Buchi Emecheta sets her novel in pre-colonial Nigeria under the chokehold of British colonialists. She dexterously uses flashbacks to juxtapose different time periods and their trends.
Her main character, Nnu Ego is born into a wealthy family. Her father, a chief, is a revered legend in society. Her marriage was every bit befitting of a daughter from an affluent background. Complete with the traditional pomp and fanfare.
Her fortunes however change when she is slow to conceive. Her husband marries another wife who conceives in quick succession. He’d die leaving both of them widows. Her father organizes a second marriage for her. This time, with a man in Lagos. She leaves her father’s land to begin another chapter of her journey.
To her utter disgust, she finds out that her new husband works as a domestic worker. He washes clothes for a British couple. Something deeply frowned upon in her Igbo traditions.
Buchi Emecheta deftly interrogates the pertinent issues of: polygamy, Christianity vs African traditional religions, colonialism and its effects on the African architecture and the place of women in African societies.
Why is it that the worth of a woman is hinged on a man her entire life? When she is a child, her worth is determined by who her father is. When she grows into puberty, her worth is determined by the man she gets married to. When married, her worth is determined by how many sons she can conceive.
These are the questions that Buchi Emecheta’s characters struggle to answer.
The Joys of Motherhood is a beautiful story of the African way of life by an African. It’s exhilarating, insightful and so much more.