Looking to the Past to Move Forward

Grief is mind-shattering—the pain of it is unimaginable, and the only people who can understand it are those who are in the midst of grief with you. Grief is overwhelming, and the initial shock and rawness of pain often leaves its victim stupefied. Both these aspects of grief—its rawness and its ability to turn the world upside-down—can be seen in Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go. Yet, despite its disorientating nature, grief in Ghana Must Go allows for a broken family to reunite, and forces them to glue the fragments of their shattered worlds back together, as it forces the family to relate to one another. Not a single member of the family, or in general those who experience grief, are initially capable of being articulate or objective in their attempts to comprehend their loss. The inarticulate and incomprehensive mentality of grief often moves in circular and repetitive, fleeting thoughts—similar to the fragmented sentences of Ghana Must Go. It is thus through Selasi’s use of short, fragmented sentences, and her circular progression throughout the narrative, where the nature of grief is expressed, and it becomes evident that it is, in fact, their grief which enables this family to once again come together.

The family in Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go is all but destroyed, where one crack caused a splintering, which resulted in a full break in their familial bond. The text reads like individual streams of consciousness of its various characters, and the often used brief, list-like sentences are demonstrative of the characters’ confusion and attempts to grapple with their grief. One such example is within Olu’s constant repetition of how and why his father dies. He constantly reimagines it, “dead in a garden of cardiac arrest, basic coronary thrombosis, easy peasy, act fast, Kweku Sai, prodigal prodigy, a phenom, a failure” (Selasi 114). For Olu, time stopped the second he found that his father had died. He begins to move backwards in time, rethinking over past times with his father, using the facts in a list-like format, trying to comprehend the finality of the death he was absent for. For Selasi, using this repetition of how the death occurred and who it was who died, communicates the shear bewilderment of death that comes in grief.

Olu is not the only one who demonstrates this short, fragmented stream of repetitive consciousness, Taiwo, his sister, does as well. On reflection Taiwo thinks back to how her mother told stories of her father after he left them. She thinks “…short stories of snow, until they both fell asleep. Until the man was erased—from their stories and so their childhoods (which only existed as stories…) Not dead. Never dead. They never wished the man dead or pretended he was dead” (Selasi 38-39). Again it is in this repetition of the word “dead” and the short, broken explanations are Taiwo’s own attempts at making the intangibility of death somewhat tangible. It is through these brief, listed thoughts that Selasi is able to convey the pain of grief and the utter confusion it brings.

The family’s learning of Kweku’s sudden, unexpected passing forces them back into a world that they had long forgotten. Moreover, even as each family member has gone in their own direction, it is the grief and its chaos that enables them to reconnect. Selasi’s ability to convey the confusion of grief through a circular progression of thoughts and memories, through short, fragmented sentences is both reflective of grief, and demonstrative of a broken family attempting to reconnect. It is through their memories that they can do this, though. Thus, in the unfamiliarity of grief, which looks to the past to move forward, the family is able to relate solely in grief, ultimately allowing them to renew a bond that had been all but lost.

 

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Works Cited

Selasi, Taiye. Ghana Must Go. New York: Penguin Books, 2014.