The Nigerian economy is a volatile one, and being born into a poor family already places you on the back foot. For the girl child, however, it’s a double whammy: a girl who is born into a family of low-income earners is handicapped on double fronts – social status and gender. There has been some progress over the decades, but the Nigerian society is still not kind to women. There are still traditions in certain communities that preclude women from owning property, there are repugnant customs that demean widows which have still not been entirely stamped out, and in many instances, a lot of pressure is piled on married women to maintain the home even where their husbands fall short again and again.
What does it mean to be a “typical” woman in the suburban parts of modern Nigeria? This is what Bimbo Ogunmolasuyi, Nigerian writer, poet and accountant, attempts to illustrate in her novel A Woman’s Valour. The graduate of Lagos State University, who currently lives in the United Kingdom, loves to speak and write on contemporary issues, and it’s hardly surprising that her debut novel, published in early 2022, is one that is socially conscious in nature.
A Woman’s Valour is the story of Jennifer, a woman who endures a rough start to life after her father dies in a car accident. Her mother is subjected to inhumane treatment by her father’s relatives, who also forcefully take over all the property left behind. She has to switch from a private school to a public one, and with virtually no funds at their disposal, they have to build again from the ground up.
Jennifer’s brilliance and industry pay off, and she coasts through secondary school on a scholarship. She gains admission to study Law at the university, where she finds herself smitten by a man named Tunde. Their friendship slowly blossoms into romance, and before long they commit to seeing out life together, but they soon find themselves in a storm that rocks them on an individual and collective scale.
Just a little over 120 pages long, this novel explores a number of germane topics, including ethnic stereotypes, marital infidelity, the tendency to resort to immigration as a way out of Nigeria’s socioeconomic problems, and the misogyny that reflects in certain Nigerian cultural practices. The book also sheds light on the importance of communality, the resilient nature of love, the strong cords that bind family, and the uncertainty that characterises human existence.
The storytelling is fast-paced, and there is not much by way of dialogue, but the events unfold in a manner that is easy to follow. The narration is as linear as can possibly be, and while it is omniscient as usually obtains with third-person stories, much of the action happens to and around the protagonist – in this case, Jennifer – as she struggles to make sense of her life with each new situation.
This novel shows no intention of sugarcoating what the life of an average Nigerian woman, especially one from a humble background, could actually look like. There are as many twists and turns as you would find on a Formula One race course, and amidst quick transitions, each event is as jarring as the one before it. There is much to lament about, but there is also hope to hold on to, as Jennifer’s life plays out in a manner similar to that of Nnu Ego in Buchi Emecheta’s Joys of Motherhood, with sufficient character development to boot, even though the respective ending of both characters are as comparable as Spring and Autumn.
The book is not without its imperfections; there are a few timeline and editing errors that threaten to take the shine off the important story being told. In most Nigerian universities, Law is studied for five sessions, not four as the book implies. There is also the small matter of a “Mr. Chibuzor” existing as the head of a family that, by multiple indications, is Yoruba by ethnicity. Furthermore, the final arc appears a little bit rushed; divorce proceedings in any country in the world are significantly more complicated than what the novel suggests.
These few drawbacks aside, A Woman’s Valour succeeds in telling a story that is as important as it is timely. There are a lot of dark moments, but whoever said that life was a bed of roses? Some naysayers may also argue that the book attempts to romanticise the pains faced by black women, but the best form of art is the kind that is true to life, and it’s no use running away from reality. Readers will sigh and gasp at intervals, but they will connect to this book that has been created in easily digestible form. For Ogunmolasuyi, this is a learning curve in her writing career; she should be pleased with herself for writing something so relatable.