Ghana Must Go opens with the death of Kweku Sai, who was born in poverty in Ghana but who rose to a position of prominence as a renowned surgeon in the United States before suddenly leaving his wife and four children to return to Ghana. At the novel’s beginning he succumbs at dawn outside the house he designed and had built which he shares with his new wife. He isn’t that old, not even 60 years, and as far as we know wasn’t in especially poor health.
News of his death brings the family he left behind many years ago together—his eldest son Olu, an accomplished surgeon like his father, the beautiful twins, Taiwo and Kehinde, and the younger daughter, Sadie. They travel to their mother, Fola, who also has returned to Ghana, to mourn the death of their father, while suppressed stories of their own troubled lives emerge and they are ultimately reconciled.
As delicately and well-told as Ms. Selasi’s story is, I have an argument with it that has to do with the novel’s verisimilitude. It has to do with what caused Kweku to abandon his family in the first place. What happened was this: While he was a top-notch surgeon at a well-respected Boston hospital, at the top of his game really, living in a large and expensive home in the Brookline suburb, the matriarch of a prominent Boston Brahmin family, the Cabots, was brought in with a ruptured appendix and a bloodstream infection. The 77 year old smoker and alcoholic was at death’s door, but her family still wanted her operated on as a last ditch measure. Kweku was recruited.
He said to his supervisor, “In my professional opinion, sir, it’s too late for surgery.” The family wasn’t interested in his professional opinion. The operation was performed in Kweku’s usual masterful fashion but the woman died anyway. Now the family was looking for someone to blame and Kweku became the scapegoat. Seeking to appease them the hospital dismissed Kweku.
Granted, this was unfortunate and unfair, but in my opinion he totally over-reacted to this injustice. For a while he reacted as the man, who is fired and too ashamed to tell his family; who still gets up in the morning, gets dressed, and pretends to go the work. He sits all day in local parks or coffee shops and scans the paper for job ads.
Finally, he decides to confront Dr. Michiko Yuki, the head of his department. He wants to ask her how she can live with herself after what she’s done to him. The confrontation goes poorly and he finds himself being ousted physically from the hospital while his son Kehinde, who has stumbled in, stares in astonishment.
Kweku is unable to go his wife Fola and confess what has happened. Instead, he leaves entirely, calling her from a nearby hotel, to tell her that he has left and is never coming home again.
Kweku’s action seems selfish to me—it’s not as if he has been ousted by the entire medical community and has lost his license altogether or been sued for malpractice. I loose respect for a man who would let a single event destroy the lives of himself, his wife and children.
His wife (whom he assumes can handle whatever comes her way) and his children are damaged by his desertion. Fola is able to sell the house but as far as we know is not granted alimony, so she is compelled to struggle financially. A slimy half-brother of hers who lives in Nigeria invites her to send him the twins; unwittingly she avails herself of this opportunity—doesn’t she know that he’s a drug dealer and pedophile?
My problem is that I have trouble believing that a person, cultural differences aside, would react to such unfairness in such a radical fashion, especially since all Kweku would have had to do was to apply to another hospital and he would have been gladly accepted. Having suffered endless indignities and rejections myself, I have trouble believing someone would react in such manner who has suffered only one.
Once suspicion is aroused, I look for other inconsistencies. And I found them! At the novel’s beginning Ms. Selasi charmingly describes the house that Kweku designed and has constructed by the Ganga- smoking carpenter who lives in a tree house on the beach. It has four rooms each abridging a center patio. One would expect the house would provide backdrop for a scene or two at the novel’s end but it is not even mentioned.
In another scene Taiwo encounters her father asleep in a chair. The bottoms of his feet are bruised and painful looking. We never learn what has caused this.
In the books final chapters where Kweku family has gathered for the first time in years, they seem to do more excavating of their own painful pasts than actual mourning for their dead father, making the ending seem insufficient.
Taiye Selasi was born in London and raised in Massachusetts. She holds a BA in American Studies from Yale and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Oxford. She lives in Rome. Ghana Must Go will be published in thirteen countries. The Penguin Group is a respected American publisher. With these kind of credentials, I would hope the pretext of her next novel, should she write another, will be more firmly rooted in plausibility.