I picked up this book because it is listed in the reading material for the MIT Open Course Ware‘s class, Gender, Power and International Development. I am slowly working through this course and would love to hear from anyone else who has gone through it, either on campus or online.
From the inside flap:
“After a childless first marriage Nnu Ego, the daughter of a Nigerian chief, is sent from her village to Lagos to marry Nnaife Owulum who works as a laundry man for an English couple. Nnaife is a weak man and the adjustment to urban living is a painful one for Nnu Ego. Her life becomes an unceasing struggle to maintain her family. Through periods of extreme hardship and deprivation, amid more intense by Nnaife’s absence during WWII, Nnu Ego is sustained by the bright future she anticipates for her children when they will be able to support her. However, the traditions she has fought to uphold and the family ties she has always honored are but an anachronism for her children:Nnu Ego is forced to live out her days alone.
‘The Joys of Motherhood’ is more than just a story of Nnu Ego and her family, however. We see Nigeria as it tries to catch up with the twentieth century, a Nigeria rocked by colonialism, WWII, and the general encroachment of the modern western world on a traditional African one. [It] has a startling immediacy and an ominous significance for us all.”
I found this to be a very interesting and enlightening read. There are many books that will give you an idea of what colonialism looked like in Africa, but this gives a rare, on the ground, inside look from a woman’s perspective. Nnu Ego is fiercely fighting to preserve her culture- not because she has some psychic ability to see into the future and recognize the necessity of preservation. She does it because that is what she knows. Many books set in colonial times present characters with an unusually astute sense of what is happening to their countries and cultures. But this rare insight is really just a result of the author’s benefit of hindsight. Buchi Emecheta artfully avoids this anachronism – her characters react to what is happening to them and their society based on what they know, not on what WE know. The result is a very real look at how it was to live in this time and culture.
This novel also give one a very interesting look at gender issues- both for men and women. In Nnu Ego’s hometown of Ibuza, polygamy is the norm and a woman’s worth is directly related to her ability to bear children. These customs are obviously confining and Nnu Ego struggles with them throughout her life. But the men are also bound by their cultural expectations and changes that colonialism and independence bring further complicate these gender roles.
The Joys of Motherhood is an excellent introduction to Nigerian cultural and politics. Of course, the land of 250 languages can’t be summed up by one woman’s experience, but this is a good start. It has certainly peaked a curiosity in me to learn more about Nigerian history, cultures and politics, and I already have a stack of books to go through. Nigeria’s problems continue today and understanding the history will only help one understand the current issues. I look forward to learning more. I highly recommend this book, and I’d wager that if you read it, your interest in Nigeria will be peaked as well.