Basically, I will give Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi 3 out of 5 stars on Goodreads. It is a good story, and I was prepared to like it when I started it, full of enthusiasm picked up from this review in The Economist. I have essentially decided to stop trusting the Economist‘s most enthusiastic reviews, like Snowdrops, which was a big disappointment.
I will warn now that this review is likely to have spoilers.
So I was armed with their enthusiasm, and I dove into this book. I really enjoyed it at the beginning. The characters seemed new, and complex, both American and not, and I liked the feeling that the story was going to unravel before me. Unfortunately I thought that the unravelling got a bit stuck, and I found the second half of the book a bit harder to read than the beginning. The characters get stuck in their narcissism, or separateness, and they sometimes wonder about how they got like that, but they don’t do anything about it.
Until they are forced to by this funeral. There is a lot of tragedy and baggage in this novel, from sexual abuse to abandonment by a father, racism, etc. It is a lot to deal with, and also something I would be interested in hearing the writer talk about… it is not quite as extreme as something like The Kite Runner, which I sort of viewed as disaster or tragedy porn, but it has a lot of sad things going on.
There are a lot of people who realise what they care about too late – including the dad character, whose realisations and thoughts while he is dying drive the first half of the novel, in a lyric and beautiful way:
“… frustration/pity, that the world is both too beautiful and more beautiful than he knows, than he’s noticed, that he’s missed it, and that he might be missing more but that he might never know and that it might be too late; that it can be too late, that there is such a thing, a Too Late in the first place, that time will run out, and that it might not even matter in the end what he’s noticed, for how can it matter when it all disappears?” (20)
Similarly, his realisation that his true “mate” is the mom of the novel is beautiful, but it also made me so annoyed that he left:
“Orphans, escapees, at large in world history, both hailing from countries last great in the eighteenth century–but prideful (braver, hopeful) and brimful and broke–so very desperately seekign home and adventure, finding both. Finding both in each other, being both to each other, the nights that they’d toast with warm Schweppes in cheap flutes or make love in the bathtub in moonlight or laugh until weeping: that he found what he hadn’t dared seek. When it would have been enough to have found his way out, to have started where he started and to have ended up farther, a father and a doctor, whatever else he’s become. To have dared to become. To escape would have sufficed. To be ‘free’, if one wants swelling strings, to be ‘human.’ Beyond being ‘citizen,’ beyond being ‘poor.'” (91)
That said, I think that the concept of being able to leave everything you’ve ever wanted is also interesting, and I liked that he didn’t fall apart, but he continues to rebuild his life – this time in Africa – after he loses everything he had worked for.
And I liked this one sarcastic stab at how we see the world: “There are the same big green highway signs seen the world over, proof positive of ‘development’ as he’s heard the word used, as if developing a country means refashioning it as California: supermarkets, SUVs, palms, smog and all.” (209)
But there were small, petty things I objected to: the portrayal of the eating disorder (the character throws up food that she would have digested long before after a flight), the almost mystical twin connection (but the author’s name is one of the names given for a twin in the novel, so maybe she speaks from personal experience), and the twins’ incest/assault scene. I basically want to hear more about why she wrote them how she did, and decide on them. I didn’t find them convincing, but I can’t exactly say why.
But ultimately, Ms Selasi has a strong talent, and I want to hear more from her.