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Of splintered memories

books Updated: Sep 14, 2013 14:53 IST
Isha Manchanda
Isha Manchanda
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Ghana Must Go
Taiye Selasi
Rs. 500, PP 336

When a book comes with the kind of hype that multiple endorsements by literary giants can generate, you have to tread carefully. To have Toni Morrison mentor you, Salman Rushdie sing your praises and Penelope Lively and Teju Cole provide cover quotes for your debut novel can be a heavy burden to bear. And Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go bears this burden with elegant eloquence. A few pages in and it isn’t very difficult to understand what all that fuss is about.

Ghana Must Go is the story of Fola Savage, who moved to Boston from Nigeria and fell in love with a doctor from Ghana, and her family. Bearing the loss of a husband to whom she lost her career, and who she lost many years before his death, Fola travels to Ghana with her children. The novel opens with the scene of Fola’s ex-husband’s death.


Kweku was a brilliant surgeon who once lived and worked in Boston and dies, rather inconspicuously, in a house in Ghana that took two years to build. As Selasi takes readers through the many lies and secrets that have brought the narrative to this quaint house and the quiet passing of Kweku, she creates a journey that is often poetic and at times visceral. The imagery of Selasi’s words can be at once heartbreaking and entirely guttural.

Ghana Must Go is the story of a family wading through the splintered memories of a displaced life. In Selasi’s narrative, movement and loss are intertwined, one incomplete without the other, like Kweku’s slippers that Selasi describes as “leather pets with separation issues” in the opening chapter. This is a story of loss: loss of people, of a culture, of identity, and most significantly, loss of the ability to recognise loss.

Taiye Selasi can make words sing, and tell a heartbreaking tale at the same time. With such lyrical prowess, however, comes the threat of over-writing and even though Selasi does manage to bypass this through most of her debut novel, she does fall prey to the temptation to over-verbalise at times.

If there’s a fault this reviewer will pick with Ghana Must Go, it is this. Thankfully, these instances are few and far between and overall, Selasi can be forgiven these trespasses given the enormity of painful beauty that lies between those pages. How she manages to follow this debut remains to be seen.