A family returns to where they began
Novelist Taiye Selasi coined the word Afropolitanism eight years ago to refer to educated, multilingual, multiethnic Africans living around the globe. In her ambitious debut, Ghana Must Go, she brings us into the world of bright, urban professionals, raised in the United States, but with roots in Africa.
When Kwaku Sai drops dead from a massive heart attack, he is living in Ghana with his second wife. His four children are scattered all over the world: His oldest son Olu is a doctor in Massachusetts and youngest daughter Somayina is a student at Yale. Twins Kehinde and Taiwo are in London and New York respectively. His ex-wife Fola has settled in Ghana as well, after staying in the United States long enough to get the youngest into college.
At first, the fortunes of the Sai family appear to hinge on a single incident, a race-based injustice in their adopted home. Originally from Ghana, Kwaku was a surgeon at a prestigious Boston hospital when he was asked to perform an emergency operation on an elderly white woman from an affluent family of longtime hospital donors. When the operation was unsuccessful, Kwaku was fired, leading him to abandon both his family and his career.
Concerned about her ability to continue the education of all the children and struggling with her own depression, Fola sends the twins back to her half-brother in Nigeria, with truly horrifying results. Olu’s fear of becoming like his father seeps into his own marriage. Somayina, just a baby when her father left, is at loose ends, having to mourn a man she never really knew.
“Ghana must go” is a Nigerian phrase from the early 1980s, when millions of Ghanaians fled to Nigeria due to political upheaval. Though the novel does not concern itself overtly with politics, both Kwaku and Fola came to America because of the violence and lack of professional opportunity. For all their cultural sophistication, the Sai children wonder if their lives as perennial outsiders made it impossible for them to feel at home anywhere.
Because there is so much dramatic tension in the novel, the structure of flashbacks can be confusing and some of the richer conflicts lose their impact. Still, Ghana Must Go is an engaging novel about the children of upwardly mobile African immigrants and the price they pay for being disconnected from their mother country.