Kehinde, by Buchi Emecheta.
Kehinde, by Buchi Emecheta. Heineman (1994). African Writers Series. Paperback, 144 pages.
An exceptional novel by a well-known Nigerian woman writer describing a woman’s refusal to be controlled by her husband.
Nigerian Buchi Emecheta has been recognized for her novels since the 1970s when she first began to publish. She was the first African woman I read, and I have continued finding her books moving. When Kinna at Africa Reads included this novel on a syllabus of African Women Writers, I wondered why she chose it rather the others I already knew and admired. Reading Kehinde, I found it even more rich and powerful than her other earlier books.
Kehinde and her husband Albert are from Nigeria. Living in England for almost twenty years, they have created a comfortable life for themselves and their children. But Albert envisions returning to Nigeria. Kehinde has a position in a bank and earns more than he does. She is about to receive another promotion, but becomes accidentally pregnant. Albert forces her to have an abortion so she can earn enough to pay for their return. Then Albert goes back to his Nigerian family alone, leaving Kehinde to sell their house. But Albert’s dream life was not one that Kehinde shared. In returning, he intends to live as a traditional Nigerian patriarch with her as an obedient wife strong and ready to serve him. Memories of herself as a twin and of her childhood guide Kehinde into finding a way to live through her new difficulties.
From the opening descriptions of Kehinde and her family in England, Emecheta captures the subtle patterns that evolve between husband and wife. She skillfully reveals Kehinde’s past, including her identity as a twin whose sibling and mother both died at her birth. Nigerian culture remains central, but at the same time, those from other traditions can easily identify with Kehinde and her problems. Emecheta once described her stories as “stories of the world…[where]… women face the universal problems of poverty and oppression, and the longer they stay, no matter where they have come from originally, the more the problems become identical.” [Wikipedia]
When I posted a review of Emcheta’s Bride Price, readers were curious about whether or not the book is feminist. I said that I wouldn’t label it that way. It did have a strong heroine who fights against men who would control her, but I saw the book as depicting a personal struggle resolved by marrying the right man. Simply revealing the pain of male domination didn’t make it feminist. Kehinde is different. In it, Emecheta explicitly challenges traditional Nigerian patterns of male authority. Kehinde is not alone; other women face similar situations and help her. Although I hate to label books that don’t define themselves as feminist, Kehinde addresses issues that are social as well as personal in a manner that feminist can recognize.
Kehinde is a wonderful book that I recommend to all. Those who are about Nigeria, Africa, or cultural changes will be most excited by this book.