Book Review: Second Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta

I find the author, Buchi Emecheta, very interesting. I often wish she were alive so I could have a chit chat with her.

The trick to splendid writing is honesty and honesty is often best drawn from our own experiences. We feel it so deeply that when it’s spilled out through words, it is simply beautiful and relatable. ‘Second Class Citizen’ is the third book I have read this year by Buchi. Like the first two, ‘The Joys of Motherhood’ and ‘The Brideprice’, ‘Second Class Citizen’ ends suddenly and tragically. The reader is left feeling angry, sad, vengeful and helpless.

This book, though with fictional names, is one of Buchi’s autobiographies. It tells the story of Adah, a girl child, who like other girl children of her time, is uninteresting, unimportant and simply existing for what ‘money they can fetch’ through marriage. In Second Class Citizen, we see how Adah struggles after her parents’ death to gain an education, work, choose a husband, be the breadwinner of her family and support said-husband to the United Kingdom for his studies. The story intensifies when she is able to convince her parents-in-law that she ought to join her husband in the United Kingdom and all the challenges she faces dealing with said-husband in the white man’s land.

It is harrowing that Adah faces emotional, verbal and physical abuse in the hands of someone who should be her lover, friend and the father of her children amidst the prevailing culture of racism and discrimination of the times. In many ways, she is a second class citizen in the British society and also one in her own matrimonial home. The lack of love from her husband, in the name of patriarchy, leaves Adah so jaded that in discussions about love and relationships, she “would have liked to join in, for she was the same age, but she knew that if she opened her mouth she would sound bitter. She would have told them that marriage was not a bed of roses but a tunnel of thorns, fire and hot nails. Oh, yes, she would have told them all sorts of things. But why, she asked herself, must she spoil other people’s dreams?”

Perhaps, the most painful portions of this book for me was the ill treatment and lack of compassion for Adah by her husband during her pregnancies/delivery and his burning of her first novel’s manuscript. I almost wanted to dive into the world of this novel to fight him on her behalf. It is that relatable and triggering. As Adah states in the book “she still yearned to be loved, to feel really married, to be cared for. She was beginning to understand why some young wives went to the extent of being unfaithful, just to make themselves feel human, just to find another human being who would listen to their voices…”.

Adah’s reality of marriage is the reality of so many. It is sad. Too sad. However, her resilience and determination to make something of herself and of her children is admirable. I’ll be taking a break from reading Buchi’s books because they can be quite depressing. Regardless, it is a wonderful, honest narration of a talented, hardworking novelist going through life and staying afloat despite the storms. I recommend it if you have it in you not to put on your boxing gloves and fight the nearest man.

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