On Family, Marriage and African Reads

Durban, June 2015

Durban North Beach, June 2015

“I never understood it before, when people said love leaves one feeling vulnerable.” (Wanner, London – Cape Town – Joburg)

One of my goals after moving to South Africa has been to read more literature set on the continent, and in particular, to understand Joburg better through reading stories about and located in the city. In October I read Onion Tears by Shubnum Khan and Riding the Samoosa Express edited by Zaheera Jina and Hasina Asvat and I spoke about my experiences reading both books on the Seriously Planning audio stories series.

“They’d loiter in the hall, outside the half-open door, giggling softly, whispering loudly to attract his attention, then peer in to see if he’d look up from reading his peer-reviewed journal, which he wouldn’t to teach them. It was a logically flawed experiment. He’d have told them if they’d asked. His devotion to his profession kept a roof over their heads. It wasn’t comparative, a contest, either/or, job v. family. That was specious American logic, dramatic, “married to a job.” How? The hours he worked were an expression of his affection, in direct proportion to his commitment to keeping them well: well educated, well traveled, well regarded by other adults. Well fed. What he wanted, and what he wasn’t as a child.” (Selasi, Ghana Must Go, p.47)

The Seriously Planning bookclub pick in November was “Ghana Must Go” by Taiye Selasi.  This novel revolves around the story of the Sais, a family in which the father Kweku dies in Ghana, several years after he abruptly leaves his family. The repercussions of his actions can be felt for years, and his departure impacts each member of the family differently. The book is about how his death brings his family together once more and our bookclub conversation revolved around the book’s ideas of family and love and masculinity and marriage and commitment and failure and cowardice. Why doesn’t Kweku as a father and husband speak openly about his fears and failures? How and why do the unspoken agreements and sacrifices of a marriage chip away at its foundation? What are the stages of love in a marriage, and if love is not enough to sustain a relationship, what ensures the success and survival of a family? Kweku’s wife Folasade gave up her dreams and goals of law school so that Kweku could pursue medicine, and the exchange of her sacrifice for his success is too much weight for their marriage to handle. When his success crumbles, he takes steps that result in their marriage crumbling as well. It was a rich and vibrant conversation, and I’m so glad we were able to discuss the book in a community space. Reading transforms when it turns from a private to a public activity, and I love the bookclub because it allows me to strengthen my own understanding of what I read through hearing the insights of others.

“Sadness, tension, absence, angst, – but fine, as she birthed them, alive if not well, in the world, fish in the water, in the condition she  delivered them (breathing and struggling) and this is enough. Perhaps not for others, Fola thinks, other mothers who pray for great fortune and fame for their young, epic romance and joy (better mothers quite likely; small, bright-smiling,hard-driving, minivan mothers), but for her who would kill, maim and die for each child but who knows that the willingness to die has its limits.
That death is indifferent.
Not she (though she seems), but her age-old opponent, her enemy, theirs, the common enemy of all mothers — death, harm to the child – which will defeat her, she knows.
But not today. (Ghana Must Go, p.100)

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