#BookReview The Bride Price by Buchi Emecheta #1976Club

The Bride PriceAbout the Book

Aku-nna, the Ibo heroine, is thirteen when her father dies, and the city life she has always known ends abruptly. She has to return with her young brother and mother to their home village where, according to tribal custom, they are “inherited” by her father’s brother. For the year or two that remain before she will be married, Aku-nna is grudgingly allowed to continue her schooling, but only because her ambitious uncle realises that an educated girl will fetch a higher bride price – the money a man’s family must pay to the family of his prospective wife.

By the time Aku-nna is fifteen, she has fallen in love – but in circumstances that threaten deep-rooted social, sexual and religious taboos of the community. Before long, alarming things begin to happen, and Aku-nna finds that she is expected to submit to humiliating physical and mental assaults.

Escape might be the answer, but how she can escape her fear of the fate that, even today, is said to await every girl whose bride price is not paid?

Format: Hardcover (168 pages)      Publisher: Allison & Busby
Publication date: 1st January 1976 Genre: Modern Classics

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My Review

The 1976 ClubThe Bride Price was the book I chose to read for the 1976 Club hosted by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Karen at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings. You can check out the reviews of all the other book bloggers taking part – and post a link to your own review – here.

I’ll admit I hadn’t heard of Buchi Emecheta before searching for books published in 1976 but I’ve now discovered a writer whose back catalogue I’m interested to explore further. The Bride Price is set in Nigeria just before it gained independence in 1960. The story of Aku-nna highlights both the inferior position of woman at that time and the conflict between traditional African values and the influence of modern Europe.

When Aku-nna’s father dies, she and her mother and brother are ‘inherited’ by her father’s brother, since it is unthinkable for a woman to be the head of a family. ‘When you have lost your father, you have lost your parents. Your mother is only a woman, and women are supposed to be boneless. A fatherless family is a family without a head, a family without shelter, a family without parents, in fact a non-existing family. Such traditions do not change very much.’ The book describes in vivid detail the traditional mourning rites and ritual demonstrations of grief that follow a death.

It is difficult for most of us today to imagine a society in which women were regarded as little more than assets to be sold or purchased, and where ‘evening visits’ by young men that might involve touching young girls of the household in an intimate way were condoned. ‘In Ibuza, every young man was entitled to his fun. The blame usually went to the girls.‘ Or that young girls could expect to be married as young as fifteen or as soon as they began menstruating, often leading to death in childbirth. 

When her uncle, whom she is now expected to regard as her father, learns of Aku-nna’s relationship with Chike, a teacher at her school, he intervenes in the most extreme way to try to prevent it. Not only does he wish to extract the maximum bride price because of Aku-nna’s educational achievements but he is determined she should not marry a man who is descended from slaves.  Sadly, her mother, now her uncle’s fourth wife, does nothing to protect Aku-nna, despite the fact Chike has been supporting them financially.

The intensity of Aku-nna’s and Chike’s love for each other forces Aku-nna to choose between following her heart or adhering to the traditions of her people, including the belief that a woman whose bride price is unpaid will not only bring shame upon her family but death. The events that follow Aku-nna’s decision include periods of joy but they prove to be shortlived resulting in intensely moving scenes at the end of the book.

In three words: Poignant, thought-provoking, immersive

Try something similar: Wake Me When I’m Gone by Odafe Atogun

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Buchi EmechetaAbout the Author

Nigerian writer Buchi Emecheta was born to Ibo parents in Lagos on 21 July 1944. She moved to Britain in 1960, where she worked as a librarian and became a student at London University in 1970, reading Sociology. She worked as a community worker in Camden, North London, between 1976 and 1978. Her first novel, the semi-autobiographical In the Ditch, was published in 1972. It first appeared in a series of articles published in the New Statesman magazine, and, together with its sequel, Second Class Citizen (1974), provides a fictionalised portrait of a poor young Nigerian woman struggling to bring up her children in London. She began to write about the role of women in Nigerian society in The Bride Price (1976), The Slave Girl (1977), winner of the New Statesman Jock Campbell Award, and The Joys of Motherhood (1979), an account of women’s experiences bringing up children in the face of changing values in traditional Ibo society.

Her other novels include Destination Biafra (1982), set during the civil war in Nigeria; The Rape of Shavi (1983), an allegorical account of European colonisation in Africa; Gwendolen (1989), the story of a young West Indian girl living in London; and Kehinde (1994), about a middle-aged Nigerian wife and mother who returns to Nigeria after living in London for many years. Her final work of fiction, The New Tribe, was published in 2000.

