Two days after my 35th birthday, my mother died suddenly in her sleep. The family matriarch, the loss of my mother rocked our entire family and none of us have ever been the same since. One day my mother was alive and well, eating fancy food at a beautiful restaurant, surrounded by family members and my closest friends and the next, she lay non-responsive on her bed, passing away suddenly in the middle of the night at 64.
The death of my mother created a space for loss to flourish. Over the course of eight months my eldest sister stopped returning my phone calls, my dearly beloved partner and I ended our ended our relationship, and three close friends and I parted ways.
During this painful time period, I found my way to Taiye Selasi’s powerful novel, Ghana Must Go. Finally, within the pages of this ambitious novel, I found 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 nimble, 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 as well as 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 is 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 is questionable. The thorny nature of their relationship to Dr. Sai resonated for me. While my own mother struggled and sacrificed a great deal for my academic success and personal comfort, I still hold a lot of resentment towards for the emotional, physical and verbal abuses she randomly visited upon me at will. Her rage and love were dispersed in equal measure. My mother’s life and death have challenged me to revisit the importance of forgiveness.
This message of forgiveness is centered in 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 own regrets, Fola let go of the past early on and started 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 is a beautifully written story, but takes time to find it’s footing. The beginning third of the novel is in desperate need of 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 ultimately 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 noteworthy novel.