Monday, June 08, 2015

Some passages from "Ghana Must Go" by @taiyeselasi #QotD

2015.05.26-DSC01392Ghana Must Go: A Novel  (2013) by Taiye Selasi
NY Times Review | The Guardian Review

A quite brilliant first novel. I was looking for books set in Ghana before my recent trip there and came across this work. Masterful handling of a complex plot and a large cast of characters. Finishing the book on the plane on my way to Accra, the sights and sounds of the city were like memories after reading Selasi's descriptions (I might also add being familiar with the locations she describes in Boston, she's quite good at that also).

My thoughts go out to the people of Ghana who have been affected by the recent floods and terrible petrol station explosion.

* * * * *

The humidity welcomed him back, open arms. He stood still for some moments, obliging the hug. Then hired a taxi to take him to Jamestown—the oldest part of Accra and the smelliest by far, a fetid seaside slum of corrugated tin-and-cardboard shanties in the shadow of the country’s former Presidential Palace—where, braving the stink (re-dried sweat, rotting fish), he inquired in rusty Ga about a carpenter

He had never hired a Ghanaian to do anything (or anything aesthetic) without that Ghanaian reinterpreting his instructions somehow. “No starch on my shirts, please,” and the launderer would starch them, insisting, unrepentant, “It’s better this way.” Or “paint the doors white,” and Kofi painted them blue. “Sa, is nice, oh, too nice,” with the indefatigable smile

IMG_20150526_135402289 A garden. Everything lush, soft, too verdant, nothing orderly or sterile, jagged love grass and fan palms the size of a child and scattered-around banana plants like palm trees without trunks and hibiscus on bushes and gloriosa in flames and those magenta-pink blossoms (Kweku can never remember their names) flowering wildly on crawlers overgrowing the gate. A commotion of color. Rebel uprising of green. “And a fountain here,” Mr. Lamptey concluded

Then Ghana, and the smell of Ghana, a contradiction, a cracked clay pot: the smell of dryness, wetness, both, the damp of earth and dry of dust. The airport. Bodies pushing, pulling, shouting, begging, touching, breathing. He’d forgotten the bodies. The proximity of bodies. In America the bodies were distant. The warmth of it. Pushing through the jostling throng, warm bodies, clutching Fola’s arm while Fola clutched the baby, leading his squadron on to the taxi rank. “Your purse!” he called over his shoulder. “Be careful! This is Ghana.”

“You’re not Asian. Wait. Why are you here? Do you play a stringed instrument? Excel in mathematics? Attend a kind of cult-like Korean-American Christian church?”
There are the standard things, African things, the hawkers on the roadside, the color of the buildings the same faded beige as the air and the foliage, the bright printed fabrics, the never-finished construction sites (condos, hotels) giving the whole thing the feel of a home being remodeled in perpetuity, midproject, the men gone to lunch, the new paint already chipping and fading in the sunshine as if it never really mattered what color it was, stacked-up concrete blocks soldiers awaiting their orders, steel, sleeping machinery interrupting the green. This is familiar.

... she worried about favoring or spoiling the child, or confusing her, leading her to believe that the world was less patently apathetic than it actually was.

Sena had his own tragic tale to unburden: of expulsion from Lagos under “Ghana Must Go,” winter 1983, with the Nigerian government’s summarily deporting two million Ghanaians;

Ga people believe that a coffin should be a reflection of the life of the person inside it. So a fisherman’s coffin might be shaped like a fish or a carpenter’s shaped like a hammer, I guess, or a woman who likes shoes, in the shape of a shoe.

The only illumination is bright whitish sunlight thrown in from the door to the rough slatted floor. Even so, eyes adjusting, Kehinde makes out the coffins that hang more like boats from the beams overhead: one a car, one a fish, one a rose by the look of it, absurd in one sense, wild, fantastic in another. The idea of it. Coffins in shapes, like kids’ birthday cakes, celebratory, colorful, laughing at death.

Really, he was terrified of endings. He couldn’t understand how people loved, then didn’t love. Loved, then stopped loving. As a heart just stops beating. (Of course he knew how, but he couldn’t see why.)

“the only point of a relationship is to play out, in miniature, the whole blasted drama of life and of death. Love is born as a child is born. Love grows up as a child grows up. A man knows well that he must die, but having only known life does not believe in his death. Then, one day, his love goes cold. Its heart stops beating. The love drops dead. In this way, the man learns that death is reality: that death can exist in his being, his own. The loss of a pet or a rose or a parent may cause the man pain but will not make the point. Death must take place in the heart to be believed in. After love dies man believes in his death.”

You say ‘Asia, ancient China, ancient India,’ and everyone thinks ooh, ancient wisdom of the East. You say ‘ancient Africa,’ and everyone thinks irrelevant. Dusty and irrelevant. Lost. No one gives a shit.

“We did what we knew. It was what we knew. Leaving.”


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