To summarize the plot of this book in one sentence – a family gathers after the father dies – is to do it a serious injustice. First, there is the delicate and devastating account of the father’s seemingly unnecessary death. This is not a spoiler. The book begins with “Kweku dies barefoot on a Sunday before sunrise, his slippers by the doorway to the bedroom like dogs” (3). The story that accumulates after that – as the four children and their mother return to Ghana for the funeral and, not coincidentally, to be all together for the first time in a long while, is beautifully told. Selasi weaves the past and present together as everyone returns to Ghana – a place Selasi seems to cherish and regret (a notion captured so well when she calls the country “indifferent and blessed”) – and is forced to confront their past, present, future and each other. That Selasi is able to evoke at least 7 characters so carefully and so well is remarkable. My heart was with each one (though I must confess that Taiwo was my favorite) as he or she took center stage in this layered and thoughtful first novel.
It can be unfair to take excerpts out of context, but I want to share one example of Selasi’s remarkable writing (132):
[H]e listened intently, the azure eyes burning with knowing that nothing was being revealed, that the facts were a coat with the truth there beneath it, bare skin to be accessed at some other time.
One more (224):
Though he couldn’t quite bear it, to lose her, he thinks, with his hands on the ache and his eyes on the fan and his brother beside him as silent as threat is.