The Housemaid by Amma Darko

Date Read: May 7th 2015

Published: 1998

Publisher: Heinemann (African Writer’s Series)

Pages: 107

the housemaid

The Blurb

A dead baby and bloodstained clothes are discovered near a small village. Everyone is ready to comment on the likely story behind the abandoned infant. The men have one opinion, the women another. As the story rapidly unfolds it becomes clear that seven different women played their part in the drama. All of them are caught in a web of superstition, ignorance, greed and corruption.

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Review – ★★★ (3 stars)

I bought The Housemaid back in 2008, but finally gave this book a chance and finished reading it in May of this year. This is such a messy, messy story- but in a good way! This novel tells a story of how a poor family in a Ghanaian village decides to jilt a rich businesswoman in the city, by using their daughter – who becomes a housemaid, to attempt to steal this rich woman’s wealth. As usual, Amma Darko tackles a lot of social issues in this novel and this is why I respect her as a writer. Darko explores issues of socio-economic differences between the rich and the poor, city life versus village life, feminism, spinsterhood, gender roles, religious beliefs and superstition. I liked how the story was consummated at the end, even though this novel consists of a series of crazy events.

But I was a little disappointed with Amma Darko’s writing style in this novel. The writing was choppy and too colloquial for my liking. It was quite annoying to spot basic grammatical errors and the misusage of words like ‘your’ and ‘you’re’ in some chapters. Nonetheless, the social issues addressed in this book made me appreciate the story. Amma Darko’s novel Beyond the Horizon is still a gem and a more meticulously written book than The HousemaidThe Housemaid is more of a 2.5 stars rating for me.

★★★ (3 stars) – Good book. I recommend it, I guess.

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Opening Spaces: Contemporary African Women’s Writing edited by Yvonne Vera

Date Read: March 7th 2014

Published: 1999

Publisher: Heinemann (African Writers Series)

Pages: 186

yvonne vera

The Blurb

African women are seldom given the space to express their concerns, their ideas and their reflections about the societies in which they live.

 In situations where a good woman is expected to remain silent, literature can provide an important medium for the expression of deeply felt and sometimes shocking views. In this anthology the award-winning author Yvonne Vera brings together the stories of many talented writers from different parts of Africa. They act as witnesses to the dramas of private and public life. Their stories challenge contemporary attitudes and behavior, leaving no room for complacency.

Contributors include Ama Ata Aidoo, Veronique Tadjo, Farida Karodia, Lindsey Collen and Sindiwe Magona.

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Review – ★★★★ (4 stars)

This is a powerful collection of fifteen stories by African women writers from various countries such as: Zimbabwe, Ghana, South Africa, Mauritius, Nigeria, Mozambique, Sudan, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Namibia and Zambia. It was cool to read stories from countries that are not very active in the African literature scene- like Mauritius, Mali and Sudan.

These stories tackle the positives and negatives of being an African woman in their own unique ways. Some themes in the stories are: coming-of-age, motherhood, women empowerment, polygamy, abortion, death, political instability, faith and many more!

My favorite stories were:

‘The Museum’ by Leila Aboulela (Sudan) – This is the story that won the first Caine Prize in 2000! It’s a tale of the challenges a Sudanese girl- Shadia, faces as she is studying Mathematics in university in the United Kingdom. Despite the fact that she has a fiancé back home in Sudan, she starts to fall for fellow Scottish classmate- Bryan, who seems to be the brightest in the class. As Shadia and Bryan spend more time together, Aboulela teaches readers about the importance of religion (Islam). After Shadia and Bryan take a trip to a museum and Shadia is disappointed at how wrongly the West portrays Africa, I learned that Africa will always be where the heart is, for Africans living abroad.

‘The Power of a Plate of Rice’ by Ifeoma Okoye (Nigeria) – A hilarious tale of a single mother, who is a schoolteacher, struggling to keep her family alive. The principal of her school refuses to pay her salary while her children are sick and starving. This schoolteacher ends up doing something unpredictable which shocks her principal. This was a fun and easy read.

‘Stress’ by Lília Momplé (Mozambique) – A mistress of a rich married man sits in her luxurious apartment and spends her days staring out of her window, desperately desiring and fantasizing about her neighbor across the street. Meanwhile, this neighbor barely notices this mistress across the street as he struggles living as a deeply stressed schoolteacher. I enjoyed the unpredictability of the story’s ending!

‘The Barrel of a Pen’ by Gugu Ndlovu (Zimbabwe) – This was a heart-wrenching tale of two girls who spend their afternoon in a hotel. An unqualified nurse visits the girls in the hotel and executes an abortion on one of them. The gory descriptions of this story had me cringing. But I loved how the friendship between the two girls was strong enough to save a life.

This collection was published in 1999, but the stories, themes and the lessons learned are still relevant to readers today, in 2014. I recommend this!

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

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Women Are Different by Flora Nwapa

Date Read: June 10th 2014

Published: 1992

Publisher: Africa World Press (African Women Writers Series)

Pages: 138

The Blurb

Women are Different is the moving story of a group of Nigerian women, from their schooldays together through the trials and tribulations of their adult lives. Through their stories we see some of the universal problems faced by women everywhere: the struggle for financial independence and a rewarding career, combined with the need to bring up a family, often without a man.

