Like love, loss too is a complicated emotion. We all associate with it, yet possess a sense of indifference towards admitting the void and complexities it comes along with. Loss depicts our vulnerable side that we often conceal by wearing a garb of happiness, solitude or aloofness. The masks many of us wear often help us hide the wounds we been harbouring for years. Wounds that will heal only when the shell of aloofness cracks, wounds that refuse to heal if left unattended.
In Taiye Selasi’s debut novel, Ghana Must Go, we see varied facets of loss and grief. They all are connected with each other through the dysfunctional family of Sai’s. A family that crumbles down after the head of the family chooses to abandon them for a failed professional life. A helpless mother who finds it difficult to raise her four children after her husband’s unexpected walkout.
The narrative of this book builds on the death of Kwaku Sai, the father figure, and how the family reacts to the news. They shed all inhibitions and insecurities of the past, their failure and fears, and the jealousy and anger to fill the absence they have in their hearts after he left them many years ago.
The book with its simple language, well-defined emotions and crisp, sharp narration leaves an impact. How Selasi has dealt with emotions that we all can associate with is noteworthy.
In one scene, the youngest daughter of the clan, Sadie, finds solace in the bathroom. She describes it as a place where tears run down without any fear, and where a person can be oneself. The stillness of the bathroom merges with the numbness of the mind or an aching heart.
Each character: be it eldest son Olu, twins Taiwo and Kehinde, youngest daughter Saide or Fola, mother, and Kwaku, the father, are defined well. There is no room left for obscurity. Their lives may be different but their actions are related.
An insecure Olu often compares himself with his brother Kehinde over good looks; an indifferent Taiwo who is aloof feels left out in the family; adorable Saide who often mocks at the word “family” is jealous of Taiwo’s beauty and brain. But all of them harbour fears and insecurities silently, living with them for years till they all come together under one roof and they face each other with a sense of awkwardness and uncanny silence.
The story traverses different generations and cultures, from Ghana, Nigeria, London, New York and then back to Ghana. Getting a taste of their culture, the civil war, a scandal and subtle shades of unfair professionalism the story goes back and forth, dealing with the separate lives of each in the family, and their memories that were dormant till the news of death arrived.
At the start of the book, one question is constantly asked, “Why Kweku Sai died without wearing his slippers?”
It raises curiosity why is this question being asked constantly. How does it matter if any person is wearing a slipper or not while he dies of a heart attack. We get an answer as the story progresses.
Introduced in the last few pages of the story again are the slippers, a metaphor that will keep you glued to the book till the end.