Happy International Women’s Day! Ah! How are you marking this Day for International Peace and celebrating Women’s Rights? Let’s talk about a brilliant book shall we?
Buchi Emecheta is a writer who I accidentally stumbled upon, literally, while browsing for a pair of sneakers on Amazon. First of all and I’m obsessed with books. Let us just get that out of the way. Naturally, I clicked on the reviews of people who had already bought and read the book and within ten minutes, I had received my confirmation email from Amazon that my order would be delivered in two days or less.
I am not sure what I was expecting from reading this book. I am a bit skeptical of reading or watching anything that was published in the pre eighties era. (Star Wars et al.) However, Chinua Achebe’s brilliance in books such as ‘Things Fall Apart’ caution me from judging a book by its date of publication. That caution does me well, as it does in this exceptional book.
The Joys of Motherhood elegantly narrates that internal clash of a woman born precolonial era in Nigeria. Nnu Ego, the heroine of the story is a lady who, simply put, tries to work best with what her reality presents her. The story is set in the pre-colonial era in Nigeria so naturally, there is lots of discussion on: patriarchy and its impacts on its people, the introduction of education, the perceptions that both the colonialists and the Africans who were already comfortable in their cultures and ways of life had. Nnu Ego’s birth is almost accidental but hardly inevitable. She is born to a mother whose loyalty is split between her father and a husband proud of his polygamous nature. She is a special child, as we all are, naturally. However, her existence is marred by cultural beliefs that intertwine the ideas of reincarnation, spirituality and a sense of freedom to make her choices; a freedom that has yet to be coined as feminism. The simplicity of the book is disarming and powerful. It is easy to relate to Nnu Ego. All she wants is to be happy and to make her father happy and proud of her. She wants to be a mother. She becomes a mother. She looses her child. She becomes a mother again. She wants to protect her children, she wants to be there for them. Life throws all of this on her, while going through the change of an absent husband, what colonialism must have brought in Lagos and her strong loyalty to her father. All this while trying to give her children what she believes will be their ticket out of poverty; an education. I have to say, as soon as I finished reading this book, I called my mother and flooded her with gratitude for being there for my siblings and I. (Pretty sure she now thinks I’m pregnant. That’s okay…..I guess)
It is easy to romanticize poverty. That idea of two people who are fully committed to each other can go against all odds and make ends meet when they can barely make ends meet? Yeah….The author of this book, however, powerfully and bluntly tells the harsh reality of single motherhood in a patriarchal society. Nnu Ego is not a victim in this story and her character makes sure that you as a reader have very little empathy for her and much deserved admiration.
I have to add, it is quite interesting how, in a lot of African literature, there are always subtle clashes and a sense of superiority between certain communities. In this case, it is the Yoruba and the Igbo. The cover itself is quite catchy, depending on which edition of the book you have or have laid your eyes on. A mother carefully holding her baby without directly staring at you, the person looking at her (or the photographer in this case). Maybe I am overthinking that little detail but as I read the book, I quickly discovered that that image holds a much deeper meaning. She wants to protect her children?
It is easy to overlook how connected the topics of women and violence are. I am always in constant awe of how women, right from the vulnerability of their childhood are often used as weapons in war. Everyday, I log on to twitter and I just nauseate at the reports on gender violence. It’s not just the typical wars where tribes and communities rise against each other. Emecheta writes on the most basic life setting:a home where men reduced the value of their women to ‘how many sons they have’ or ‘she should be physically punished by her husband for disobeying him’. Now I know that we are making huge strides as a society, which is really impressive. However, it is easy to get carried away with celebrating why and how far we have come. Really though, we have a lot to do as far as battling gender based violence is concerned.. It is easy to think ‘well this cannot surely be happening in this day and age’. Ha! You’d be surprised.
Buchi Emecheta, I am officially one of your biggest fans.