Review: Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi

By Abeer Hoque

GhanaMustGoGhana Must Go is Taiye Selasi’s tour de force first novel about a Nigerian-Ghanaian family falling apart between Ghana, the US, England, and Nigeria. Six characters take the reins: the prodigal doctor father Kweku, the beautiful proud entrepreneur mother Fola, the dutiful older son Olu, the tiger eye twins Taiwo and Kehinde, and the sweet baby almost lost Sadie. Each could be described as falling into tropes or stereotype, but they are alive with vibrant and distinct POVs. They may be larger and prettier than real people, but it didn’t mean I didn’t secretly want to meet them in real life, or at the very least read another book about them.

Selasi’s themes are close to my heart: West African immigrants, pride, art, and ambition. But my favorite aspect of her writing is her language. I felt like I was in a kinetic poem the entire time I was reading Ghana Must Go: anapests and dactyls, joined in alliteration and gorgeous gorgeous language. Some repetition of descriptions felt like pointing out the author’s cleverness, but her inventive lyrical language balanced it out.  For example, take this perfect description of what it’s like to wake from a forgotten dream, disturbed without knowing why: “Only fear remains vaguely, come unhooked from its storyline, left on damp sand like a thin sparkling foam.”

Or this one about sunrise: “the sun rose, ferocious, less a rise than an uprising, death to wan gray by gold sword.”

Or this about boats: “evangelical names in bright tricolor paint on their splintering sides.”

Or this one about sleep: “She sleeps like a cocoyam. A thing without senses.”

A few of Selasi’s tropes are hit or miss. I liked the narrator as cameraman conceit, even though it could be a little telling at times. The father Kweku and the twin daughter Taiwo imagine they are a cameraman or director of their lives. I often think about the world this way, and it was lovely to see it written out. Selasi sometimes overused the device of having something long buried coming up suddenly as a prelude to a flashback – a couple of times I thought, just flashback already without the drama. It also seemed as if half the characters were empaths of the kind who could feel each other’s feelings or hear their thoughts or know if something had happened, which felt a bit over the top. But none of these really slowed down my reading. 

I was totally absorbed by Ghana Must Go. The plot raced along, and its secrets were intense and devastating. Nearing the end, I didn’t want it to be over, not just so I could live with that rhythmic language a little longer, but also so I could find out what all the characters get up to after all the shock and awe. I look forward to reading many more books by this author.

Ghana Must Go
By Taiye Selasi
Penguin Books
ISBN 978-0143124979