Viking, £14.99 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop

Ghana Must Go, By Taiye Selasi

Can this fanfared debut live up to its billing? After a few wobbles – yes, a new star is born

This arresting first novel comes garlanded with mighty expectations: translated into umpteen languages already, the author mentored by no less than Toni Morrison, advance approval from Salman Rushdie and cover quotes from Penelope Lively and Teju Cole. Is the hype justified? The generous answer is yes, though I worry about how the talented Taiye Selasi can follow this stunning opening act.

She can surely write, treating her readers to a superior range of linguistic turns - prose that goes from the bluntly compacted to the poetically nuanced, and best of all is just musical. The book's very first sentence sounds like a scrap of song lyric: "Kweku dies barefoot on a Sunday before sunrise, his slippers by the doorway to the bedroom like dogs."

From this start, Selasi puts together a moving story of a fragmented family, salvaging resolution from the secrets and lies of the past. At its heart is the impact of the death of the absent father, Kweku Sai, on those whom he left behind.

Kweku has been a respected Ghanaian surgeon in the US, with a loyal spouse and four children – an aspirational family living in Massachusetts in a house that emanates the sense of "ongoing effort, of an upswing midmotion, a thing being built."

Things fall apart when Kweku suffers the shame of wrongful dismissal and tries to hide it. He abandons America and his Nigerian-born wife Fola to return to his native land, leaving her to raise their offspring: Olu, following in his father's footsteps; boy/girl twins Kehinde and Taiwo, differently brilliant; and Sadie, reaching for an identity beyond being the last-born. They are a complex, convincingly drawn group of individuals, their characters tempered by separation and, eventually, the healing possibility of reunion.

The dramatic consequences of Kweku's first departure are apparent only after his final exit, with the gathering for the funeral. The narrative, steeped in emotion and all kinds of love and betrayal, swirls with revelations that span generations and cross national boundaries, from West Africa to New England, London, New York. Flashback and remembering are key to the structure.

I wish Selasi freedom from the burden of anthropological analysis of her novel in terms of "Africanity" (the guide to Pronunciations may not help; I never read a novel with a glossary spelling out that Cholmondeley rhymes with "dumbly"). While insightful about migration in general, Ghana Must Go (the title refers both to the 1983 episode when Ghanaians were expelled from Nigeria - Ghana did something similar to Nigerians in 1969 - and to the nickname of the ubiquitous red-and-blue checked plastic holdall beloved of travelling market women) deals with its own creative particularities.

It is the uninhibited risk-taking with language and allusions that sets it apart. Back in 2005, Selasi wrote an inspirational essay in which she coined the term "Afropolitan" to cover those - like herself - whose geographical and cultural hybridity allows them to shape-shift fearlessly, carrying with it the need for constant self-definition.

By and large, Selasi totes her baggage elegantly, and every so often throws out a phrase to stop one in one's tracks, as when Fola awakes from a dream of drowning in the ocean: "Sparkling fear foam, and roaring." I became increasingly fond of her almost perfectly balanced rhythms (often in 6/8 or 12/8 metre): "Kehinde is listening to Saint-Saëns's Danse Macabre, the screaming of a kettle and the heat's steady whir." By contrast, she favours a literal breathiness for effect: "It works. The spell breaks. The pang ebbs. He snaps back. Short of breath."

It has to be said that the opening section of the novel ("Gone") takes time to find its feet, as it were; by Part II ("Going") the author is well in her stride, and with Part III ("Go"), it is practically a dead cert there will be no stopping Taiye Selasi. Prize-winning material, I'll wager.

Margaret Busby is chair of the board of 'Wasafiri' magazine: wasafiri.org

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
This year's Big Brother champion Helen Wood
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Full company in Ustinov's Studio's Bad Jews
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Harari Guido photographed Kate Bush over the course of 11 years
Music
Arts and Entertainment
Reviews have not been good for Jonathan Liebesman’s take on the much loved eighties cartoon
Film

A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend

Arts and Entertainment
Untwitterably yours: Singer Morrissey has said he doesn't have a twitter account
Music

A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album

Arts and Entertainment
Full throttle: Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Turturro in God's Pocket
film
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie Minogue is expected to return to Neighbours for thirtieth anniversary special
tv
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be Lonely Island's second Hollywood venture following their 2007 film Hot Rod
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Day-Lewis stars in the movie There Will Be Blood
music
Arts and Entertainment
Brush with greatness: the artist Norman Cornish in 1999
art
Life and Style
Stress less: relaxation techniques can help focus the mind and put problems in context
art
Arts and Entertainment

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

    It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
    Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

    Besiktas vs Arsenal

    Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

    The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

    Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment