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.

Revealing Racist, Misogynistic and Xenophobic Oppression in Buchi Emecheta’s ‘Second-Class Citizen’

“Father does not approve of women going to the UK. But you see, you will pay for me…”

Francis

From when she was a young girl, Adah’s dream was always to leave Lagos for the greener pastures of the United Kingdom. The decisions she’s made throughout her life have been in concert with this dream, and some of these decisions intensely difficult.

When she arrives in London, her hopes for the life she had always imagined are shattered. She meets the reality of what it means to be black in a white world, a black immigrant, and a woman at that. The husband she had known back in Nigeria has been replaced by a stranger. Adah must navigate through all these difficulties; the increasing number of children and raising them, providing for the family, and the deterioration in her marriage.

Although Adah finally get a good job in Nigeria, migrating to Europe was always a fantasy painted by the stories of those who had gone to pursue opportunities there. Despite being financially independent and being the provider for her family, her wants and needs to go to the land of her dreams must take a back seat to give priority to her husband’s plans.

The tyrannical nature of her marriage is a major theme, worsening at every turn. Parenthood and its roles based on gender is another interesting topic. The arrangement of duties is appallingly lopsided, that even though she provides for the household, almost all duties regarding the children are mainly hers. Emecheta pulls us towards the extent of male privilege and domination, and the normalcy they’re afforded.   

Second-Class Citizen is a splendid piece of feminist literature. Each character, especially the protagonist, is so well-developed that their contribution to the story brings out the intended piece of the plot to the stage. Each character understood the assignment.

The title itself is appropriate for the story; it encapsulates the crucial thread that runs through the whole novel. It’s a realistic novel, reflecting society at that time and also relevant to the present.

Through all the adversities our main character faces, there is much to admire about her. Read about these qualities in the previous character-focus post.

Chimeka Garricks Tugs at Our Heartstrings with ‘A Broken People’s Playlist’

“The boy would die, not understanding his death was a grim godsend to this police anti-robbery team – another chance to stat-pad the number of robberies they claimed to have solved.”

In The City

If you’ve heard any of the songs that inspired the short stories in this collection, you’ll appreciate the depth of their stories even more. However, you don’t need the music to realise the power in the stories.

As a die-hard Nina Simone fan, the sixth story I Put a Spell on You stood out for me from the list and that was the one I read first. It wasn’t just the story itself I found hilarious and captivating, but the language itself, characters throwing in pidgin English, had me falling about.

If you start with the funniest one like I did, you’ll see how some of the stories become more of tearing up than knee-slapping. In a beautiful way, though. When Garrick writes about loss, he knows how to include the reader in that moment of grief. When he writes about corruption, he creates a vivid image of those illicit exchanges.

A best friend lost in the chaos of confras, a true love lost on his way to officially be with the love of his life. When the black sheep of the family doesn’t have long to live and throws a living funeral, his brother and ex-wife take us with them through their turbulent emotions.

The stories bring the everyday stories of Nigeria to life, raw, tender, and blatant. It’s short, with only twelve stories and like me, you will gobble it down in a single day (night) like I did. You’ll have the stories stuck in your head like your favourite songs.