best friend, the stereotypically beautiful and popular, Philae Negropontes. Sadie doesn’t just want to look like Philae – she wants to be Philae who comes from a weighted and rooted family history – unlike the Sai’s.
‘It is that they are weightless, the Sais, scattered fivesome, a family without gravity, completely unbound. With nothing […] pulling them down to the same piece of earth, a vertical axis, nor roots spreading out underneath them, with no living grandparents, no history, a horizontal – they’ve floated, have scattered, drifting outward, or inward, barely noticing when someone has drifted off the grid’ (146-7).
The image Selasi evokes of a ‘horizontal’, instead of a ‘vertical’, family history is really effective. Instead of the familial links that would ordinarily connect us to a much larger history, the Sai’s are individuals tenuously tied to each other through a fragile understanding of what it means to be a family. It isn’t until they are reunited in Ghana, for their father’s funeral, that they begin to face and come to terms with their shared and separate pasts; that they begin to experience the strength, stability and trust a family unit can provide. I think it is significant that Fola, instead of scattering Kweku’s ashes, decides to keep him whole: ‘We’ve been scattered enough, she thinks’ (314). It is from this ending that a new beginning of hope and belonging is formed.
Although I agree with some critics that the publication of Ghana Must Go may have been rushed before it was ready, I was entranced and mesmerised by the poetic and descriptive language Selasi uses. Although at times this slowed down the plot, it also served to create haunting images that have stayed with me for days. Selasi’s writing is distinct and unique and she portrays a new way of looking at immigration on a personal and familial level. I was drawn to each family member and found myself becoming emotionally attached to the Sai’s. I am definitely excited to see what Selasi will do next and look forward to reading her 2005 essay ‘Bye-Bye Babar; or, What Is An Afropolitan?’ and her short story, ‘The Sex Lives of African Girls’, published in The Best American Short Stories in 2012.