Buchi Emecheta Emecheta, (Florence Onye) Buchi - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Emecheta, (Florence Onye) Buchi 1944–

Emecheta is a Nigerian-born novelist and screenwriter now residing in England. Her native Nigeria and the problems of contemporary black women are the focal concerns of her work. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 81-84.)

Alice Walker

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Though [Second Class Citizen] is not stylistically exciting and is no doubt heavily autobiographical, it is no less valid as a novel. And a good one. It raises fundamental questions about how creative and prosaic life is to be lived and to what purpose, which is more than some books, written while one's children are banished from one's life, do. Second Class Citizen (and the title is unfortunate) is one of the most informative books about contemporary African life that I have read. (p. 106)

Alice Walker, "A Writer Because of, Not in Spite of, Her Children," in Ms. (© 1975 Ms. Magazine Corp.), Vol. IV, No. 7, January, 1976, pp. 40, 106.

The clash of Christian and African cultures, of generations, of ancient and modern pieties, and of group custom and the individual will are all vividly portrayed in this pure, fluid novel about a young Nigerian girl ["The Bride Price"]…. The author has a plain, engaging style and manages to convey all the lushness, poverty, superstition, and casual cruelty of a still exotic (to Western readers) culture while keeping her tale as sharp as a folk ballad. (pp. 170-71)

"Books: 'The Bride Price'," in The New Yorker (© 1976 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. LII, No. 13, May 17, 1976, pp. 170-71.

Valentine Cunningham

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The cumulative achievement of [Buchi Emecheta's] Second-Class Citizen (1975), The Bride Price (1976) and The Slave Girl (1977) has commanded my mounting admiration. In narratives of attractively readable simplicity (the sort that requires terrific art to bring off) she has successively charted the efforts of a Nigerian woman and her burgeoning family to survive the bleaknesses of a hostile London, and the problems of love and marriage in present and recently-past Nigeria. With the compelling warmth of an extraordinary capacity for investing her fictional world and her characters—even the grisliest—with deep affection she rebukes whole arrays of hostile forces. London racists, husbands, tribal traditionalists, missionary functionaries: the inhuman is everywhere laid bare. Buchi Emecheta speaks particularly, of course, for educated Nigerian women struggling against their more ignorant menfolk. But she speaks, too, for all women, for all the oppressed…. (p. 747)

Valentine Cunningham, "The Jock Campbell New Statesman Award: The Feeling of Onslaught," in New Statesman (© 1978 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 95, No. 2463, June 2, 1978, pp. 746-47.∗

Anita Kern

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The London-based Nigerian writer Buchi Emecheta continues to grow in talent and craftsmanship. The novel The Slave Girl, her fourth book, is her most accomplished work so far. It is coherent, compact and convincing. It also represents a considerable achievement for a writer who … has worked under very difficult conditions….

[In] general the slave girls are not too badly off. Emecheta describes their life in the context of early twentieth-century Onitsha society, in which buying and selling people was accepted as a situation that "could not be helped." It provided labor on the one hand in exchange for a roof and food on the other.

[The novel's framework is simple], but Emecheta has unobtrusively woven into it a great deal of sociological detail. All the background information is skillfully integrated, and the young girl's story makes fascinating reading. Emecheta displays considerable insight and a broadly-based knowledge of people's character traits and foibles, and she manages to endow even those characters who make only brief appearances with believable personalities.

Emecheta shows and states throughout the novel that a woman is never free, that she always belongs to others, be it a father, a brother or a social group….

The Slave Girl describes an aspect of Nigerian life which has so far been little explored. Buchi Emecheta's novel is sympathetic and honest, her style clear and straightforward and her characterization skillful. Ojebeta is a welcome addition to the still-too-small gallery of Nigerian heroines.

Anita Kern, "Africa & the West Indies: 'The Slave Girl'," in World Literature Today (copyright 1979 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 53, No. 1, Winter, 1979, p. 172.

Andrew Motion

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Buchi Emecheta is … concerned with tyranny, but her attention is more precisely fixed on the trials of a specific gender than of a particular nation. Although the action of The Joys of Motherhood is confined to 20th-century Nigeria, it teaches lessons which could equally well be learnt elsewhere. The economic and familial pressures exerted on women in Western communities are less obvious, but no less pervasive, than those which surround others in and around Lagos. The novel's heroine, Nnu Ego, is first living and then dead proof of this….

