Two days after my 35th birthday, my mother died suddenly in her sleep. The family matriarch and the loss of my mother rocked our entire family, and none of us have been the same. One day my mother was alive and well, eating fancy food at a beautiful restaurant, surrounded by family members and my closest friends. The next, she lay non-responsive on her bed, passing away suddenly in the middle of the night at night 64.
The death of my mother created a space for loss to flourish. Over eight months, my eldest sister stopped returning my phone calls, my dearly beloved partner and I ended our relationship, and three close friends and I parted ways.
During this painful time, I found my way to Taiye Selasi’s powerful novel, Ghana Must Go. Finally, within the pages of this ambitious novel, I found a sense and solidarity with characters who understood the shock, sadness, and enormous grief surrounding the loss of a central but complicated family figure.
Selasi starts the story with the death of Dr. Kweku Sai, a talented cardiologist who is living with his elegant but naive second wife in Ghana when he senses death approaching him in the form of a heart attack. Rather than save his own life, he relents and begins to reflect on other things, such as his garden, his children, and many of his life’s accomplishments and regrets. For a man who spent his whole life striving to achieve social and monetary capital, in his final moments, Dr. Sai chooses to succumb to death.
While Dr. Sai’s perspective paints him sympathetically, his life and impact are better explained by his children. Olu, Taiwo, Kehinde, and Sadie provide a context and richness to the successes and failures of their father. How he touched and shaped their lives is deeply felt, even if his love and devotion to them are questionable. The complex nature of their relationship with Dr. Sai resonated with me. While my mother struggled and sacrificed a great deal for my academic success and personal comfort, I still resent the emotional, physical, and verbal abuses she randomly visited upon me at will; her rage and love dispersed equally. My mother’s life and death have challenged me to revisit the importance of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is at the center of Selasi’s work. Only until the characters learn to forgive their father, their mother, each other, and more importantly, themselves are they able to heal their fractured relationships and truly move on. Fola, Dr. Sai’s first wife, is the story’s prime example of how wonderful life unfolds for those who choose forgiveness. While she has her regrets, Fola lets go of the past early on and start over. In the end, she was able to reconcile with her children, something her late husband never got the chance to do.
Overall, Ghana Must Go a beautifully written story, but it takes time to find footing. The beginning third of the novel desperately needs a sharp editor willing to cut out the overly descriptive passages. Still, hold on and continue reading because the payoff is worth it. Once Dr. Sai’s deep secret is revealed to the reader and his family, the novel’s pace is steady, and the narrative direction is sure. Be prepared to weep and share in the emotional labor of Selasi’s remarkable book.