Years ago, a close friend of mine was cleaning out her books and let me have this one. Up until that point, I had read very few books by Nigerian novelists and none by female Nigerian novelists. I don't know why it had never occurred to me but I was happy to be introduced to that world by Buchi Emecheta through the novel The Joys of Motherhood.
Nnu Ego, the main character, goes from being in an ideal marriage (to an ideal man, in an ideal setting, surrounded by both material and "people" wealth) that unfortunately does not lead to any children to being in a situation she could never have imagined (to an overweight, domestic servant who she does not respect in an urban setting totally different than any thing has ever known and abject poverty) that does lead to many children. Too many children. Children that Nnu Ego regards as blessings though we as the reader cannot agree. The more children she has, the more difficult her life becomes. However, she is locked into a very traditional view that she can't shake: that motherhood is what makes a woman and is therefore main goal in life. Once one has children, everything becomes more bearable; you can put up with any kind of nonsense. Even when in reality, children often times complicate things and make it more difficult to bear things. Here's a more detailed synopsis of the plot. I am always haunted by how the book ends. It is, to me, quite profound.
I have read The Joys of Motherhood a few times now and each time I grow to appreciate this book more deeply. Emecheta is a talented and brilliant writer and it is a joy to read any of her work but this particular book stands out to me. It is such a great story. And though at times Emecheta can become a bit heavy handed with the lesson she is trying to convey, the greatness of her storytelling never gets lost. For me, that means that through the vehicle of a wonderful story, I am encouraged to sort out all kinds of issues surrounding my ideas of motherhood and how they have been influenced by the society I've grown up in and also (surprisingly and to a great extent) the society my mother grew up in. After all, many of us take our first lessons on motherhood (and on wife-dom) from our mothers. But there are so many other issues Emecheta tackles in this novel: ideas of manhood, criticisms of colonialism, analysis of what happens when colonialism and traditionalism collide, what children owe parents, the place of education and so much more.
Anyway, it's wonderful to read stories from folks who have the same kind of cultural references. It's fun to read in print sayings that you've heard over and over or interesting to have ways of thinking/traditions questioned and explored. I also find it so ironic that Ms. Emecheta has five children of her own! It just elevates the irony of the title to a whole new level. Hilarious!