"At about this time, something happened that showed her that her dream was just suffering a tiny dent, just a small one, nothing deep enough to destroy the basic structure. The dream had by now assumed an image in her mind, it seemed to take life, to breathe and to smile kindly at her."
I recently joined an ongoing challenge in the bookstagram community called #readaroundtheworld. I have been on the hunt and researching and have come across so many synopses that have peeked my interest; different stories, from different perspectives, from authors of different cultures. Buchi Emecheta was recommended to me by my friend @emzbooksandco. Emecheta is a Nigerian author, who actually just passed away just last year, and I knew after reading reviews of her work and researching her personal life, I wanted to immerse myself in her stories. I ordered The Joys of Motherhood , her most well known novel & this, Second Class Citizen . I loved this story so much and saw pieces of myself in the main character although our cultural backgrounds are polar opposite. I am super private and do not share personal things about myself but I was so moved by Adah and felt myself rooting for her that I decided to be a tiny bit transparent in my review. Keep reading below!
A poignant story of a resourceful Nigerian woman who overcomes strict tribal domination of women and countless setbacks to achieve an independent life for herself and her children.
This is really a story of perseverance in the face of obligation to ones culture and traditions, racism and broken family dynamics while finding your own independence and identity while. The main character, Adah, is a young Nigerian girl from Ibuzu. When she was born, she was a disappointment to her family simply because she was not born a boy. I don't know why this particular aspect of the story stood out to me, once I finished it, in understanding Adah's character as a whole. She is strong in one way, especially when it comes to her children, but extremely insecure all the same. There was never any faith, any trust put in her to be the very best from the beginning. She was born into a tribe that maintained patriarchal customs so she was discounted without reason. She carries this with her throughout life. I couldn't imagine then carrying those insecurities into another culture, an unfamiliar and foreign culture, that discounts you because of the color of your skin.
Adah is a dreamer. She is a hard worker and wants to have a certain level of education and she wants to live a certain life. She desires to go to the UK to attend school. The “Presence”, as noted in the very beginning of the story, represents her passion. She earns a scholarship to Methodist Girl’s school where she meets & marries Francis. She does not marry Francis for love, but for shelter and to have a secure place to study. Francis in no way is a likable character. He was controlling, overbearing and continues to pour salt in Adah's insecure wounds. She supports Francis as he pursues his dream to become an accountant, but most certainly loses sight of hers along the way.
Adah is met with the harsh reality of a very cold England. Not just the physical climate, but with the way in which people of color are viewed and treated. It is a rude awakening for her; a girl who just wants to live the best possible life in a society that deems her a second class citizen because not only is she a woman but a black woman. Her education means nothing. White supremacy trumps black privilege particularly back then. It is a difficult adjustment for Adah, especially with the lack of support from Francis, but she does what is necessary for her children even taking jobs as a maid. This is where I see myself in her. Transparency: I have a masters degree in journalism. Am I a "journalist"? Absolutely not, so over the years I've taken low wage jobs to support myself; jobs that did not reflect my level of education, but I never stopped working and took pride in the work I did because it served a greater purpose. As insecure and as broken Adah is, she's a worker bee. She adapts under the toughest circumstances.
“Adah could not stop thinking about her discovery that the whites were just as fallible as everyone else. There were bad whites and good whites, just as there were bad blacks and good blacks! Why then did they claim to be superior?”
Adah wants to be appreciated, loved and recognized. I felt such sympathy for her searching for these things and not receiving it from her parents, from Francis nor society. I loathe Francis with every bone in my body. He is verbally and physically abusive. He also uses various religions to suit whatever his particular need is in addition to being unfaithful. He is the worst kind of man; low count in every way. Adah literally drives me insane with her loyalty to his nonsense and desperate need to be loved by him. Run girl!!. He continuosly failed his accounting exams and sponged off of his wife while being a part time father to their children. I was so happy for Adah when in the end she got away from him and began to live the life she dreamed with her children.
Second-Class Citizen is translated from French but the narrative is written to reflect the African diaspora. It tackles so many ideas about customs and traditions, assimilation, relationships as well as existential questions that we deal with everyday trying figure out our place in the world. I love this book so much and HIGHLY recommend you add it to your TBR.