Review: ‘The Joys of Motherhood’ by Buchi Emecheta

Nnu Ego leaves her village to be with her new husband Nnaife in Lagos, after she failed to conceive with the first one. The tragedy of her first child amplifies her need to be a mother, for where she comes from, motherhood is the most honourable badge for a woman to wear. Her prayers are answered when she starts having children, but Lagos is not Ibuza and the more children one has is not quite the blessing she had anticipated.

In this wild beast of a city, having more mouths to feed means sinking deeper into the abyss of poverty. Nnu Ego’s whole life becomes defined by motherhood and wifehood, both incredibly demanding. With the impending war, the peasant life under British rule, and the weight of tradition, Nnu Ego’s circumstances don’t seem to have a chance at improving.

The Joys of Motherhood is both exquisite and devastating. I recently read Second-Class Citizen, also by Emecheta and so far, she and Mariama Bâ are the only authors who have truly impressed me with their clear depiction of motherhood and marriage, and the traditions and difficulties tethered to them. Nnu Ego is the daughter of an important person, yet there are things that are expected of her behaviour as a woman, wife and mother, that influence her decisions to stay and push through deprivation in its many forms.

The story doesn’t focus solely on the struggles of women, but with the state of the country we also get to see how men who tradition upholds as superior, become emasculated by oppression, and end up doing everything to reclaim their manhood at home. From beating their wives to taking more wives even when pockets don’t allow it. This then creates even more unfavourable conditions for women.

The value of girls is also one of the important subjects in the book and shows how considering boys more important than girls pours into different aspects of life, such as education, parenting, work, and marriage. Emecheta also shows us the loss of self, the individual, when becoming a mother and a wife.

This novel is a compelling piece of literary art, not only is it a voice for women in Nnu Ego’s time, but it does so for many Nnu Egos of today.

Must Read – Robert Sobukwe: How Can Man Die Better

In this deeply illuminating biography, Benjamin Pogrund offers the detailed life and prison journey of Robert Sobukwe, backdropped by the abominable political structure of South Africa.

The first part of the book gives a background of his life before he was involved in politics. From his early learning to his tertiary studies, he was an intelligent, hard-working, eager and disciplined student. From the moment he became involved in politics, it was evident that he had a far-reaching influence on many people and that he possessed the necessary leadership skills.

On 21 March 1960, Sobukwe led a non-violent, mass defiance of pass laws. The pass law, also called the dompas, was the ID document that the white oppressors used to control the black population. He urged everyone to leave their passes at home and go to police stations and demand to be arrested, this would stall economic activity as the blacks were the cheap labour used to facilitate the enrichment of whites. Sobukwe led the demonstration by example, which led to his arrest.

Robert Sobukwe leading the demonstration

On that day of the defiance, what was meant to be a peaceful protest against the deepening apartheid system and the grave crisis that the black population was in, things took a harrowing turn. The police used teargas, batons, then fired revolvers, rifles, pistols, and STEN guns at the marching body of people. A terrifying slaughter of men, women, and children. This is what was to be known as the Sharpeville Massacre.

Sobukwe and others were charged for inciting people to commit an offence against the law. The white government recognised Sobukwe’s strong and magnetic personality, his ability to organise, to lead, even within prison. There was an evident fear of what would happen if blacks finally stood up for themselves and so all measures were taken to arrest more political “criminals” or what they called “political terrorists”, such as Nelson Mandela.

The racial divide also existed behind the walls of prison, where black prisoners were subjected to the most inhumane, harsh, and hostile conditions. Outside the walls of prison, the apartheid system was worsening. After his three-year sentence the parliament came up with what was to be called the Sobukwe Clause, which allowed for political ‘criminals’ to continue being held indefinitely. However, this clause only applied to Robert Sobukwe.

He was moved to the maximum-security prison, Robben Island, where the clause would be applied every year for the next six years. After his release from prison, he was still placed under house arrest.

If you don’t know much about the history of South Africa, and the cruelty that black people went through, this book will give you pretty much all the knowledge.

It is a heart-breaking story, and one cannot help but admire this great hero of the country, the others who continued to fight and the white people who recognised the rot and helped.

Robert Sobukwe with friend and author, Benjamin Pogrund

It was a necessary but uncomfortable book to read, and I highly recommend that you read it.