18. The Changing 'Joys of Motherhood'

Title: The Joys of Motherhood
Author: Buchi Emecheta
Genre: Historical Novel
Publishers: Heinenemann (African Writers Series)
Pages: 254
ISBN: 978-0435-913540
Year: First Published in 1979 (this edition 2008)
Country: Nigeria

The Joys of Motherhood is a story set in Lagos, Nigeria, between the 1930s and the period leading up to independence in the 60s. It recounts the metamorphosis of the joys attached to motherhood from the traditional period to the period of colonisation. Before the European influence leading to western-type of education, the joys of a mother is to have many children and many sons who would look after her at old age when her bones would no longer permit her to farm. Children were prized possessions and the choice between seeking wealth and raising children were mutually exclusive events. It was common to be poor in wealth but rich in children and any woman who had such was considered with high esteem, whereas any woman who is unable to conceive is treated with discontent and faces rejection by her husband; same as a woman who bear only daughters. However, this changed with the European influence, when children must go to school and work and possibly live far away from their parents, having nothing to do with farming.

Nnu Ego began as a barren woman and after her divorce and her subsequent marriage to Nnaife, she began to bear children, sons and daughters. So involved was she with her children's upbringing and the sons' education that she neglected all other social interactions with her age-groups, such that in middle age she was left with no friend, becoming lonely. Besides, her children, being brilliant sought education both in Nigeria and abroad. The latter meant that her children were not with her at old-age, especially her sons. This caused her great pains leading to a change in her constitution such that at Ibuza, her hometown about four days away from Lagos, people considered her a mad woman.

Emecheta's story, though set in the 1930s, still has relevance in our present society. Should we allow  traditions to change? Should we go with the flow? Or should we resist change? Nnu Ego resisted change and she was overwhelmed by the consequences, however, her junior wife, Adaku, saw the changes that is creeping into the system, took advantage of it and succeeded; even Nnu Ego's daughter, Kehinde, rejected the husband her father had looked for for her. All these led to the cracks in the traditional family and finally its breakdown.

The story is a classic and it is no wonder that it was voted into Africa's Top 100 Books of the 20th Century. Buchi Emecheta wrote it as it should be. It is a very interesting story that needs to be read. One can learn a lot from this novel.

This is a highly recommended book and has been used by various students of literature, hence I can't over-recommend it. If you want to know the set up of the Nigerian family home or even the West African family home, get a copy of Emecheta's The Joys of Motherhood.

ImageNations' Rating: 5.5 out of 6.0

PS: This novel together with The Trial by Franz Kafka are on a list of 100 books I am preparing. I intend to read these novels over a period of say 5 years. I would post this list when it is finished. I would not blog Kafka's novel.


  1. Excellent review! I'd like to read this novel in the near future, but unfortunately it is not so easy to find in Italy.
    Good luck with Kafka's "The trial"!

  2. thanks Stefania, I would be glad if you could also recommend some good books to include in my list of 100 books to be read alongside other works in the next five years.

  3. thanks for the great review. i really appreciate your blog for the insight you give into the books you read!

  4. thanks Marie and thanks for following I am grateful. I try to do my best with the little that I read.

  5. I must confess, I adore your ambition. Who said Africans don't read?

  6. Hahaha Thanks Edward...we do really read, in fact voraciously...

  7. This is a MUST READ! How do i get a copy?

  8. Legon bookshop or the Silverbird bookshop at the Accra Mall, that is if you are in Ghana. If not then you must try the online shops.

  9. @Nana: sorry I didn't read your reply. What kind of books do you plan to include in you 100 books you must read? If you mean world literature, some of my all-time favourites are Emily Bronte's "Wuthering Heights", Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment", Zadie Smith's "White Teeth" and Toni Morrison's "Beloved". If you want to venture into Italian literature I would advice a novel by Calvino or Pirandello.

    PS: I found Emecheta's "Adah's story" in a bookstall, in the Italian translation. I don't know if you've heard of it, it contains one of her first novels, "Second Class Citizen". I wasn't sure whether to buy it or not, because it's in translation and I hate that. I wish there were more English bookshops where I live.

  10. Thanks for replying Stefania. With the exception of Zadie Smith's novel, I have included all the ones you listed. Yes, I am talking about literary books and not just popular novels. I have also noted the Italian authors you listed. Thanks again.

    With respect to Emecheta's novel I have not read any of her novel except the one I have reviewed 'The joys of Motherhood'. Translations always miss on something and they are not always equal to the original versions.

  11. This sounds like a fascinating story I would enjoy. I will have to keep an eye out for it.

  12. You would love it if you love motherhood and changes. Though there is more to it done just motherhood. It also talks about life and the changes that come with it.


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