It's been a while since the announcement of the publication of a much-anticipated debut novel from what publicists insist on branding The Next Big Thing. But finally, amid a rallying fanfare and thick column inches of media hype, it has arrived. Taiye Selasi's Ghana Must Go was reportedly taken up by the literary agent supremo Andrew "The Jackal" Wylie and sold to Penguin on the strength of its first 100 or so pages, plus synopsis.
Wylie's clout would have been enough to broker the deal, but plaudits from his protégé Salman Rushdie, together with Toni Morrison's role as Selasi's mentor, may well have helped swing it.
In an age in which authors are as much a commodity as their books, it also can't hurt that Selasi has all the right credentials: young, smart, attractive, and with an acclaimed Granta short story, The Sex Lives of African Girls, already under her belt. Now all eyes are on her: can she deliver with her first full-length work of fiction?
In part one we are in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, where Kweku Sai is dying of a heart attack in his own garden. Selasi unspools, taking Kweku back to recount the milestones of his life and introduce each member of his family. We flit from delivery rooms to deathbeds, from homes in Brookline and Boston to Kweku's simple one-storey compound in Ghana with his second wife, Ama. Comic interludes brush shoulders with tragic downturns. One moment - and in a witty scene that could have been skimmed from VS Naipaul's A House for Mr Biswas - Kweku relives his frustration with the joint-smoking carpenter commissioned to build his house but who refuses to harm trees ("For chrissake, you're a carpenter. You work with harmed trees"); the next he recalls being fired in the US, no longer "an exceptional surgeon" but a disgraced one. His shame has consequences; the same day he walks out on his family and doesn't return.
It is a promising beginning and a neat trick: potted histories of the book's cast filtered to us through a character on the brink of death and so seeing his life flashing before him.
Part two opens with the news of Kweku's death and the ensuing fallout. We catch up with the rest of the family, picking up in places where Kweku's recollections left off. Ex-wife Fola has made a new start for herself in Ghana. In contrast, all the children have settled in America. Olu, the eldest, has followed in his father's footsteps and is now a surgeon and married to Ling - the pair of them "a study in contrasts, their photos like print ads for Benetton". Taiwo is lying low, still smarting from the public scandal of her affair with the dean of Columbia Law School, while her twin brother, Kehinde, also craving self-exile, is an art-world it-boy holed up in a Brooklyn warehouse. Student Sadie is less affected by the death of a father she barely knew and more concerned about being separated from her best friend Philae to decamp to Ghana with her siblings for the funeral. Unlike Philae's family, which is "a solid thing, weighted", Sadie's is "weightless, the Sais, scattered five-some, a family without gravity, completely unbound".
Part two sounds more linear in its narrative structure than the flashbacks on show in part one, but in fact it is just as jerky. Selasi tugs the reader this way and that, as keen to map her characters' pasts as chart their presents. There is no letting up with this approach in part three, and perhaps necessarily so, for although the family has reassembled in Ghana for the funeral, Selasi must reveal what caused them to disperse in the first place, and this can only be done by plundering the past and exhuming skeletons from closets.