"Ghana Must Die" is a familial love story begun in Ghana, this first line, its seed:
"Kweku dies barefoot on a Sunday before sunrise, his slippers by the doorway to the bedroom like dogs."
From these words, this moment, Taiye Selasi expands a revelation of Kweku, his wife Fola and their four American children: how they loved one another; how inept communication damaged their soles.
Selasi penetrates this fertile opening sentence, germinating a poetic rendering worthy of high school writing students and of twenty-something jogging retreats. (The novel has been recorded by Penguin Audio and is available via Playaway, saving readers from struggling to pronounce foreign names and concepts.)
The debut novelist shapes her cast of characters from the very clay lying beaten and dry beneath pounding Nikes. Like a good mother, she does not sidestep distasteful cracks along its broken surface, but expands each revelation with care. Like a good father, she plants thoughts in reader's brains that later rise like self-possessed memories.
In the end, Selasi transforms what was at once dark and lonely into healing light:
- She is a Fola, embracing the wounds of her beloved children.
- She is a Kweku, stitching his way of being into their resilient fabric.
The shock of Kweku dying barefoot impacts family and reader, every word packed and sticky as fine-grained earth. “Why wasn’t he wearing his slippers?” daughter Taiwo asks.
The simplicity of Taiwo’s question takes my breath away, the covering of Kweku’s feet significant as avoidance of his impoverished past.
Not half way through the novel, I know I will return to this story for edification. I will purchase a hardcopy and underline, underline, underline. Study the expansion of these simple sentences; examine how, with poignant efficiency, Selasi encapsulates meaning, moves her story toward its subtle end.
Selasi's first novel reveals why a writer is advised to write what she knows. A depth of consciousness, a keen, first hand, original observation of self, situation, populace, permeates every scene.
Basing this novel on a 100 point scale, I would give it a 98, only marking it down because I would have liked son Olu to visit his father's final home.