Family sagas generally start with a joyous birth—or, as in the case of Taiye Selasi's debut novel, an unexpected death. When 53-year-old Kweku Sai keels over from a heart attack in his elegant backyard garden, the news quickly travels all the way from Ghana to America, wreaking havoc on his estranged adult children. More than a decade earlier, while living in Boston as a respected surgeon, Kweku abandoned Olu, Taiwo, Kehinde, Sadie and their mother without a word. Remarkably, the four Sai kids thrived, at least according to external markers: one is now a doctor, another a famous artist. All attended Ivy League colleges and prestigious prep schools on scholarships. But the loneliness underneath their collective glossy success is where this story comes to life. Selasi understands not only how to describe a character (take, for example, Kweku's carpenter with "cataracts glowing bluish like the bellies of candle flames"), but also how to create complex, conflicted inner lives that can range from the self-loathing of a young college bulimic to the delusions of a drug-addled Nigerian warlord. She expands the story from the history of one family to a larger meditation on immigration and the fallout when anyone is forced to flee their home. In the Sais' case, both parents had to leave Africa for America, while their children—in different ways and at different times—had to leave America for Africa. This is a different kind of refugee story, one in which the players are polished, beautiful and educated, but ultimately at war with their own broken selves. How—and will—they ultimately move on? That's the stuff of an unforgettable epic novel.
— Leigh Newman
Printed from Oprah.com on Wednesday, December 11, 2013