‘she had been brought up to believe that children made a woman’
The Joys of Motherhood is 65th book to be published as part of the African Writers Series. The novel, by Buchi Emecheta, follows the life of Nnu Ego, an Igbo woman raised in Ibuza village in colonial Nigeria. The novel’s title in all its irony, does nothing more than highlight the struggle and disappointment faced by Nnu Ego in her journey of motherhood. Her role as a mother is one riddled with poverty, suffering, neglect and society’s heavy expectations.
The opening chapter places the reader in the middle of the scene, as we find Nnu Ego leaving her home and running through the streets of Lagos. The reader is immediately captivated in anticipation of discovering not only what Nnu Ego is running to, but what she is running from. The chapter leaves the reader with so many questions that we have no choice but to read on in hope of finding answers.
The main theme of the novel; as showcased through the title, is one of motherhood and the joys that women are supposed to feel at entering the bondage. As the quote above states, Nnu Ego was raised to believe that a women’s purpose is to become a mother, to carry on the blood line of her husband through the birthing of sons. Daughters in the novel are seen as extra helpers until they reach the age of puberty where they are married off and their fathers are rewarded with a hefty bride price. Mothers are not only response for raising and sacrificing themselves for their children, especially their sons, but their only joy should come from their son’s success, even when those sons leave their mother in poverty.
The novel raises important questions regarding the role of motherhood not only to Nigerian women but all women. In most modern West African countries, children are seen as the mother’s wealth, her opportunity to rise above poverty. This is why women, even those in the dire poverty in Africa, still rejoice at the birth of a child. Mothers are not taught to invest in themselves but to sacrifice themselves for their children. Men are rarely given the same burdens as they have the freedom to find joy in outside of thier offsprings, such as employment, alcohol and music.
In conclusion, I will rate this novel 4 out of 5 stars, as not only is it brilliantly written, but it shines a light on issues faced by both colonial and contemporary African women. The novel demonstrates how little has changed in regard to the expectations and pressures placed on women and the need for change. The novel was also filled with African humour that reminded me of home.
Thank you for reading.