My Thoughts: Buchi Emecheta's 'The Joys of Motherhood'

by - 17:06

I initially was going to read Chinua Achebe’s No Longer At Ease for my Iconic African Reading Challenge, but changed my mind and decided to go for Buchi Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood. It being Mother’s Day today, I think it was a fitting choice for this month.

The Joys of Motherhood is a story about the life of Nnu Ego, a Nigerian woman whose life revolves around her children. It explores what it means to be a mother in a Nigeria where traditions and customs are changing, as well as marriage, colonialism and women's roles in society. 

The Joys of Motherhood starts in 1934 Lagos where Nnu Ego is deliriously running to Carter Bridge to throw herself off. She has just lost her first son, the one who finally showed “the world that she was not barren” (62). The book then takes us back 25 years, where we meet her father and his mistress and learn how Nnu Ego was brought into this world, how she eventualy got to Lagos, and the events leading up to her attempt to commit suicide on the bridge. This book was such a joy to read that I don't want to give too much away but there were many thoughts I had while reading it.

Two quotes stood out for me in the book. One was “What greater honour is there for a woman than to be a mother” and the other was “The joy of being a mother was the joy of giving all to your children”. In The Joys of Motherhood, Nnu Ego works extremely hard to provide for her children, especially her first son, Oshia, with the hope that one day all of her suffering and sacrifice would pay off (i.e. they will come home and look after her in her old age). Even when Nigeria is changing, she sticks to her tradition and beliefs and does everything possible to be a good wife and devoted mother. In the end she ends up all alone. All I kept on thinking while reading was "Are these really the joys of motherhood?"

What was so strange to me was that despite all of that, Nnu Ego did actually find joys in motherhood. She didn’t particularly like her husband, she struggled her whole life to make ends meet, her children were sort of a disappointment – the one in “Emelika” and the one “also in the land of white men – she could never manage the name Canada" seemed to have forgotten about her, and she had never really made many friends. Even when, Adaku (her husband's inherited wife from his dead brother) reminds her that mothers cannot expect to gain happiness from only their children, she still found time to build up her joys as a mother. To her credit, she was a good mother - giving birth to so many kids and raising them well despite the hardships she faced. 

I really, really enjoyed this book and I am so glad I set myself this challenge of reading Classic African texts because if I didn’t, I would have missed out on such a wonderful novel. And to all the mother’s out there who give all to their children, especially my wonderful mother, I just want to wish you all a Happy Mother’s Day. 

5 out of 5 stars.

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