Last night, I was driving home, listening to NPR on the radio, and I heard an oddly familiar story – It was a story about the social status of men and women when a Nigerian couple gets a divorce. In most cases, the man maintains his social status, while the woman has to start her entire adult life over again and typically moves back to living with her parents.
This reminded me of two recent books I read about marriages in Africa – both share the similar trend but are entirely different stories as well.
In Stay with Me, Yejide and Akin live in Nigeria and their community practices polygamy, where men can take multiple wives. Akin and Yejide decide to remain monogamous, until they experience fertility problems and Akin succumbs to social pressure to take another wife. The book shows the aftermath of the decision and becomes a portait of marriage in Nigeria. At the time of my review, I gave the book 3.5 out of 5 stars, but am now reconsidering based on how long the story has remained with me.
Circling the Sun takes place in Kenya and tells the story of British immigrants/settlers in the Colony. When Beryl, the protagonist, is 16 years olds, she gets married, not because she wants to, but because she has an opportunity to marry a man with status who wants to marry her. Her father encourages her to take the opportunity rather than become an old, unmarried woman in their town. The relationship doesn’t work out for Beryl, and the divorce becomes an obstacle that is hard for Beryl to overcome. She has to consider that there aren’t jobs available for females, and that even if she had a job it would be unlikely that she could support herself on her salary. For a while, it feels like the only option is for her to move back in with her father, but of course that is not ideal. I will say that in this case, the man is worried about what the divorce will do to his social standing, however he is never concerned for his livelihood or his financial independence.
I won’t tell anymore because I don’t want to spoil it for you, but it struck me that each of these stories occurs in a similar setting, and handle similar issues. If you’re interested in the culture of marriage in other societies, I would definitely check these two out. (Also funny to note, these are both books I read for The Unread Shelf Project!)
What has this taught me? That I have so much more to learn! I don’t mean to generalize anything and recognize that Africa is a huge continent with so many diverse cultures, but I couldn’t help but notice that this was a theme in recent African literature and will be looking out for this theme in future articles and stories. Have anything to teach me or similar book recommendations? PLEASE DO!