Book review: Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi

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SALMAN Rushdie apparently loves it. So does Toni Morrison.

Ghana Must Go

Taiye Selasi

Viking, £14.99

Penelope Lively thinks it’s “most impressive”, while Anna Funder, author of Stasiland, says on the cover that if you read ­Ghana Must Go “you will feel what great literature can do”.

Taiye Selasi’s debut novel comes preceded by thick clouds of hype – though not so thick as to obscure the fact that Selasi herself is strikingly photogenic. It’s not hard to see what all the fuss is about. Here’s a book that ticks almost every box on a literary publisher’s wish-list: being about immigration – and emigration – cultural displacement, love, death and racism.

From its opening scene, in which a Ghanaian surgeon, Kwaku Sai, drops dead of a heart attack in his garden aged 57, it’s clear that Selasi has some big gifts at her disposal. This is a novel full of vivid sensory impressions and arresting images: a man’s face is described as being “watercoloured by the moon”, while a pair of slippers is “like leather pets with separation issues”.

But if that’s the good news, there’s quite a lot of bad to balance it. Frequently exuberance gives way to wild overwriting. The design of Kwaku’s house is described as appearing to him “in an instant like a fertilised zygote spinning inexplicably out of darkness in possession of an entire genetic code”.

This by any standards is twaddle, and the novel throughout seesaws infuriatingly between passages of great beauty and others that come drenched in lurid hues of purple. “The sun has stopped playing demure and come forward” made me feel distinctly queasy, while Selasi’s de­scription of the ocean as being “unambitious” still has me scratching my head.

Having threatened to lose coherence altogether at one point, Selasi’s narrative hauls itself back on track for a moving – and very delicately handled – finale. So, if you read Ghana Must Go, will you really feel what great literature can do? Not really, no. You will, however, have had glimpses of what a substantial talent is ­capable of if only she can learn to keep her excesses in check.