When one of your favourite writers – in this case Teju Cole, author of Open City – declares that a book ‘renews our sense of the novel’, you pay attention. When the writer of that book is then named one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists while her debut has barely left the printing press, you get your hands on a copy and read.
Ghana Must Go is the story of the Sais family. The father, Kwaku, who ‘dies barefoot on a Sunday before sunrise, his slippers by the doorway to the bedroom like dogs’ as the novel begins; the mother, Kwaku’s ex-wife, Fola, who surrendered her dreams to allow Kwaku his, only to find herself abandoned with four children. And the children who each play their allotted roles in the family: Olu, the eldest and the administrator; the twins, Kehinde, the peacekeeper and Taiwo, the brooder, and the youngest, Sadie, the crier.
The novel is divided into three parts. The first tells Kwaku’s story, allocating him the position as the dominant member of the family. He sees himself as the lead in his own story too:
He does this, has always done this since leaving the village, little open-air productions for an audience of one. Or for two: him and his cameraman, that silent/invisible cameraman who stole away beside him all those decades ago in the darkness before daybreak with the ocean beside and who has followed him every day everywhere since. Quietly filming his life. Or: the life of the Man Whom He Wishes to Be and Whom He Left to Become.
Part two guides us through the lives of the children, who they’ve become as adults, or in Sadie’s case on the cusp of adulthood. Which leads us to part three, where the children travel from Boston and New York to Ghana to their mother’s house, following their father’s death.
Ghana Must Go is about feeling like an outsider – an African in America; an African-American in Africa; a younger or older sibling in a family including twins; a twin who’s severed contact with their other, and most of all, within yourself. It’s about those moments when you struggle to reconcile yourself with your own behaviour.
Selasi has a distinctive voice. Her sentences have a rhythmic quality unlike anything I’ve read before:
She was his.
And she was perfect.
And she was tiny.
And she was dying. And he felt it, felt this dying, in the center of his chest, the force gathered, raw panic, overwhelming his lungs, filling his chest with a tingling, thick, biting, and sharp.
Her use of short sentences and lists take a moment to get used to but once you’ve adjusted to her flow, her style seems entirely natural.
Teju Cole described Ghana Must Go as ‘an astonishing debut’ and it is. It’s incredible that a first novel can be this stylistic, this fully realised. But it is and it holds great promise of things to come.
Thanks to Penguin for the review copy.