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.

Review: ‘Stay With Me’ by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀

Yejide has tried all kinds of treatments to cure her barrenness. All she wants is to carry a child for her husband, and this desperation is heightened when her mother-in-law presses her son for a second wife. She finally gets pregnant, but the jubilation is short-lived when betrayal, deception, lies, and grief permeate their lives.

The relevance and significance of the subjects examined in Stay With Me are done with delicacy and skill, that the emotions experienced by the characters easily reach the reader. It is this flair for storytelling that Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ shows in the novel that makes it a book readable in a single breath. Each blow is thrown with the correct amount of strength, and just when you think that’s the capstone of the drama, another one is hurled at you.

I was thoroughly impressed by the exploration of the distasteful way that society deals with barrenness, as well as the loss of a child. The personal grief that a mother goes through which is misunderstood, carelessly handled, and brushed off with the suggestion that trying for another child will erase the loss. The in-law culture, which fascinates me, is also served in the correct measure and leaves the reader sympathising with the protagonist. I found no fault with this story and it’s definitely going on my list of favourites.

10s across the board!

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.