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Review – ★★ (2 stars)

This book was quite painful to read… the details of the storyline were superfluous, Nwapa’s writing style wasn’t great and there were too many characters to keep track of in the book. Furthermore, there were spelling and grammatical errors in my copy of the book (I have the African Women Writer Series- First Africa World Press, edition 1992).

I love that Flora Nwapa sought out to enlighten readers on the lives of Nigerian women from the 1940’s to the 1970’s- after the Biafran war, but I did not enjoy the writing style. It was written in third-person, but quite shabbily. The sentence structures were very simple and I felt like I was reading a child’s novel.

I will commend Nwapa for raising various issues women faced in Nigeria, like: arranged marriages, child marriages, poverty, the importance of girl-child education, prostitution, spinsterhood, betrayed love etc. Nwapa portrayed all of these issues through the lives of Dora, Rose, Agnes and Comfort from their high school days to their late motherhood days. The girls’ different personalities and opinions on life were basically a microcosm of the opinions and lives of other women in Nigeria. I enjoyed Comfort’s character the most, as she was vivacious and fearless- typical of Nigerian women!

But several parts of the novel were dragged out. For example: the food strike in the girls’ secondary school went on for about ten pages; Dora complaining to Rose about her wayward daughter’s failed marriage dragged on for another ten pages; Agnes’ prostitute daughter’s plight went on forever as well.

The girls’ lives did not end up how they wished it would romantically, but they were quite successful, strong women by the end of the novel.

I initially wanted to purchase Nwapa’s popular novel, Efuru but after reading this simple book that took me 18 days to complete, I think I will pass. I love African literature and I admire Flora Nwapa for being one of the pioneering African women writers, but unfortunately I do not recommend this book.

BUT!! Another African literature book blogger, Mary Okeke, loved this novel! Check out her positive review of Women Are Differenthere.

★★ (2 stars) – Thumbs down. I do not recommend this.

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The Bride Price by Buchi Emecheta

Date Read: March 21st 2014

Published: 1995

Publisher: Heinemann (African Writers Series)

Pages: 180

TheBridePrice

The Blurb

‘Always remember that you are mine,’ says Aku-nna’s father before he dies. But as Aku-nna approaches womanhood her ambitious uncle makes plans to marry her off for a high bride price. Caught in a web of tradition, lust and greed, Aku-nna falls for the one young man she is forbidden to love.

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 Review –  ★★★★ (4 stars)

The Bride Price was a bittersweet read for me. The story is about a girl named Aku-nna who lived a fairly comfortable life in the city of Lagos, Nigeria with her family. But after the sudden death of her father, her family moves to their hometown, a village called Ibuza. Life is very different for Aku-nna in her hometown: by tradition, her mother has to marry her uncle (her father’s oldest brother), her education isn’t seen as a priority, she becomes an introvert, village life is quite mundane and her uncle plans on gaining a large sum of money from her bride price. Aku-nna’s uncle already makes plans to marry her off to the highest bidder once she reaches womanhood, but Aku-nna simply desires to finish her secondary school education, become a teacher and marry the man she falls in love with. Once Aku-nna starts school, she falls in love with one of her teachers, Chike. Aku-nna and Chike keep their love secret, because their love is forbidden in Ibuza. Chike is from a family whose descendants were once slaves hence making him ‘unfit’ to marry Aku-nna according to her family (who are descendants of a noble family).

Old traditions and new missionary ways of life are constantly interrupting Aku-nna and her quiet, confused spirit. Buchi Emecheta portrays the struggles of Nigerian women during colonial times. The roles of the women during this time were very different from the roles of women in Nigeria today. From the novel, women during these days were imprisoned in traditional norms: they were meant to serve their husbands, bear children (preferably sons) and have little say in family affairs.

Since this story occurs during the colonial times of Nigeria it is characteristic that the men in the story dictate the course of Aku-nna’s life. Her schooling, the people she interacts with, her chores at home and who she marries are all controlled by her uncle. If Aku-nna rebels and marries Chike, her life could be in danger, because her acting father must accept her bride price. If the bride price is not accepted and she elopes, it is believed that she would not live to raise her children – this is an old taboo known to Ibuza.

“If a girl wished to live long and see her children’s children, she must accept the husband chosen for her by her people, and the bride price must be paid. If the bride price was not paid, she would never survive the birth of her first child” (pg. 176).

Aku-nna’s life is more or less dependent on her greedy uncle’s need for a high bride price since old traditions require women to have no say in their future marital affairs and superstitious beliefs seem to rule their lives.

Emecheta’s brilliant style of writing and the traditional proverbs she uses allow readers sympathize with Aku-nna and her predicament of being in love with a ‘slave’ and having to marry a man she would never love. This is a classic love story and Emecheta writes about it passionately to the point where her words hold your emotions. The ending of the story was quite shocking and actually had a psychological hold on me for a while. I did not give the book 5 stars because some parts of the story were a bit dragged out due to excessive description. Also, it was a hopeful, yet sad love story to me… I felt hurt by the end! Emecheta seems to like to write on depressing issues because I hear her novel The Joys of Motherhood is also quite blue. Nevertheless, this was a great novel and I loved learning about the roles of Nigerian women and the traditions of the people in Ibuza during the pre-independence era.

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

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