Title: The Joys of Motherhood
Author: Buchi Emecheta
Published by: Pearson Education Limited (Heinemann African Writers Series)
Year of Publication: 2008; First Published: 1979
Genre: Women’s Fiction
The Joys of Motherhood tells the moving story of Nnu Ego, a West African Woman devoted to her children, giving them all her life – with the result that she finds herself friendless and alone in middle age. The Joys of Motherhood is a powerful commentary on polygamy, patriarchy and women’s changing roles in urban Nigeria.
I attended a women’s conference once where a topic of discussion was the dangers of mothers losing themselves in the upbringing of their children, how this same children will end up looking to outsiders for motivation and inspiration when you, the mother, have failed to make yourself a role model.That talk kept coming back to me over and over as I was reading this book.
Nnu Ego is a woman enslaved by the roles she has to play, a good daughter, a good wife, good sister, good mother… There is no consideration for personal aspirations or desires, all actions and inactions have to be for the good of the family, the community and most important, her children. The world may be going to crap around her but as long as she is popping out babies, whether she can afford them or not, her life still has purpose.
This story takes us through Nnu Ego’s journey from a young, sweet, wide-eyed girl with grand delusions of how she’s going to birth the next great man of her clan to an old, disillusioned, poverty-stricken woman who after getting the one thing that she ever wanted: children, has nothing to show for it.
I still enjoyed her character though, even if she was delusional in her thinking. I don’t know who told her that once you have male children, automatically they will be important people in life even without proper education and exposure. I did feel bad watching her dreams crumble, all she had placed her hopes on only leading to disappointment (according to her); and it got harder to continue reading after a while because I knew there would be no relief in sight.
And how could you have relief with a husband like Nnaife, who doesn’t know what it means to lead a household but still wants to be regarded as a leader anyways ( This is typical Nigerian Mentality by the way) and only manages to take his family from one new low to another.
The time period this story was set is crucial, I think, because the roles of men and women were changing in the home and in society, our cultures were getting diluted, urbanization was setting in and you either adapted or got left behind, which is why my favorite character was Adaku, who serves as a contrast to Nnu Ego.
Of course, Adaku is derided for being “ambitious” by the community because she has ideas about her rights and equality especially when she doesn’t have a male child to make her a “complete woman”. I particularly enjoyed her “rebellion” when she realized she didn’t have to put up with the bullshit.
I liked the way Buchi Emecheta, while obviously expressing her displeasure at the limits placed on women by tradition, portrayed how much better life was when we lived as extended families (in villages) and how important it was to remain part of a larger community even in a city like Lagos. Nnu Ego didn’t get this memo however and anyways, who needs friends when you have your children.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it has everything: love, hate, joy, culture, humor, feminism, justice, war etc. I can honestly say I have never read anything like this in my life and I look forward to reading more of Buchi Emecheta’s work.
The title of this novel is the biggest irony I have ever come across in literature. I searched for the hash tag #thejoysofmotherhood on Instagram and there were all this pictures with cute babies and smiling mums… That’s not what this book is about, don’t go in thinking that ‘cause you will get the biggest shock of your life.
This book is unapologetically feminist and if you truly believe with your whole heart that the greatest achievement for a woman is marriage and children;
carefully avoid reading this book because it will fracture that beautiful dream you’ve been nursing since you could comb your doll’s hair. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. On second thought, you need to read it. It’ll be good for you.
“…When the children were good they belonged to the father; when they were bad, they belonged to the mother. Every woman knew this…”
“Men – all they were interested in were male babies to keep their names going. But did not a woman have to bear the woman-child who would later bear the sons?”
“ ‘I see that you are laughing at me.(…)Whereas you chose money and nice clothes, I have chosen my children,(…) Go to Ibuza and see how rich I am in people – friends, relatives, in-laws.’”
“God, when will you create a woman who will be fulfilled in herself, a full human being, not anybody’s appendage?’…”
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