Read Women Write 2014/15: Book 19: Taiye Selasi: Ghana Must Go

Taiye Selasi - Ghana Must Go
Taiye Selasi – Ghana Must Go

Ghana Must Go is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. Each sentence is finely crafted prose poetry. This is a book that you should dedicate your time to, not read in between meetings or on bus trips. This is a book that commands you to sit down and listen to its characters.

I, of course, started it whilst on my daily commute to work. The trains I take are unreliable, often over-crowded, and often the reason I’m late for work. This can cause stress on an ordinary day (or be a good excuse to be late) but the week that I read this book I was grateful for every train delay.

The story follows the Sais, a Nigerian-Ghanaian family living in the United States. Each of these characters is fascinating, has a different way of thinking and talking that marks them as distinct from the other. We begin with Kweku, a man who has made mistakes, the biggest one of all in not acknowledging them, and (this is not a spoiler – it is the first sentence) “dies barefoot on a Sunday before sunrise, his slippers by the doorway to the bedroom like dogs”. And following from his story we meet the members of his family, Fola, Olu, Taiwo, Kehinde and Sadie.

This is not a family that has been unscathed by heartache and pain – each one has experienced it in a different and particular way. And yet they have survived it. In that survival they have had to transform a part of themselves, close off a portion of their hearts, or perhaps open up another portion that required grief as a key. Sometimes this has allowed them to do something they didn’t expect, and others it has made them unrecognisable to the people around them. It can be cold to be on the inside of a closed heart, and equally cold to be on the outside of it.

I cannot go on enough about the beauty of the prose in this text. Selasi has a skill for conveying so much about a person with a single sentence. It’s clear she is an astute observer of the way the world is constructed, and how we continue to impose structures on living people as though they would neatly fit into them. For example, this section:

“…there was a sense in her house of an ongoing effort, of an upswing motion, a thing being built: A Successful Family, with the six of them involved in the effort, all, striving for the common goal, as yet unreached. They were unfinished, in rehearsal, a production in progress, each performing his role with an affected aplomb, and with the stress of performance ever-present for all as a soft sort of sound in the background. A hum.”

And so it was on the platform of my own train station, and sometimes in the stifling heat inside the carriage, crammed against the bodies of strangers that I had no interest in knowing, that I wondered about the limits to our abilities to understand another person’s heartache, and the impact of that pain on us. Trauma, they say, is contagious. That’s true even when it is ignored.

Ghana Must Go is a beautiful book that reaches into the depths of the reader, and leaves a piece of itself there.

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