A few months ago, we celebrated the late author Buchi Emecheta who passed last year and her significance in African literature.
As an avid reader, I had always known about Emecheta but shamefully not read a lot of her work. To right this wrong, I can now say I have finished and thoroughly enjoyed The Joys of Motherhood.
Released in 1979, Emecheta’s third published work quite literally explores the “joys” of motherhood. Set in colonial Nigeria, Nnu Ego daughter of esteemed Nwokocha Agbadi wants nothing more than to bear children (specifically sons) and raise a family….as she is expected to do. From the tragic way Nnu enters this world, Emecheta forewarns the readers that it will not be as simple as that, and we follow through Nnu’s losses, humiliations, beatings, and sorrows, as she navigates through patriarchy, Igbo customs and colonial influences.
Quite rightly, Emecheta is heralded for her critique of patriarchy and how it smothers and oppresses women. In this novel, Nnu’s initial inability to conceive (which is never seen as the husband’s fault) has detrimental effects. When Nnu eventually gives birth, her status in society is normalised, and she has fulfilled her ‘ultimate purpose in life’. Emecheta beautifully highlights the joys and happiness that comes with having a family, but also the pain, anxiety and difficulty of it all. Emecheta also delves into the power play of colonialism, and how British rule in Lagos played out alongside other areas of Nigeria that had not yet fully felt the force of the British hand.
An ironic title but The Joys of Motherhood is a stellar piece of work, nuanced, complicated and a shining example of Emecheta’s literary prowess.