Discovering What It Means to Be a Woman in Aiwanose Odafen’s Remarkable Novel, ‘Tomorrow I Become a Woman’

My first lesson on the Biafran War was from Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The war took place from 1967 to 1970, with millions of lives lost and damaged, and so many people had to start over with very little to nothing. In Tomorrow I Become a Woman, the main characters’ story begins less than a decade after the war, the wounds still fresh and the state of the country in shambles.

From the moment she sees and hears the charming Gozie at church, Uju is smitten. However, despite the uneasy feeling she has when he asks for her hand just a few months later, she agrees to marry him. Besides, he’s handsome, he’s educated, Christian, Igbo, and there’s something about him that reminds her of her favourite uncle who disappeared during the war. She can finally become a proper woman and make her mother happy.

Almost all the distorted ideas about what it means to be a woman that you’ve ever heard of are laid bare in this story. The many traditions and beliefs constructed to uphold misogynistic values are found in the everyday lives of the women in this book. Odafen’s writing confronts many of the realities of the female experience in African society, and all the related uncomfortable and ugly truths are displayed in their naked form for us to face.

There is that rotten system of raising girls according to how they will serve men, an early preparation for wifehood and motherhood. We also see how it’s not just men who expect, in fact demand, this servile obedience but also the role of mothers as what Mona Eltahawy calls ‘foot soldiers of patriarchy’. Abused wives who are reprimanded for provoking their husbands with disobedience. The glorification of the boy child. The role of religion in subjugating women. Phew! There’s a lot that happens in Uju’s life that will make the reader uncomfortable and furious, in a very necessary way.

An extraordinary story that takes the social elements and showing how they seep into the individual’s life, through both lenses of the feminine and the masculine. There are so many other themes in this exceptional novel that if I continue, I’ll just end up giving everything away. So, go ahead and read it, you will be wonderfully pissed.

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Autodidact & Bibliophile

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