Buchi Emecheta was also the author of several novels for children, including Nowhere to Play (1980) and The Moonlight Bride (1980). She published a volume of autobiography, Head Above Water, in 1986. Her television play, A Kind of Marriage, was first screened by the BBC in 1976. In 1983 she was selected as one of twenty ‘Best of Young British Writers’ by the Book Marketing Council. She lectured in the United States throughout 1979 as Visiting Professor at a number of universities and returned to Nigeria in 1980 as Senior Research Fellow and Visiting Professor of English at the University of Calabar.

She ran the Ogwugwu Afor Publishing Company with her son and was  a member of the Home Secretary’s Advisory Council on Race. She was a member of the Arts Council from 1982 to 1983, and was a regular contributor to the New Statesman, the Times Literary Supplement and The Guardian. Buchi Emecheta died in 2017. (Bio/photo credit: British Library)

#BookReview Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor @ourclassicsclub

Mrs Palfrey at the ClaremontAbout the Book

On a rainy Sunday in January, the recently widowed Mrs. Palfrey arrives at the Claremont Hotel where she will spend her remaining days. Her fellow residents are magnificently eccentric and endlessly curious, living off crumbs of affection and snippets of gossip. Together, upper lips stiffened, they fight off their twin enemies – boredom and the Grim Reaper.

Then one day Mrs. Palfrey strikes up an unexpected friendship with Ludo, a handsome young writer, and learns that even the old can fall in love.

Format: ebook (209 pages)                     Publisher: Virago
Publication date: 7th July 2011 [1971 ]  Genre: Modern Classics

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My Review

Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont might well be subtitled ‘Keeping Up Appearances’ so keen is Mrs Palfrey to hide the fact she’s lonely and feels rather abandoned by her family. However, she’s determined to preserve her independence while she can.

The book provides an insight into a mode of living that is unfamiliar to modern eyes where a hotel is a place to stay on business or for pleasure, not to reside in on a long-term basis – and without the convenience of a bathroom of your own. The presence of so many long-term residents is not quite what Mr Wilkins, the hotel’s manager, wants for his establishment either. ‘His dream was Conference trade, drinking businessmen, a board in the hall saying ‘I.C.I. Pompadour Suite. 11am.’ He aspired to that.’

Alongside the reader, Mrs Palfrey accustoms herself to the routines that punctuate the residents’ days – the posting of the menus for lunch and dinner, gathering in the lounge before dinner, repairing to the television room after dinner to watch the latest serial. The author also gives us insightful, sometimes affectionate, portraits of Mrs Palfrey’s fellow residents, their habits and foibles. There’s Mrs Burton who makes frequent use of the bell to summon the aged waiter, Antonio, to take her drink order in the evening. Or Mrs Arbuthnot who has ‘ears sharpened by malice’ but is crippled by the pain of arthritis so that it would be a hard-hearted reader who did not have some sympathy for her. There’s Mrs Post who delights in feeling useful by running errands for others, Mr Osmond whose favourite occupation is writing angry letters on a variety of subjects to the Daily Telegraph, and Mrs de Salis who has ‘the best hearing at the Claremont’, which occasionally comes in handy.

One of my favourite scenes in the book was the party thrown by Mrs de Salis after she has moved out of the Claremont about which one guest recalls, “I’m glad I went… but I shouldn’t have to go again tomorrow“. (I think many of us may have been to parties like that.) Or the Masonic Ladies’ Night at which an entirely unexpected offer is made.

I found the friendship that develops between aspiring author, Ludovic, and Mrs Palfrey touching even if initially they are using each other: she to hide a deception, and he to provide material for the novel he is writing.  Through Ludovic the reader gets an insight into London life of the period for those with little money to spare: evenings spent at the launderette, careful calculations about how long the gas fire can be lit for, watching the feet of passers-by from a dingy basement flat.  On a lighter note, when Ludovic seeks to augment his income by getting a job as a waiter in a Greek restaurant, there is this wonderful passage. “The Plaka was in a basement throbbing with bouzoukia and smelling of charred lamb. In this deafening noise, Greek refugees became more Greek than ever before in their lives. English Philhellenes Kalisperassed about the place continually.”

Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont is a charming story tinged with humour but also with moments of poignant sadness.

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elizabeth taylorAbout the Author

Elizabeth Taylor (1912-1975) is increasingly recognised as one of the best British writers of the twentieth century. She wrote her first book, At Mrs Lippincote’s, during the war while her husband was in the Royal Air Force, and this was followed by eleven further novels and a children’s book, Mossy Trotter. Her acclaimed short stories appeared in publications including Vogue, the New Yorker and Harper’s Bazaar. (Photo/bio credit: Publisher author page)