READ IT BECAUSE: This is not a novel about Africa, or Ghana, or Nigeria or immigrants (only)--this is one of the classic novels about family, identity, loss, forgiveness (maybe) that follows you around in your idle thoughts long after you are finished.
I've long held a personal theory many of these "African" novels would gain more readership and popularity within the United States if the authors gave the main characters Anglicized/American names. I will admit I struggled a bit to keep track of everyone at the novel's onset. This is not to say that I believe these authors should stoop to such an artificial construct--in nearly every case the extra effort and careful reading ends up quite a worthwhile investment. This is more a challenge to all of us to stretch ourselves a bit in what we chose to read.
In Ghana Must Go, Selasi shares the story of family members seeking to escape--their origins, their countries of birth, their assumed identities, their shame. Selasi's mastery is most evident as she captures the sights, sounds and people of Ghana and Nigeria. Having lived and traveled in Africa myself I can vouch for her description of one child that Kweku encounters in Ghana:
The boy was smiling brightly, possessed of that brand of indomitable cheerfulness Kweku had only seen in children living in poverty near the equator: an instinct to laugh at the world as they found it, to find things to laugh at, to know where to look. Excitement at nothing and at everything, inextinguishable. Inexplicable under the circumstances.
She writes just as skillfull as she shifts to one character's impression of Accra--offering the reader not only a glimpse of the city but also an indictment of western assumptions concerning development and modernity:
What strikes him is the movement, neither lethargic nor frenetic, an in-the-middle kind of pace, none of the ancientness of Mali nor the ambitiousness of Nigeria, just a steady-on movement toward what he can’t tell. There are the same big green highway signs seen the world over, proof positive of “development” as he’s heard the word used, as if developing a country means refashioning it as California: supermarkets, SUVs, palms, smog, and all. Children in T-shirts with rap stars’ huge faces run up to the taxi to peddle their wares: imported apples in columns, PK chewing gum, bananas, daily papers, deconstructed exfoliation sponge, matches.
The element that make this such a timeless story, however, is that it's ultimately about the power and indefatigability of a mother's love and hope. Because in a world telling everyone to 'go', to leave, it is the mother Fola who draws her children back in--not only to herself and each other--but to a place and idea they all believed had vanished: home.
*One of my Reading Around the Continent books--the full list is here.
**See our 2016, 2015 and 2014 Reading Lists.