The Wrestling Match Critical Overview
by Buchi Emecheta

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Critical Overview

(Novels for Students)

According to M. Keith Booker in The African Novel in English: An Introduction, Emecheta “is probably Africa’s best-known and most widely read woman novelist.” She has been supporting herself and her family with her writing since 1972, when she published her first book In the Ditch. Her work has been widely translated and read all over the world, and indeed, she told interviewer Reed Way Dasenbrock in Interviews with Writers of the Post-Colonial World, “I try to write for the world.”

However, she has occasionally been criticized by Nigerian writers, who feel that in some of her books, she writes about topics that, as a woman, she should not consider. Of her book Destination Biafra, about the Nigerian civil war, she told Dasenbrock, “Nigerian critics feel that the language I use . . . is not appropriate. They would like me to use big military words, because I’m writing about what happened at Biafra.” She also commented that some are offended by her simply because she is a woman. She quoted Chinweizu, a Nigerian critic, who remarked “Buchi, I am going to ruin you.” When she asked why, he said, “Why should you be writing about what men are doing? Did you go to the warfield?”

Emecheta also commented in her interview with Dasenbrock that criticism in Nigeria is heavily weighted, depending on what ethnic group the reviewer and the author are from; if they are from the same group, the reviewer usually praises; if they are from different groups, the reviewer harshly criticizes “according to who you are, your people, and the people you know.”

In Europe and North America, however, she noted that “people will just artificially boost a black person. I find that a most hurtful attitude—more patronizing than supportive.”

According to Chikwenye Okonso Ogunyemi in African Wo/Man Palava: The Nigerian Novel by Women, Emecheta’s greatest achievement “lies in internationalizing the Nigerian novel by women,” and her work is enriched by the contrast between two cultures, and her outlook as a woman who has lived outside Nigeria.

Ogunyemi points out that although Emecheta is considered a feminist writer by many critics, she does not consider herself to be a feminist. According to Ogunyemi, Emecheta said, “I think we women of African background still have a very very long way before we can really rub shoulders with such women.” In an interview with Julie Holmes in The Voice, she said, “I work toward the liberation of women, but I’m not feminist. I’m just a woman.”

Ogunyemi noted that “her novels reveal a paradox: a dual vision, one insistently feminist, the other consistently denying or punishing feminism,” and commented that “The subsequent tension in her works results in a mixed reception, particularly in Nigeria, where she is less popular than she is in Europe . . . and in America.”

Holmes quoted African-American writer Alice Walker, who said that Emecheta “integrates the profession of writer into the cultural concept of mother/worker, because she is both.” Emecheta has integrated her life and her work through her writing, since much of her work is autobiographical. She told Holmes, “I’m not really very creative. I have to experience something or know someone who has seen something in order to write convincingly.”

Ogunyemi praised Emecheta for using her personal story to bring wider attention to the situation of women in Nigeria: “She has shifted what was a strictly domestic agenda into the international sphere, thus situating the [discussion] in the court of world opinion.”