The Joys of Motherhood
by Buchi Emecheta
This is the story of Nnu Ego who was unlucky enough to be born at the cusp of two cultures. Her life spans the early years of the twentieth century when Nigeria was becoming increasingly urbanised and, in the process, abandoning the ancient mores of its society. Her tragedy lies in her hopeless reliance on the values of a culture that is completely at odds with existence in the new town of Lagos. A chief's daughter, she is sold to a man in the town and, after four days of travel, she arrives to find, to her complete mortification, that her new husband earns his living by washing the underwear of an old white woman.
Written from Nnu Ego's narrow point of view, the narrative becomes an almost real-time chronicle of her experience. This provides an extraordinary insight into a society where a woman's value is measured by the number of sons she can produce to ensure her husband's immortality. And where a man, berated by his wife for drinking away the family's food money, can say, without a hint of irony, "I sleep with you, don't I? What more can a woman want?"
This is one of those books that open out the world to you by showing it from a completely different perspective. In the same way that the title is ambiguous, so the novel, while condemning the role of women, also mourns the passing of a culture where old people are venerated and a society where people care for each other. Nnu Ego despises her flabby 'washerwoman' of a husband and one can't help but feel for her when she complains that the men in Lagos do not 'have time to sit and admire their wives' tattoos, let alone tell them tales of animals nestling in the forests, like the village husband who might lure a favourite wife into the farm to make love to her with only the sky as their shelter, or bathe in the same stream with her, scrubbing one another's backs.'
The Joys of Motherhood is an absorbing, but terribly sad, novel, and sure to provoke lively discussion in a group.
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