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.

Swallow: Efunsetan Aniwura

By Ayodele Olofintude

The story follows the lives of two women, Efunsetan and Efunporonye, who after almost getting married go their separate ways and take us on a fascinating reimagination of Yoruba history and culture. Swallow is centred on queer characters and powerful women, who hold their own in a male-dominated world, during the colonial period.

These are women who oversaw their own lives, their financial affairs, commanding, and leading. Through this story we learn about these two figures, who did in fact, exist in real life. They may have made enemies along the way, but they still managed to own their power persistently, and fearlessly.

An inspiring and illuminating read, and I cannot wait for the next book of the series.

Review: ‘Yinka, Where is Your Huzband?’ by Lizzie Damilola Blackburn

Yinka is thirty-one and single. She must find a husband – a prayer that sits on the lips of her mother and her aunties. Things in the dating world aren’t going too well for her; an engaged ex-boyfriend who broke her heart, her aunt’s set-up and a match from an online dating site. With her cousin’s wedding coming she sets out to find a date for the special day but just about everything seems to be working against her. In the end, is it a man she must find or is it herself?

What is a ‘huzband’?

I’m pretty sure a lot of women who have entered their thirties single will enjoy this book as Yinka’s story can easily be their story. The rules that society has made that once women reach their late twenties, if they’re not getting married or showing signs, they ought to be ashamed of themselves.

“You’re not getting any younger,” is always the number one threat. Blackburn has written a story which resonates with so many of the absolutely high standards that society has set for women, and Yinka, undoubtedly, typifies the penalty for not meeting these standards.

Although physically on the large side, it is a light read, in terms of how simple and comprehensible it is. It’s also humorous and most of the characters are easily relatable. It’s worth a read.