Emecheta describes [her heroine's death] with moving simplicity. By viewing her heroine's fate with a compound of anger and pity, she avoids sounding either didactic or sentimental, and intensifies the force of her bleak conclusions.

Andrew Motion, "Land of Lost Content," in New Statesman (© 1979 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 97, No. 2510, April 27, 1979, p. 600.∗

Adrianne Blue

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In the Ditch is] derived from a diary Emecheta had kept for years, it depicts life at Pussy Cat Mansions, a public housing project, where Adah and her cockney neighbors develop a transient sense of community….

The "ditch" of the title is a metaphor for poverty. The book is sad, sonorous, occasionally hilarious: an extraordinary first novel….

Emecheta tells [the story of The Joys of Motherhood] in a plain style, denuding it of exoticism, displaying an impressive, embracing compassion. Like any village storyteller whose tale is sad and meaningful, she laces it with humor. Her three generations of unlettered Africans can be as ornery and individualistic as any California voter.

Expatriate writers often dwell in a fertile country of the mind and body, but are denied the soil…. Exceptionally, Emecheta writes compellingly and utterly without condescension of agrarian African modes she personally rejected. Hers is an urbane sensibility, and her novels—very much of our time—even reverberate upon each other.

Adrianne Blue, "Buchi Emecheta: A Nigerian in London," in Book World—The Washington Post (© 1979, The Washington Post), May 13, 1979, p. K8.

Peter Kemp

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Joys of Motherhood, by Buchi Emecheta, is that rarity, a quiet piece of feminism. Its main character, Nnu Ego, is also out of the ordinary. (p. 93)

Both the old way of life which shaped Nnu Ego, and the new one she has to cope with, are described in absorbing detail. On the one hand is an Ibo village world of guardian gods, dream-readers, tattooed beauties and polygamous protocol; on the other, a shanty-town existence of backbreaking toil and petty trading—sales of smuggled cigarettes, fried locusts or laboriously-toted firewood. Sturdily unmawkish, the narrative movingly depicts the humiliations, ingenuities and small satisfactions of the poor. What emerges is a strong sense of exploited decency. As time passes, Nnu Ego discovers that the code of her culture—a code she has spent her life trying to conform to—is now obsolete.

Realistically, however, the novel does not write off her life as simply waste and exploitation. Its title is both ironic and unironic. Though she is a victim of conditioning and transition, Nnu Ego has found, in her restricted life, some cause for pleasure and pride, and celebration parties with palm wine. That these are faithfully recorded, too, in no way weakens Mrs Emecheta's indictment of repressive attitudes; it adds both strength and subtlety to an impressive book. (pp. 93-4)

Peter Kemp, "Older Wife's Tale," in The Listener (© British Broadcasting Corp. 1979; reprinted by permission of Peter Kemp), Vol. 102, No. 2620, July 19, 1979, pp. 93-4.∗

Joseph Lelyveld

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Buchi Emecheta's account in "The Joys of Motherhood"] of three generations of Ibo women and their changing values with regard to the children they raise and the men they wed is refreshingly straightforward….

The values of her women change, of course, so history can be seen through the lives of these characters. But they don't see themselves as acting in history. (p. 15)

A reader who has no real feeling for village traditions in Nigeria may suspect that Miss Emecheta is romanticizing them to advance a cause….

Nnu Ego is aware of "new rules" governing the relationship between man and wife in Lagos and spells them out, sometimes as if she, rather than Miss Emecheta, had the degree in sociology from London University….

The basic argument is put in the novel [schematically] …, but as episode piles on episode, the texture of the changing society becomes palpable. And this is not just any changing society but proud, rambunctious Nigeria. Dangling between two standards, Nnu Ego starts to ask basic questions herself: Why, for instance, can't women value their daughters as much as their sons? "God, when will you create a woman who is fulfilled in herself, a full human being?" she asks. It's a good question, but it is less than convincing coming from Nnu Ego, whose discovery of abstract feminist principles is too abrupt. (p. 39)

Joseph Lelyveld, "Out of Africa," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1979 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 11, 1979, pp. 15, 39.∗