Wednesday, July 13, 2022

The Son of the House

  The Son of the House
Author:  Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia
Publication Information:  Dundurn. 2021. 304 pages.
ISBN:  1459747089 / 978-1459747081

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "We must do something to pass the time, I thought."

Favorite Quote:  "Forgiveness, I found, was easier on the mind, the soul, the spirit, even the body, than bitterness."

This book begins with a kidnapping of two women in the Nigerian city of Enugu. However, the kidnapping is not the story of this book; it is the vehicle through which the story is told. The two women are captive in a room. To pass the time, they begin to share their life story with each other. One is a story of privilege. The other of poverty. Little do they know that their lives and their stories intersect in a way that neither could imagine.

The title is about a man - the son of the house. The boy accentuates the stress of an Igbo family, the quest for a male heir, and the lengths to which a family will go for a male heir. So often, the fate of a woman is dependent on her ability to give the family an heir. Some men seek out second and third wives in search of an heir. After the birth, the child belongs to the father not the mother.

Despite the title, the story itself is not about the boy or about men. It is about the women. It is the story of girls and then women over the course of four decades living and surviving, and, at times, thriving, in a patriarchy. Nwabulu is orphaned at a young age and goes into service as a housemaid at the age of ten. Disaster after disaster and trouble after trouble seem to follow her. Julie is educated and privileged. She lives alone but is the well kept mistress of a rich man. She has no intention of marrying him, but keeps her status and lifestyle through essentially a lie. Both in their own way are survivors.

The story of strong women surviving is a compelling one. The story of their grief and of their resilience time and again is a compelling one. Through it all, the book is also a window onto Nigerian - particularly Igbo - culture and traditions. As it is not one I know much about, I enjoy the learning. I realize that fiction is not history and that a story is one perspective. Yet, even given that caveat, I enjoy learning that one perspective. As the author's note states, "The idea to write this story came from a true-life story my mother told me about a young child whose path cross mine for a short time during our childhoods ... That story struck me deep in my heart and made me think about how traditions and customs, such as those obtained in the places I explore in my story, can draw us together but also have long-long, life-changing, and resounding impacts. It also made me think about how we all come from the stories that we tell ourselves; of our families, out contexts, our countries and where we came from."

I love the exploration of how traditions define us and how the stories we tell ourselves define us. This book is a compelling and moving debut. I look forward to reading more from the author.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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