• Friday, October 28th, 2016

Michela Murgia was born in Cabras, on the Italian island of Sardinia, in 1972. She studied at the Lorenzo Mossa Oristano Institute for Technical Studies followed by theological studies at the Institute of Religious Studies of the Diocese of Oristano and taught religion for six years in middle and grammar school in Oristano.

Murgia was adopted as a soul-child – a traditional Sardinian adoption method – at the age of eighteen rather than the usual age of ten to fourteen, because of her natural father’s opposition.
Her third novel, Accabadora, is dedicated to her two mothers.

Michela Murgia’s Accabadora received the prestigious Campiello Prize in 2010, the Super Mondello International Literary Prize and the Molinello Award for First Fiction. It was first published in Italian in 2009, then in English in 2011 as well as being translated into several other languages. Murgia, who is an administrator at a power plant, is also a politician and writer. She has written several novels and non fiction books.

Accabadora meaning “the angel of mercy”, is the Sardinian name given to the unpaid caretaker of the dying. The story is set in the nineteen fifties – in the aftermath of two world wars – in the small village of Soreni in rural Sardinia, where the simple life and mentality of the natives seems to have endured throughout the centuries with its ingrained sense of honour, superstitions, spell casters, legends and ancestral rituals. They give Spiders maleficent powers, they immure alive puppies and crucifixes and holy statues are removed from a dying person’s bedroom.

Anna Teresa Listru, a destitute widow, who is glad to have one mouth less to feed and who also harbours some disdain towards her fourth daughter, Maria, happily accepts the well-to-do Bonaria Urrai’s offer of adoption without hesitation. Anna Teresa tells her bright daughter, Maria, that she doesn’t need education to be able to deal with what women are meant to do: wash, clean and cook.

The unmarried seamstress, Bonaria Urrai, is a “widow of a husband who had never married her”. She is now in her late fifties and ready to adopt the six-year-old girl, Maria Listru, as her “fill’e anima” (soul-child). “That is what they call children who are conceived twice, from the poverty of one woman and the sterility of another: Maria Listru became such a child, late fruit of the soul of Bonaria Urrai”. It is an old, accepted way of adoption in Sardinia which was never legal in Italy and was stopped years ago.

Tzia Bonaria looks after Maria as her own daughter with great fondness and teaches her the trade of garment-making as well as encouraging her with her school studies. Nevertheless Maria is intrigued by her soul mother’s mysterious behaviour. Why does she go out so late at night and why is she so secretive about it? The reason is that Tzia Bonaria did not want Maria to know that she is an “angel of mercy” who goes around easing other peoples’ sufferings and ending the lives of people with terminal illnesses.

The young Andría Bastíu, son of a vintner who is in love with Maria, reveals to her how Tzia Bonaria has killed his suicidal invalided and suffering elder brother, Nicola. Maria is devastated to learn the well-kept secret about her adoptive mother. Young and spirited, Maria is horrified and cannot accept this brutal, horrid practice. She takes her destiny in hand, flees her village as well as Tzia Bonaria without looking back and goes to work on the mainland for a rich family in Turin.

This experience will help Maria to mature and become more understanding and tolerant. Nevertheless, it will take some years for her to come to terms with Tzia Bonaria’s ways and forgive her for what she did. Later in the story, as fate would have it, Maria is called back from Turin to look after her dying adoptive mother. Maria faces the dilemma of whether to end Tzia Bonaria’s life as an act of mercy or continue to have her living in a permanent coma?

Accabadora is a slow novel, matching the slow pace of rural Sardinian life in the fifties. It describes the heavy weight of silence, the uncomfortable burden of the unsaid and the depth of feelings. It is a very strong, moving story addressing in its short account, serious, pertinent current topics such as adoption, parentage and the much disputed subject of euthanasia and the right to die with dignity as well as being a poignant reflection over life, death and suffering.

Tzia Bonaria carries the message of Michela Murgia whose moral is simple: to kill and free someone’s soul when hope is no longer possible and agony is relentless or coma is irreversible, is in some cases, a humane act of love and mercy.

