An indulgent, complex debut

Written by Sudipta Datta | Updated: May 12 2013, 06:06am hrs
Taiye Selasis Ghana Must Go, the story of a modern dysfunctional family, draws the reader in, but could have been tighter and tidier

Taiye Selasis Ghana Must Go comes highly recommended. From Toni Morrison to Salman Rushdie to Penelope Livelythey were all impressed with this novel of today, which crosses boundaries, lives across several continents and time zones. On one level, it is the immigrant story of a family travelling from Africa to the US and back to Accra, the capital of Ghana, where five siblings have to confront the death of their estranged father, once a brilliant surgeon, Kweku Sai. It is also the story of any modern dysfunctional family trying to cope with the pulls and pressures of existence.

Part of Selasiherself a citizen of the world with Nigerian and Ghanaian roots, born in London, raised in Massachusetts and now living in Romeseeps into the characters and their immigrant experiences as we get inside the minds of this family without gravity.

Its her debut novel and Selasi is indulgent, perhaps a bit too much, with her prose, settings and characters. The novel opens with Kweku Sai, a Ghanaian surgeon who moved to America and back, dying in the garden of his functional, and elegantly planned house, the design of which he sketched on a napkin in a hospital cafeteria in his third year of residency when he was 31.

He dies in an instant, but lives a lifetime just prior, giving us a glimpse of his children and especially the difficult birth of his youngest, Sadie; how he falls out of favour, and his return home to Accra where he takes his second wife, Ama. As Kweku Sai moves towards the garden before sunrise, he remembers his first wife, FolasadeDewdrops on grass. Dewdrops on grass blades like diamonds fling freely from the pouch of some sprite-god who'd just happened by, stepping lightly and lithely through Kweku Sais garden...

Across many time zones, the fractured Sai children will hear the news of their father and react differently. Theres Olu, the eldest, a doctor himself who lives in Las Vegas with his Chinese-American wife Ling, who cant fathom how his father, a knife-wielding artist, could have missed all the signs of so slow-building a heart attack. There are the twinsTaiwo, gifted at studies and at the piano, and Kehinde, a painter, forever scarred by an incident that took place when they were little in Lagosand the youngest Sadie, the family favourite who struggles to come to terms with her identity and bulimia.

The siblings are Afropolitan like Selasi, children of parents who left Africa in the troubled 1960s and 1970s. They have been to Columbia and Yale, are successful in life, although that comes with great cost, and aim to shed some of the stereotypes one associates with Africa and its people.

The title harks back to the 1980s when Ghanaians were expelled from the Nigerian capital Lagos and asked to go back. Its an ambitious first novel, and the web of complex characters draws the reader in, but the meandering prose is confusing and Selasi, not unfairly, often over-writes. When Sadie, 19, growing up in America, is about to tell her mother that she wants a life of her own, she is first made to turn to look at the leaves in the sunset, the New England Spectacular, a modest backyard in a grid of small yards for these town house apartments... still foreign, the view, after three years of weekends...

Though her debut novel has promise, her shocking 2011 story for Granta, The Sex Lives of African Girls, on abuse, was tighter, tidier.

Ghana Must Go

Taiye Selasi

Penguin

Rs499

Pp 318

Sudipta Datta is a freelancer