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Ghana Must Go

Taiye Selasi, Penguin


Taiye Selasi published her first story ever in 2011. She wrote "The Sex Lives of African Girls" in response to a challenge from the poet Toni Morrison, and it immediately won Selasi praise and a spot in last year's Best American Short Stories collection. Selasi is the sort of talent described as precocious, only 33 and already considered a rising star.

Her debut novel, Ghana Must Go, is first and foremost a family saga, but it is also an immigrant tale and a story of Africa. The title refers to the 1983 expulsion of Ghanaians from Nigeria, symbolically tying the novel's events to divisive African immigration politics and the migrations of African people. Movement is important to the novel, which traverses Nigeria, Ghana and the East Coast, and its characters appear adrift, connected to many places, but not quite belonging to any.

The novel begins with the family's patriarch, Kweku, dying of a heart attack in his garden. Kweku is an immigrant boy made good, an unparalleled surgeon who sought to establish his family in upper-middle class America. But by the time of his heart attack, the family, according to one character, has become diffuse and lost its center. Kweku's death becomes cause to reflect on how this came to be, and for drawing together the scattered, loose-knit family. Inevitably, this involves a return to Ghana, a reverse diaspora.

The narrative moves not so much in chronological order as by peeling away layers. As we hear from each character in turn, we see them move in the present largely through association with their past, coming ever closer to the novel's finale, and simultaneously moving closer to the key moments in their lives. This unique, expertly executed structure is one of the novel's greatest strengths.

However precocious a talent Selasi may be, there is no mistaking that this is a debut novel by a young writer, and the author's inexperience occasionally shows. For example, though Selasi is capable of a breathtaking lyricism that's hard to resist reading aloud, the quality of the prose is oddly uneven and sometimes plagued by flabbiness. The dialogue can be problematic too, throwing important scenes off-key, only moving the plot forward rather than playing two characters off of one another. And the earth-shattering revelations that the narrative works so meticulously to unwrap sometimes don't live up to their hype, creating more anticipation than pay-off.

Flaws aside, Ghana Must Go is a remarkable debut with a great deal to hold your interest. Keep your eye on Taiye Selasi.

Anthony Correale

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