The bonds of love, loss and misunderstanding connecting an African family are exhaustively dissected in a convoluted first novel.
The death of Kweku Sai, a noted surgeon, in the garden of his home in Accra, Ghana, on page one is followed by an impressionistic account of his life—glimpses of childhood and parenthood, moments of shame and bad decisions, regrets, ironies and final thoughts. One central event was the breakup of Kweku’s marriage to Fola and separation from his four children: Olu, twins Taiwo and Kehinde and youngest Sadie. The remainder of the book follows the impact of the patriarch’s death on this group, which assembles for the funeral. Olu, now half of a Boston-based “golden couple,” doesn’t believe in family. Taiwo is still in therapy after her high-profile student affair with the dean of law. Artist Kehinde, hiding in Brooklyn, yearns shamefully for his sister. And anxious Sadie is bulimic and withdrawn. This complicated cast is matched by Selasi’s taste for fragmented, overloaded sentences: “That still farther, past ‘free,’ there lay ‘loved,’ in her laughter, lay ‘home’ in her touch, in the soft of her Afro?” More secrets, wounds and identity crises are rehashed in Africa, until the scattering of the ashes restores some unity.
Introverted, clotted, short of narrative drive and, above all, unconvincing, this sensitive but obsessive family anatomization will test the patience of many readers.