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Efuru, by Flora Nwapa.

January 19, 2013

Efuru, by Flora Nwapa. London : Heinemann, [1970]

GLOBAL WOMEN OF COLOR REVIEW

A positive portrayal of a beautiful and strong woman and her life in a traditional Igbo village.

Flora Nwapa was among the first women to join African men in gaining international recognition in the 1960s.  Efuru, her first novel, was published in 1966. Nwapa is a Nigerian and an Igbo, and the book is presumably set in a village there.  In it, Nwapa focuses on village women, often sharply restricted by their husbands and by their culture but strong and capable in themselves.  Her positive treatment of women and their ability to survive appears most strongly in her main character, Efuru, a beautiful and good young woman able to thrive despite major losses in her life.  The daughter of an important leader, she loses her only child and neither of her husbands are faithful to her. She is generous to others, a very successful trader and follower of the revered goddess of the lake. Other women are her friends and from them we see a variety of villagers’ viewpoints.  Although contact with white colonizers is slight, they are viewed as the cause of decline in obedience of the village children and of the village itself.

My experience reading was Efuru was mixed.  I certainly found the book interesting and informative and was impressed by the ways in which the women refused to be victims.  The writing, however, was formal and even ponderous.  Ritual phrases and simple behaviors were repeated time and time again.  Even when tragic events occurred I was not drawn in emotionally.  Frequently characters “hissed” or “laughed,” but I couldn’t understand why.  I am willing to assume that the problems are mine, not Nwapa’s.  I am simply unfamiliar with this style of writing.  Perhaps Nwapa writes in ways more related to her tradition.  What was noteworthy is that I have not had this problem with more recent books by global women of color.  Even when they make decisions that I would not make, their books move me in ways that Nwapa’s did not.  Many global women today have more experience in international settings, where they share styles of writing.  They often protest western and globalized practices, but they write in styles that can be understood internationally.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. January 19, 2013 3:50 pm

    >>What was noteworthy is that I have not had this problem with more recent books by global women of color. Even when they make decisions that I would not make, their books move me in ways that Nwapa’s did not. Many global women today have more experience in international settings, where they share styles of writing. They often protest western and globalized practices, but they write in styles that can be understood internationally.

    That is very thought provoking Marilyn. I wonder if it has to do with publishers & editors as well?

    • January 19, 2013 6:35 pm

      Yes. I was provoked by it. I wondered if she was simply being more true to her own language. The formality might have been a colonial adaptation, but not the repetition.
      I have read little post-colonial theory, (Suggestions of where to start welcome.) but I have read about how many post-colonial writers reach across cultures, living in the US or England for example. I wondered if that is the reason many of their books read so easily for people like us. They are not assimilating, but are part of an international conversation. For me the question is sttill open.

  2. January 19, 2013 4:05 pm

    hello there, I have read two of Nwapa’s novels Never Again and Women are Different you can find my reviews on my blog. Flora’s style of writing is really different. Sometimes, one need to have some knowledge of the Igbo culture in order to completely understand the novel or to be moved by the stories. I love Flora Nwapa’s novels. Her stories do move me. I’ll recommend you read “Women are Different”.

    Thanks for the review, I haven’t read Efuru though, it is my TBR.

    Cheers

    • January 19, 2013 6:29 pm

      Thanks for your comment. I am glad you like her writing. I wonder if my problem was that I didn’t know enough about the Igbo, but it was the language that seemed strange for me. I will look for the book you suggest.

  3. January 21, 2013 7:38 am

    Marylin, I am yet to read Efuru but I can understnd your point. I’ve come across that style of writing in African wirters who were writng mainly based on their culture. More of transliteration and strightforward English. I could be wrong. Efuru is a book I would very much love to read. I remember seeing a copy among my mother’s stuff way back growing up.

    Great review 🙂

    • January 21, 2013 3:39 pm

      Thanks. That is useful. I like it that mother had a copy. Can you elaborate how her writing relates to African styles of writing?

  4. January 21, 2013 3:37 pm

    How does Nwapa’s language and writing style reflect either Igbo or more general African traditions?

    • January 25, 2013 6:06 am

      Marylin, since I have not read any of Nwapa’s books I cannot say much on her writing style. What I do mean is that African writers from Nigeria have a habit of using lots of Igbo proverbs to enrich the language and that is their style. Take Chinua Achebe, Elechi Amadi and Emecheta. The use of proverbs also projects the Igbo culture in the novels. There is a propensity of making use of literal translations in books. Scenes, or situations are directly translated from the local dialects right into the English language making it uniquely our own. I hope I have been of some help.

      • January 25, 2013 6:58 am

        Afua, you are on the spot. For me, language is culture. I am Igbo and can consider myself westerner as well for all the years I have lived so far in the diaspora, and my culture is view differently through the lens of westerners. Vice versa as well. There are many situation and experiences translated or expressed in the western language that loses its initial meaning, and not just that it sounds awkward and therefore incomprehensible.

        As Afua said, Tradition and Culture cannot be translated and / or expressed into a different language, it should be understood in its own unique language.

        Again, I have not read Efuru. However, I have read Flora Nwapa’s other novels I mentioned before, and she writes about life the way we “Igbos” experience and feel it.

  5. January 25, 2013 7:02 am

    Oh Mary, you couldn’t have explained it much more succintlly. 🙂 Many thanks 🙂

  6. May 13, 2013 2:12 am

    Hey,

    Any works from Flora`s Idu?

  7. February 11, 2014 3:54 pm

    the themes in Efuru by flora nwapa

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