Ghana Must Go is a pretty awesome achievement for first time novelist Taiye Selasi. It is a powerful story written in dense poetic language that is stunning. The story focuses on the death of Kwaku, the family patriarch. Told in three parts, the first section focuses on Kwaku’s experiences in leaving Africa and immigrating to the United States for medical school. The second part takes place mostly in the United States and focuses on Kwaku’s wife, Fola, and the life she assembles for herself and her four children in the wake of Kwaku abruptly leaving them. The final section of the story deals more with the four children and the emotional fallout that their father’s death and his abandonment of them years earlier has on their adult lives. The overall effect of the novel is haunting and devastating.
Before Ghana Must Go came out I heard lots of praise for Selasi’s writing and it is certainly deserved. Her writing is dense and poetic, which means that this novel is not a fast read and probably deserves another look to fully appreciate everything Selasi is doing. I must admit that I did not love the first section of the novel as I was reading it. It was more in hindsight that I saw the craft behind the story’s literary structure. I also found the second two sections to be more interesting and therefore more readable because of the psychological dimensions added to the narrative.
Though I argue that Ghana Must Go would be more fully appreciated with a second reading, for me that second reading will never come. There are aspects of the story that are just too heartbreaking for me to read again. Selasi is ruthless in the truths about families that she presents. We know that all families are unhappy in their own particular way and, moreover, that each member of a family bears that unhappiness in their own way and Selasi illustrates this with aplomb.
Who would like this book? This book is for the connoisseur of serious literary fiction. Selasi’s prose style is unique and takes some time to get used to, but it is beautiful. Ghana Must Go is a book to be studied an appreciated. The story itself would appeal to those looking for the immigrant experience, both first and second generation. Surprisingly, given the title, very little of it takes place in Africa.