book review: ‘ghana must go’ by taiye selasi

the first few pages are an index of words, pronunciations and meanings. i was confused. what did that mean? did i need to remember it all while i went through the book? the page after that has this family tree and that seemed to add to the confusion. i remember reading those initial few pages and while i feel a certain tie to all people of coloured skin and their histories. the africa that jumped off those pages seemed like another world. a world as different from india as india was from the rest of the world. and i wondered, if i would be able to appreciate this story.

i have read african writing, but it was set in the US or UK. except for things fall apart by chinua achebe. and that was an old enough story for me to not seek similarities.  in a modern story it works differently, i tend to seek commonalities. find similarities. compare histories.

i needn’t have worried. ‘ghana must go’  by taiye selasi reached out to me. it took me my hand and introduced me a world, a world that was not too far from the messy workings of my own mind and the entrapments of my relationships. there is the sameness of the story of this family, their quest for understanding and for being at peace with themselves & the world. it is a plot that gnaws at you, but still doesn’t burst at very seam with melodrama. it’s subtle, gentle and real and maybe its the ordinariness that makes it appealing to me.

if you haven’t read the book, then definitely pick it up.

spoiler alert: don’t read ahead if you plan to read the book.

the structure of the novel is refreshing. you move between times – you move between people – you move between stories. the climax, as one would traditionally say, is in the first chapter, and then the story begins. you know that the end lies in each character finding peace. you read on because mid-way you are part of their lives and you want them to find that peace so badly.

each character stands out. i can still picture sadie and her anguish at being the youngest and forgotten child, her irritation with her body and all her frustrations. i can see her relationship with her mother – warm and close, almost ideal, but still wants a mother and not a friend… and i understand that. that thin line between being a friendly parent and being a parent who is a friend. i appreciate the former and think the later is the issue.

i can see taiwo… standing tall, thin and outwardly beautiful. but confused, a mix of contradictions. this stone wall that she builds to protect her already broken self. as the book progresses i felt that contrary to initial perceptions it is sadie who is the stronger and less affected one, while taiwo needs way more ‘mending’!

then there are the boys… kehinde, the cool artist and olu, the nerdy doctor – they occupy the two ends of the spectrum. interestingly they are both successful at what they do. it is the girls who are still finding themselves, and who seem unable to find success in personal or professional life. it made me wonder if it was deliberate or taiye went with the flow of the story.

fola trapezes in and out. she seems distant, but you still like her. she is a hip mother, who was a lot of fun, and then one day went off like a switch; when the father leaves. is she the typical woman? is he the typical man? you wish they had figured it out and didn’t have to be alone. its like you’re in on the secret that they still care for each other very much, but cannot do anything about it. and that helplessness, that feeling of being unable to get them out of their misery is probably the most poignant part about this novel. the one that draws you in, and then keeps you there.

the name suits that displacement everyone is feeling. ghana must go. and understanding that, understanding that it meant all the ghanians had to leave nigeria. that displacement follows you through the book… and when it all settles in the end, with the dust. you settle down too.

the descriptions start off very large and big. the canvas spread out. in the beginning i felt very lost. as the book proceeds, the canvas gets painted. the colours drench the canvas – light and dark – make it all come alive. the space gets covered, the crevices nuanced. by the end of the book, it is one cosy painting. almost like one that you were part of and you fit snugly into.

what a debut novel! what a beautiful way to kick-start what might possibly be a great writing career. look forward to taiye selasi’s next book 🙂

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