Although I’ve heard of the Nigerian Igbo writer Buchi Emecheta it wasn’t until I walked past her poster in my university library at Goldsmiths commemorating her death, that I finally made the effort to read her book. I randomly firstly went for Second Class Citizen which then led me to a Head Above Water and then The Bride Price in the space of 3 weeks I finished them all. This was due to the thirst for that was stirred inside of me, I just couldn’t put them down I wanted more. Buchi Emecheta writes in such a free, unrestricted flow that it feels like one of your aunts giving you some life lessons through the challenges she has been through. Which is exactly what I feel she was trying to aim for, she wrote that one of her role models for becoming a writer was her aunt. That would sit under a tree in her village in Ibusa, tell them folktales and stories about their forefathers. Although her original aim was to become a writer by 40 like her aunt but by the time she was 28 she had already published her first book.
All three books were a reflection of her reality and struggles as an Igbo Nigerian woman. In her autobiography Head Above Water and the fictional version Second Class Citizen she reflects on her rights as a woman in patriarchal in an African society and household. From a young girl she knew that her education wasn’t a priority for her family due to her gender. But she overcame all odds and won herself a scholarship to complete her secondary school. However, once she got married and moved to England her husband expected her to give birth every year and work full time with no financial support from him. By the time she was 22 she had 5 children in a foreign country. She writes…
“As for my survival for the past twenty years in England, from when I was a little over twenty, dragging four cold and dripping babies with me and pregnant with a fifth one—that is a miracle.”
Although her husband knew she wanted to be a writer he burnt her first manuscript The Bride Price out of spite. But this amazing woman still got back up,through her own hard work and dedication she managed to overcome her struggles, left her husband, got a degree and doctorate and became an award-winning writer. As I was reading this my eyes were filled with awe and amazement, she is really an amazing inspiration.
As a sociology graduate Emecheta uses her novels to explore the socio-economic factors that produce poverty and crime. Which leave the most vulnerable and marginalised people in our society women, ethnic minorities, children in a cycle of perpetual poverty. In Head above water she talks about her journey from Lagos to Ibusa to moving to London living in one room with 4 kids to eventually living in a dingy council flat, to a nicer one in regent street to eventually buying her house. She also speaks about her time working as a youth worker and teacher in inner London and eventually not needing to work for others by being able to become a full-time writer. Nevertheless, she is aware that her story from rages to riches is unique and fortunate. She speaks about the reality for many Black boys growing up in London in the 80’s, the low expectation and almost self-fulfilling prophecy of teachers and schools that expect Black pupils to fail and even encourage them to an extent. However, as a professional she refused to allow for and accommodated bad behaviour and tried to inspire these children to do better. Although this wasn’t always welcomed she stuck to her belief that if I succeed so can you and knew the importance of having good Black role models and low teacher to pupil ratios.
The last book I read The Bride Price was more fictional however even in the introduction Marie Linton Umeh writes that Emecheta took a lot of inspiration from her own life as she like the main character Adu-nna refused to marry the one chosen for her and was also part of the new generation of educated Igbo women. The title itself forces the reader to question the tradition in which a woman is sold to the highest bidder
for a price which goes to her male relative. This means that she doesn’t get a choice in who she marries and even if she refuses she is at risk of getting kidnapped and taken by force. It’s a story of the old world of tradition versus the new world of westernization and modernity. Also, the consequences of breaking tradition which the woman is to carry.
One of the reasons I believe I found her novels so interesting is because although these books were written in the 70s and 80s a lot of the issues she speaks about her still prevalent today. Women being educated only to be told it’s irrelevant without a man, forced marriages, high crime rates in the Black community in London the list goes on. I believe this speaks to her strength as a writer, because a truly excellent writer is one the is able to transcendent the limits of time and even death and still be able to connect with people generations to come.
To find out more check out: https://www.buchiemecheta.co.uk/