Efuru by Flora Nwapa is not only the first choice of the Odinani book club, it also happens to be the first novel by an African woman to be published in English. Born in Oguta, Nigeria, Flora Nwapa published Efuru in 1966 at the age of 30. It follows the life and struggles of the title character who struggles to find her place in colonial era Nigeria.
The very first thing that I noticed in the novel are the names of the characters, which are no longer common as first names. It’s unfortunate that due to colonization, alot of Igbo names that were widespread in the past have either been forgotten or only survive as surnames, being replaced with English ones or Christianized Igbo ones.
The next thing I noticed was the terminology used for certain practices and places. For example, the term “take a bath” is used for female circumcision, which is done to Efuru after she gets married as a young woman. The name given for the Niger River was “The Great River” (or Oshimiri in Igbo).
Next, even though the story was set during the colonial era, the day to day lives of the characters do not seem much different than that or their forefathers and foremothers that lived before British rule. They worked in the farms, did trade up and down the river, went to the market, lived by the traditional calendar, etc.
But I think the biggest takeaway I got for the book was an increased empathy for Igbo women. Despite the characters being fictional, I felt like I could have been reading the experiences of any of my female ancestors. It’s simply amazing that a story of an Igbo woman’s struggles as a wife, daughter and mother could be as captivating as any Male centered, action packed epic. Overall, I’d recommend Efuru as a worthy addition to any library and look forward to exploring other works by Mrs. Nwapa.