• Saturday, October 01st, 2016

Taiye Selasi was born in London in 1979 and raised in the USA. Her Nigerian mother, currently living in Ghana, was born in England but raised in Nigeria. Her Ghanian father was born in the British colony of Gold Coast, grew-up in Ghana and now lives in Saudi Arabia.

She was brought up in Brookline, Massachusetts, the elder of twin daughters in a family of physicians: her mother is a paediatrician, her father a surgeon and her twin sister a physiatrist. Tayie obtained her BA degree in American Studies with great honour from Yale University and received an MPhil in International Relations from Oxford University.

To date Taiye Selasi has written four short stories and one novel: “Ghana Must Go” in 2013, which was a big success, has been translated to several languages and made into a film. The novel title refers to the Nigerian phrase directed at the Ghanaian refugees coming in numbers during the 1980s political turmoil in their country. In 1969 a similar situation occurred but in reverse. Due to economic depression, Ghana expelled the Nigerians working on its territory.

Taiye Selasi lives in Rome. She is a writer and a photographer.

The story of Ghana Must Go is divided into three parts: “Gone”, “Going” and “Go”. It begins with the death of the fifty-seven-year old protagonist, Kweku Sai, in his garden in Accra, Ghana, as a result of a heart attack. His second wife, the undemanding, placid Ama, is sleeping nearby unaware that her husband is dying.

Before taking his last breath and while stretched on the grass, flashbacks of Kweku’s early life surge like waves. He is full of remorse for having been a failure as a surgeon, a husband and a father and to have gone back to his native Ghana, abandoning his wife and four children in the USA several years earlier and hiding the fact from them about a wrongful and outrageously unjust dismissal from Boston hospital.

Kweku feels the loss of his pride after losing his job, despite being a skilled surgeon, as a result of betrayal by his superiors and other doctors who privately agreed that it would have been impossible to save the old lady anyway. He realises that outstanding skill doesn’t transcend race. For that reason he is used as a scapegoat in order to please and appease the hospital’s wealthy white benefactors who demanded that someone take the blame and face the consequences of “the failed surgical intervention” which led to the death of the old frail lady during her heart operation.

Kweku, the family patriarch, abandons his Nigerian wife, Folasadé Savage, to fend for herself, unaware of the implications of his irrational decision on the family. He is leaving his broken-hearted wife who once had a promising career as a law student and had to give up her studies and sell flowers in order to support her husband’s career and raise their four children: Olu, the eldest son, the twins, Taiwo and Kehinde, and the last born, Sadie.

The mother is distraught, unable to cope on her own and due to Kweku’s betrayal, the whole family is dispersed across continents with each member trying to find himself and his own path.

Olu becomes an orthopaedic surgeon and marries Ling, the Chinese-American specialised in gynaecology and obstetrics, in Las Vegas. The good-looking twins, Taiwo and Kehinde, who, when children, were mentally and emotionally scarred for life by their maternal uncle in Lagos, are struggling with their past trauma. The suicidal Kehinde becomes a successful artist. The aloof Taiwo is studying Law and is the editor of the Law Review at Colombia University. And the bulimic, discomfited Sadie, the youngest of the four and her mother’s favourite, is a student at Yale University.

The flashbacks and present events, which are viewed through a different angle according to each of the six main characters, move constantly throughout the story and are set between the USA, England and Africa. The reader follows each character and discovers the truth revealed in layers. Although the author meanders aimlessly in part one, “Gone”, the two other parts: “Going” and “Go” are more focused, delivering the main theme of the novel, being the trials and tribulations of the Sai family.

Kweku’s death reunites the fragmented family after so many years of separation. His wife and four children are all gathered under the same roof in their mother’s home in Ghana for the funeral. So many years have past and now comes the time of reckoning to heal and clear the unspoken feelings, thoughts and hopes.

Ghana Must Go is a touching story depicting how emotional, irrational decisions in a patriarchal family can affect the whole family’s life. It is also about the shame that follows failure which subsequently leads to forlornness.

The author deals with several themes in her novel: the immigration problem, the patriarchal society structure, the intermarriage issue which affects children who often spend their life searching for identity and feeling stateless, especially by being uprooted. The author also depicts the strong blood ties, racism, loneliness, the intricacies in family relationships and how childhood experience affects adult life, as well as strongly illustrating the complexity of the human psyche.