The Joys of Motherhood is one of the books I am ashamed to admit that I read so late. But as they say, it is better late than never. Let me begin by saying I really love how Buchi Emecheta paints the plight of an average woman, telling our stories in perfectly cut-out molds of diverse but authentic female characters. She began from the strong-willed Ona to the ambitious Adaku and capped it with Nnu Ego whose only aspiration left her feeling empty and lonely in her final days on earth. Buchi gives the readers multiple lenses with which to examine womanhood and the anomalies which have cleverly adorned themselves in cultural attires of normalcy.

The novel is about love, family, African traditional religion, and their effect on women. The book opens with introducing Nnu Ego’s mother, Ona, a strong-willed woman who managed to hold Agbadi’s interest till her death. No single woman ever succeeded in doing so, before or after her. It was strange that a man who had several wives and so many other women at his beck and call could be so helplessly in love with a woman who did not let an opportunity to spite him pass. Agbadi would also not relent even though he knew, Ona who was her father’s only child could not be married off because she had to preserve her father’s lineage by bearing out-of-wedlock sons who will take up her father’s name. Turns out that Agbadi is involved in a hunting accident and the “stone-hearted” Ona volunteered to nurse him to wellness. She saw to his needs in the day and slept on a mat by him, at night.

Then came that one night of passion and the love child, Nnu Ego, arrived nine months after. Taking Ona’s beauty but returning with a chi who was a slave girl. The very slave girl that was killed and buried alongside Agbadi’s senior wife who was believed to have died of the emotional pain of being at earshot while Agbadi pleasured his mistress.

Nnu Ego grew up to be a woman who desired motherhood above everything else. This desire grew intense when childlessness ended her first marriage. And when she was bundled and sent off to another husband, Nabuife, in Lagos, she could not believe the miracle when the ugly man, made her a mother of many children.

Ironically, a woman who barely had enough room for all her children died a lonely and unhappy woman in a small shed in Ibuza. Her children had gone on to start their own lives and pursue their own dreams but sadly, Nnu Ego had no other dream to live for.

Buchi Emecheta’s books have been described by some literary critics as “unputdownable” and I must admit that it is not far from the truth. As I read this novel, I usually felt unhappy if I had to pause and go see to some chores or whatever. When Ngozi, Nnu Ego’s first son died, for instance, I felt it so strongly, like I had suffered the loss with Nnu Ego and her husband, Nabuife. The simple and carefree manner with which Buchi embroiders her story with the woes, struggles, and wonders of women via multiple standpoints in a coordinated yet chaotic manner is simply impressive.

It is not out of place to say that The Joys of Motherhood is a book that is so ‘old’, yet so full of lessons for contemporary women, some of whom are still trapped in cultural myths biting hard on the neck of their ambitions. Some of whom, still believe they are unfortunate because they keep having female babies. And those who believe that they must have a man in their lives to validate their humanity.

The rather melancholic end of Nnu Ego laid bare the need for women to live for more than aspiring only to motherhood, housekeeper duties, and the likes. Through this story, Buchi seems to ask the conservative/traditional woman’s most dreaded question, “when the kids are grown and gone, what else will you be living for?”

The Joys of Motherhood is such an interesting book; funny and sad at the same time. You will fall in love with the characters and enjoy the journey through this novel.

Read more book reviews here