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How should I approach: Buchi Emecheta

How should I approach: Buchi Emecheta


The story of uchi Emecheta’s life is often viewed as a rise from poverty to success, but it is more accurately seen as a determined pursuit of an improbable goal. Throughout her novels, recurring themes of motherhood, female autonomy, and education are especially poignant as they reflect her own struggles and triumphs. Despite being labeled as a Nigerian female writer, Emecheta believed that she wrote about universal issues of poverty and oppression that affect women worldwide.

She fought relentlessly for what she believed was rightfully hers. While she did achieve recognition, she also faced tragedies. Two of her daughters passed away before her and she suffered a severe stroke shortly before she was to receive an OBE in 2005. According to her son Sylvester Onwordi, she always felt like she was in a provisional state, focused on survival and was unable to fully enjoy the success she had achieved. This year marks the 50th anniversary of her second novel, Second Class Citizen – a perfect opportunity to delve into Emecheta’s works. Below are some great starting points.

The entry point


The book Second Class Citizen tells the compelling story of Emecheta’s personal journey from Nigeria to London. At the young age of 17, she had already been married, had her first child, and moved to London to join her husband who was a student. Over the years, she gave birth to four more children and eventually left her husband during her fifth pregnancy at the age of 22. The protagonist of the book, Adah, defies the traditional expectations placed upon women in Nigeria and strives for education as a means of redemption. Emecheta’s own life serves as an inspiration as she wrote this novel while single-handedly raising her five children. She would wake up at 4am to write before taking her children to school, while also managing a day job and completing a sociology degree at night school. Her story showcases her incredible resourcefulness in every aspect of her life.

The pleasantly surprising one

Originally written in a serialized format for the New Statesman, Emecheta’s In the Ditch was eventually published as a documentary novel in 1972. My publishing company, Allison & Busby, released a revised edition in 1979. Then, in 1983, when Emecheta was named one of Granta magazine’s Best of Young British Novelists, the novels In the Ditch and Second Class Citizen were combined and published as Adah’s Story. From the very beginning, Emecheta demonstrated her skill as a master of storytelling. Her vivid descriptions bring to life the struggles of life on welfare in a rundown council estate, infusing the book with sharp wit and heartfelt emotion. The well-developed characters offer a unique perspective, making this book a powerful, uplifting read.

Buchi Emecheta book covers.

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The one that warrants greater consideration

In 1978, The Slave Girl received the Jock Campbell award from the New Statesman, while Martin Amis served as its literary editor. A review from Carol Dix in The Guardian, which is still pertinent today, states that the novel surpasses many academic feminist writings. While I may be influenced as the editor of The Slave Girl and am humbled by the dedication, I strongly believe that everyone can benefit from reading this book.

The chosen book for the book club

Buchi’s most ambitious publication, Destination Biafra, centers around the Nigerian civil war of 1967-1970 and is known to evoke strong and conflicting reactions. Interestingly, she received criticism from renowned critic Chinweizu, who supposedly questioned her qualifications for writing about male-dominated war scenarios. This served as inspiration for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s research for her novel Half of a Yellow Sun and makes for a compelling read. It would also be intriguing to examine the connections between Destination Biafra and Flora Nwapa’s pioneering fiction, such as her 1975 work Never Again.

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The occurrence that was close to not taking place

Chinua Emecheta’s debut novel, The Bride Price, was burned by her controlling husband, leading to their separation. Undeterred, she spent five years rewriting it without the original happy ending. The novel follows a Nigerian girl who rebels against an arranged marriage dictated by patriarchal norms, shedding light on the conflict between traditional beliefs and contemporary ambitions, as well as the ongoing effects of colonization on African societies.


If you have to read just one, make it this one.

The novel “The Joys of Motherhood” is a tribute to all mothers. It is a thought-provoking story that takes place in 1930s colonial Nigeria and follows the journey of Nnu Ego as she grapples with the evolving definitions of motherhood in a shifting society. This story explores the impact of changing traditions and cultural norms on the roles and expectations placed on women, and the sacrifices that mothers must endure.

  • Margaret Busby serves as the editor for Penguin’s New Daughters of Africa publication.

Source: theguardian.com