THE FAMILY by Buchi Emecheta


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Another exploration of lives of women of the African diaspora, by Nigerian-born Emecheta (Double Yoke, The Rape of Shavi, etc.) that--despite Emecheta's gifts--remains too much the thinly disguised polemic rather than the rich novel it could be. Gwendolen--who learned to pronounce her fancy English-style name only at school in England--is the character chosen to embody the message that a black woman's life is tough, prejudice abounds, one's family is not much help either, and only the examples of courageous black women can inspire one to endure. Born in Jamaica, she is reared by her grandmother while her parents seek work in England. When sexually abused by an old friend of her grandmother's, the nine-year, old Gwendolen is blamed by the neighbors. A year or so later her parents, needing her help with their three other children in England, send for her. Sonia, her illiterate mother, expects her to do all the housework, but a wise Nigerian woman friend insists that Gwendolen go to school. Lagging behind her classmates, worn out by housework, and placed in remedial classes, she dislikes school. When Sonia goes back to Jamaica for two years, Gwendolen drops out of school to look after the family, her father sexually molests her, and by the time Sonia returns, Gwendolen is pregnant. Rather than blame Dad, she names her white boyfriend, the kind Emmanual, as the father. Overcome by guilt, Dad commits suicide, Gwendolen breaks down, and her mother, still ignorant, acquires a lover. The baby, a girl, given an African name meaning woman-savior, looks just like granddad, and even Sonia realizes what has been going on. Gwendolen, however, has learned to read, and what she reads empowers her--she will survive. Emecheta vividly captures the atmosphere and tensions of immigrant life in Britain, and the distinctions between immigrant groups are nicely drawn, but poor Gwendolen--like the rest of her family--suffers from an excess of manipulation by an author bent on instruction.

Pub Date: Feb. 26th, 1989
ISBN: 0807612502
Publisher: Braziller