Taiye Selasi, whose debut novel is ‘Ghana Must Go’.
Picture: Nancy Crampton
It is an ambitious debut about family life in Africa and America.
Parental neglect, sibling rivalry, racism, bulimia, paedophilia, allegations of professional misconduct… Nobody could accuse Taiye Selasi of lacking ambition. Her first novel moves easily between West Africa and the east coast of the United States and, after a wobbly start, delivers a genuinely heart-warming ending.
Kweku Sai, the central character, is a tragically inadequate patriarch. Born into poverty in Ghana, he seems to have the world at his feet as he moves to Boston, trains as a doctor, marries a beautiful Nigerian woman and fathers four children bright in promise. But then, after being sacked from his job as a surgeon, his nerve fails him. He deserts his family, returns to West Africa and is dead before he is 60. The sense of a wasted life, and of riddles not properly explained, pervades.
The bulk of the narrative is taken up with the preparations for Kweku’s funeral. As news of his death reaches his now grown-up children in the US, they make plans to return to Ghana. All four are interesting characters in their own right. One son has followed his father into the medical profession, another has become an artist; one daughter is bulimic, the other is having a flaky affair with a married man.
As the pieces of the jigsaw fall into place, Selasi examines both the fragility and durability of family life. The subtle cultural differences between West Africa and America are well charted. One of the most exhilarating scenes in the book sees a young woman who has developed an eating disorder in the pressure-cooker environment of Yale rediscover her zest for life after dancing on a Ghanaian beach.
At times, Selasi is guilty of overwriting. Her inexperience shows in the stop-go narrative, nervous shifts of tense, erratic paragraphing and faux-lyrical sentences that outstay their welcome. The big “surprise” in the story is about as surprising as Sunday following Monday.
Her publishers would have served her better if they had edited her text with greater rigour, instead of spraying around hyperbolic guff about “blazing originality” and “startling power”. But if and when she brings that rigour to her work, Selasi has the talent to go a long way, illuminating the Afro-American experience with feeling and insight.
Culled From the Telegraph
Written by David Robson